Let the record reflect that Thursday marked the first time that a public comparison was made between Adrian Peterson and Riley Reiff. The former is a perennial All-Pro currently leading the NFL in rushing yardage; the latter is a green and inexperienced rookie suddenly taking on a heightened role in Detroit.
But Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams insists Reiff’s recent contributions toward sparking the Lions’ offense has been similarly important as the juice Peterson consistently gives the Vikings attack.
“This may be a stretch in some sense,” Williams said. “But he’s a little bit like Adrian Peterson in that you can’t simulate him in practice. Everybody thinks with Adrian that, ‘Hey these are just designed plays for him and if we stop this, [we’re OK].’ But when you get into a live situation, Adrian Peterson is a different deal. That’s the same things with the extra lineman coming in. He does a great job. He’s athletic, he gets his pads down and he’s going to be a handful.”
Drafted with the 23rd overall pick in April, Reiff has been slowly brought along by the Lions. But now he’s settling into an expanded and unconventional role, getting an extended look as a sixth offensive lineman. For the most part, Reiff, a tackle during his college days at Iowa, is playing a tight end-type of role and providing extra power to the Lions’ run blocking.
While taking advantage of Reiff’s strength and athleticism, Detroit has breathed life into its ground game. Last week, the Lions rushed for a season-best 149 yards with running back Mikel Leshoure scoring three first-half touchdowns in a blowout win over Jacksonville.
In winning three of their past four games, Detroit has become more efficient on offense. In consecutive wins over Seattle and Jacksonville, the Lions have scored touchdowns on all eight of their trips into the end zone. They’ve also been precise on third downs, converting 71 percent of their downs the past two weeks. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed 23 of his 27 third-down passes the past two weeks.
Detroit might not be setting the highlight reels ablaze like it did in 2011. But they are playing winning offense with Stafford getting help across the board.
“They’re running the ball much more effectively than they had been in the past or in the beginning of this season,” Williams said. “And also, they’re throwing the ball more efficiently. Maybe not some of the big ‘Wow!’ plays – which are still coming. But the ball is thrown more efficiently.”
Reiff isn’t the only rookie suddenly excelling in a heightened role. Receiver Ryan Broyles has 12 catches for 140 yards the past three weeks, stepping up after veteran Nate Burleson was lost for the season in Week 7 with a broken leg.
Hustle lacking for defense
Having surrendered 663 rushing yards over the past four games, Williams continues to harp on the Vikings’ need to tighten up their gap control and tackling. But he insists the defensive scheme doesn’t need an overhaul due to the recent struggles.
“The analogy would be driving a car and not turning on the keys or not putting gas in the tank or not using the steering wheel,” Williams said. “The car still works. You can still use it. But you just have to use it correctly. And right now, that’s what we’re not doing. We’re not executing or using the defense correctly. It’s not broken by any means. We just have to use it correctly.”
The Vikings have only forced three turnovers in their past four games and none since Harrison Smith’s interception return touchdown early in the third quarter against Arizona. But most troubling in Sunday’s loss in Seattle, Williams said, was the occasional lack of hustle his unit showed.
“We want to make sure we continue running to the football,” Williams said. “And there were some loafs in the ballgame. And those loafs are turning down hits or not running full speed or not getting up off the ground. We saw some of those, which are uncharacteristic of the defense.”
Jefferson still starting
Williams said A.J. Jefferson will remain the Vikings’ second starter at cornerback with rookie Josh Robinson staying in the nickel role that he has settled into over the season’s first two months.