Lions’ Den: Defense leads the way to a 14-7 win over Vikings

How’s everyone’s heart rates?

Detroit Lions fans should be used to this type of nail-biting action. It was a close one, but the Lions were able to pull out a win Sunday against their division rival Minnesota Vikings, 14-7.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense struggled to find a good rhythm all game, and that stemmed from a miserable performance from the offensive line.

Minnesota’s defensive front set the tone on the first play of the game as defensive end Danielle Hunter smacked Stafford for a five-yard sack. In total, the Vikings compiled six sacks and limited the damage from Detroit’s air attack to 209 total yards.

Both of the Lions’ tackles were nothing more than turnstiles. Hunter and fellow defensive end Everson Griffen had a field day against Greg Robinson and Ricky Wagner, getting constant pressure and beating them like a drum. The only thing the Lions’ linemen could do against them was hold and pray they didn’t get caught.

Similar to the game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions were unable to take advantage of good field position and ended too many drives with field goals and punts.

Photo: Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports

Matt Prater, dubbed the “best kicker in the NFL” by both FOX broadcasters Chris Spielman and Thom Brennaman, went 2-for-3, coming up short on a 59-yarder, his first miss of the season. The failed attempt snapped Prater’s record of 14 straight 50-yard field goals made.

The Lions were on pace to snap another streak, and this one was rushing related.

Ameer Abdullah could not be stopped, racking up 94 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown to top it all off, but was unable to finish the game after suffering a leg injury.

Falling short of 100 yards, the Lions now sit at 56 straight games without a 100-yard rusher, the longest active streak in the NFL. The second-longest streak? That belongs to the Baltimore Ravens, at 16 games in a row. That puts Detroit’s struggles on the ground into perspective.

Abdullah was consistent. He didn’t just have those two or three big breaks to inflate his numbers, having just one rush of over 20 yards. For the first time all season, Detroit had a dependable run game.

Unfortunately for Detroit, the passing game wasn’t there to complement the ground game.

While running for his life, Stafford was unable to effectively connect with his wideouts. He hooked up with eight different receivers, but nobody had more than four catches on the day.

Stafford favored Marvin Jones Jr. early, which was a bit odd because Minnesota put cornerback Xavier Rhodes on him. Rhodes has been one of the best corners in the NFL as of late, shutting down elite receivers like Antonio Brown and Mike Evans, so Jones was a cakewalk for him.

Wideout Golden Tate was also quiet, grabbing just three receptions for 29 yards. Surprisingly, Darren Fells was the most reliable target, hauling in four passes and gaining 10 yards on each grab. The only other receiver to make some plays was T.J. Jones, who was on the other end of Stafford’s two-point conversion pass at the start of the third quarter.

Minnesota wasn’t much better throwing the ball; the numbers are almost exact.

Photo: Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports

Stafford went 19-of-31 for 209 yards, while Minnesota’s quarterback Case Keenum finished the day 16-of-30 for 219 yards. Neither had a touchdown or a turnover, although Stafford did have a fumble, but his running back Zach Zenner recovered it.

Keenum was contained in the pocket. The Lions didn’t allow him to scramble or extend plays. Anthony Zettel was the only player to register a sack today, finishing with two. Ezekiel Ansah was very quiet statistically, but his presence was felt.

As expected, Keenum relied heavily on his Nos. 1 and 2 receivers, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both finished the day with five catches and combined for 157 yards.

Thielen had the most crucial play of the day, fumbling with 1:51 left on the clock. Lions safety Glover Quin punched it out and linebacker Tahir Whitehead jumped on it right at the 50. The Vikings never got the ball back.  

The Minnesota rushing game wasn’t much better. Rookie Dalvin Cook was having a good day with 66 yards and a touchdown, but had to leave the game after blowing out his knee and fumbling on the same play.

Running backs Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray tried to replace him, but both struggled.

McKinnon had zero yards on two carries and managed to fumble on a wonky wildcat play on the 50-yard line. Latavius Murray took seven carries for 21 yards–not much better, but he did hold on to the football.    

This was the first game of the year that Detroit didn’t have a defensive or special teams touchdown, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort.

The Lions were able to jump on three fumbles today, bringing the takeaway total to 13. Just over three takeaways a game is a ridiculous pace, so fans should expect that it will slow. When it does, the Lions are going to need their offense to step up, or they’ll be in trouble.

Next up for Detroit is the 3-1 Carolina Panthers, who just stunned the New England Patriots 33-30 on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST next Sunday on FOX.