The Vikings gave up more yards rushing in the first eight snaps and five minutes of the Week 1 loss to San Francisco than they surrendered to the Lions in 70 plays over 60 minutes of Sunday’s 26-16 win at TCF Bank Stadium.
How do you explain that, Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd?
“Wait a minute,” Floyd said. “First of all, the 49ers didn’t play the Minnesota Vikings. Let’s make that perfectly clear. I’m telling you, the 49ers didn’t play the real Minnesota Vikings.”
Well, one of those teams sure got a Purple impostor.
Six days after the 49ers crushed the Vikings for 230 yards on 39 carries (5.9), the Vikings smashed the Lions, who ran for only 38 yards on 16 carries (2.4). The leading rusher: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (20 yards).
“We did everything we wanted to do [Sunday],” said Brian Robison, who had a five-yard tackle for loss to the Detroit 9-yard line on the Lions’ second carry of the third quarter. “We stopped the run and got after the quarterback. When you do those two things, I’d say nine times out of 10 you’re going to be able to win some ballgames.”
A week after the 49ers opened with consecutive runs of 9, 8, 8 and 8 yards, the Vikings stuffed rookie running back Ameer Abdullah, the league’s all-purpose yardage leader in Week 1, for no gain on Detroit’s first carry. Two snaps later, on second-and-three from the Detroit 46, 229-pound back Joique Bell was dropped for no gain by tackles Linval Joseph and Floyd.
“It was a hand back to the middle,” Floyd said. “We just read our keys, got low and played a physical game. That set the tone. And the next series, we went out and did it again.”
On the next series, Joseph and Robison dropped Bell for a two-yard loss on second-and-three. Eventually, the Lions pretty much gave up on the run altogether. They had five yards rushing after a quarter and 14 yards on eight carries while trailing 17-10 at the half.
“Obviously,” free safety Harrison Smith said, “that felt good after last week.”
With the running game a nonfactor, the Vikings played more aggressively. They finished with three takeaways, including an interception by backup defensive end Justin Trattou and two fumble recoveries by safety Andrew Sendejo and backup tackle Shamar Stephen. Nickel back Captain Munnerlyn and Smith forced fumbles.
“The forced fumble wasn’t a great play by me,” Smith said. “We had the running back [Theo Riddick] stopped. I just reached in and punched the ball out.”
Smith also had a tackle for no gain on a two-point conversion run attempt that would have put the Lions within one score with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the game.
“One thing Coach [Mike] Zimmer was on me for this offseason was my red-zone play,” Smith said. “Not really firing when I need to. I just read it and shot in there and made the play. Basically, I just played my role within the defense.”
After doing little of that just six days earlier, Vikings defenders did a whole lot of it on Sunday.
“It was night and day,” Zimmer said of the run defense. “It was more like we expect.”