Adjustments have fueled Viking surge

Published 8:22 am Friday, November 16, 2018

Minnesota’s fumble gave Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions a fresh set of downs early in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, another opportunity to start climbing back into the game.

Though they held an 11-point lead, the Vikings had been unable to pull away. On the first play after the change of possession, Stafford faked a handoff to Kerryon Johnson and rolled out to his right.

With a hard stop, Stafford pivoted and threw back to his left where Johnson was waiting for the screen pass with four blockers within 5 yards of him. Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson wasn’t fooled, though.

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He kept his eyes on the running back the entire time, closing in to make the tackle for a 6-yard loss as soon as the ball was caught. Five plays later, with the Lions still in their own territory, defensive end Danielle Hunter scooped up a fumble and returned it for a victory-sealing touchdown.

When the Vikings beat the Lions 24-9 that afternoon, the most encouraging development entering their week off was the start-to-finish dominance by a defense that didn’t look like its usual self in the first quarter of the season. That rollout screen play that Johnson blew up went for big gains against the Vikings a few times earlier in the fall. Coach Mike Zimmer and his staff put plenty of work into adjusting the scheme and the calls after in light of the vulnerabilities that arose in September.

The Vikings allowed a season-low 209 yards to the Lions. Their next three lowest totals all came over the three previous games.

“There’s a lot of teams now that are playing a style of defense similar to us. Now, all these offenses are attacking these defenses pretty much the same way. So we’ve had to adjust and change coverages,” Zimmer said, adding: “Luckily, our players have been able to execute it.”