An eight-man defensive line rotation contributed to the Vikings’ 20-7 win against the Lions on Sunday, which is good since those role players might continue to be relied upon during a playoff push while starters nurse injuries.
Defensive end Everson Griffen, who started and twice hit Lions quarterback David Blough, has had his two smallest workloads of the season in the past two weeks — 57% against the Seahawks and 77% against the Lions — ever since popping up on the injury report with a knee problem after the bye.
Not coincidentally, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo played a career-high 42 snaps against Detroit, including much of the second half in pass-rushing situations. Defensive end Stephen Weatherly (30 snaps) and defensive tackles Jaleel Johnson (25) and Armon Watts (seven) rounded out the rotation.
“Really all of them have done a good job in there,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Johnson did some nice things, Ifeadi continues to do some really good things. I thought he rushed well in some of the subgroups, and I thought Weatherly played a lot better this week.”
Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen — on the injury report for two months because of a knee injury — played a season-low 34% against a Lions offense that abandoned the run midway through the third quarter. Blough’s 40 pass attempts meant more snaps for Weatherly as an interior rusher, a role the fourth-year defensive end said is a work in progress.
“The inside is tough. It’s not my forte,” said Weatherly, who had a critical third-down run stop. “But I’m trying every week to be more effective at it like Ifeadi has been going inside and stuff like that. Trying to step it up, but it’s tough.”
‘They don’t think so’
The Vikings got some good news regarding cornerback Xavier Rhodes’ ankle injury that knocked him out of Sunday’s win during the third quarter. When asked whether he expects Rhodes to remain sidelined, Zimmer was far from definitive but indicated the training staff’s prognosis was positive.
“It’s hard for me to say,” Zimmer said. “These guys just came in today, and I got a report from the trainer. They don’t think so.”
Rhodes grabbed at his right ankle after nearly colliding with safety Harrison Smith during Blough’s third-quarter interception. Rhodes was helped off the field and watched from the sideline in the second half.
Proceed with caution
Zimmer couldn’t recall anybody when asked about running backs he’s been around with a bounce like rookie Alexander Mattison, who leaped over Lions safety Tavon Wilson on a 9-yard catch and run in the second quarter.
While Mattison, a former track standout at San Bernardino High School, has the green light to leap, Zimmer noted Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson getting concussed while attempting a hurdle over a Chiefs defender earlier this season.
“You have to be careful about it,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings’ heavy reliance on play-action passes require big bodies to sell the run, which is why No. 3 tight end Tyler Conklin played a career-high 35 snaps against the Lions.
Conklin, a fifth-round draft pick in his second NFL season, also added a career-high three catches.
“It goes back to college for me when I was a walk-on at Central Michigan,” Conklin said. “I’ve always kind of just put my head down and earned my stripes. As opportunities come, I just have to keep making the most of it.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins set a season high in play-action completions against Detroit.