NFL writer Mark Craig takes a look back at Sunday's Vikigns game through a detailed lens, with his five takeaways from the loss to the Lions.
1. Shurmur plays hand he’s dealt
Interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had about as good a plan in place as one could expect given the fact the beat-up Vikings line han’t been able to pass protect for any extended period of time. Calling a short-throwing, get-it-out-quick West Coast style of game, Shurmur had some success as Sam Bradford completed 31 of 40 passes (77.5) with no turnovers and a 103.4 passer rating. However, Shurmur also got his first taste of the constraints that caused Norv Turner to resign on Wednesday over differing views on how to proceed with a struggling unit. Of Bradford’s 40 passes, 25 were thrown either behind the line of scrimmage or within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. “I thought Pat did a good job [Sunday] keeping it relatively simple,” Bradford said. “Getting the ball out quick.” The first two times Shurmur called for a longer-developing play, the Vikings gave up their only sacks. Bradford threw four passes that traveled 20 yards or longer downfield. He went 0-for-3, with one of the passes creating a 22-yard pass interference penalty. On the go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, Bradford threw back-to-back passes that traveled 16 yards to Adam Thielen for gains of 29 yards on third-and-7 and 17 yards.
2. Greenway elevates play
This, many thought, was a bad game to be missing three-down middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (concussion). After all, no team uses its running backs in the passing game more than Detroit. But give 33-year-old veteran Chad Greenway a lot of credit for the Lions getting only one catch for 6 yards from its backs. An unofficial pressbox tally had Greenway playing a season-high 49 of 62 defensive snaps. He played in the base and nickel defenses but was replaced by Emmanuel Lamur in third-and-long situations. Greenway defended Theo Riddick well on one of the two incompletions thrown his way. He also read a pressured Matthew Stafford perfectly, jumped a pass to fullback Michael Burton and returned an interception 17 yards to the Lions 18-yard line. “I was on my guy and Stafford just threw it to me and I made the catch,” Greenway said. “In the end, it’s just a play that didn’t matter because we lost.” Amazingly, the offense proceeded to lose 22 yards and punt the ball. Three of Greenway’s six tackles came for gains of 0, 1 and 2 yards. Lamur was on the field for Riddick’s 42-yard run. He and linebacker Anthony Barr lined up in the A gaps and were blasted aside with single-team blocks by the guard and center, creating a giant hole.
3. Stuffed on fourth-and-inches
Not being able to gain mere inches for a first down inside the 10-yard line is becoming quite the negative trend for the Vikings. On fourth-and-about-6-inches at the Detroit 5, the Vikings went with a power formation and rammed Matt Asiata into the line of scrimmage while trailing 13-9 with 8 minutes left. The results were the same as when the Vikings needed 2 inches from the Eagles 6-yard line and were stuffed on third and fourth downs in a key turn of events two weeks ago in Philadelphia. “There’s no excuse for that,” guard Brandon Fusco said. Again.
4. Ellison’s go-ahead wrinkle
For the first time since college, 329-pound nose tackle Linval Joseph played fullback in goal line situations. “Two-for-two [in resulting touchdowns], but we lost,” said Joseph, referring to 1-yard touchdowns on a pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph and a new-look running play for tight end Rhett Ellison. The latter was a play Ellison said was installed this week. Turner helped formulate the game plan before resigning, and Shurmur called the play. With everyone blocking left, Ellison slid right from the wingback spot, got the ball and scored around right end on third-and-goal. “Any time I get the ball, they’re usually not seeing it coming,” Ellison said. “You practice goal line once a week and kind of install plays each week.”
5. Rhodes’ costly penalties
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes extended the two biggest drives of the game with sloppy third-down penalties. He had a 13-yard pass interference on a third-and-10 incompletion in overtime. “I guessed a route, and [Marvin Jones] ran a different route,” Rhodes said of that ill-timed collision. His first penalty was illegal hands to the face on third-and-10 from the Detroit 43 late in the first half. After that penalty, the Lions went nine more plays over 57 yards to complete a 17-play touchdown drive that consumed 9 minutes, 45 seconds and gave Detroit a 10-3 lead as the half expired.