We are entering the final week of the NFL season, and the Detroit Lions are streaking. For the final game of the 2010 season, the Lions will face off against a Minnesota Vikings team that is just one game better than the Lions. Defensively, they are coached by their interim head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who in my opinion is a biggest reason the Vikings defense has been so good in the past few seasons.
The Vikings run a standard 4-3 defense that is basically a cover 2, but mixes in plenty of Tampa 2 and zone blitz principles. What the Vikings do defensively has a lot to do with Leslie Frazier’s background. Frazier broke into the NFL with Andy Reid and Jim Johnson’s Eagles as a defensive backs coach, where he had the opportunity to learn the zone blitz scheme from one of the best. After a short stint with the Bengals as their defensive coordinator, Frazier served as the defensive backs coach for Tony Dungy’s Colts, where he learned the finer points of the Tampa 2 from the inventor of the scheme himself.
The other key thing about the Vikings defense is that they tend to leave their corners on island a lot, and it makes sense when you had guys like Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield, who are excellent tacklers and are pretty solid coverage guys. However, the Vikings pass defense is very different with Cedric Griffin out. Earlier in the season, the Vikings tried playing Lito Shepard, who was a disaster at corner, and have replaced him with second year pro Asher Allen. In a situation like this, Nate Burleson will be a key for the Lions.
With that said, I think the key in this game will be keeping the Vikings front four from getting to Shaun Hill. Guys like Kevin Williams and Jared Allen hasn’t produced nearly as much as previous seasons, but they had a breakout game against Michael Vick and the Eagles. The key here will definitely be to contain the Vikings interior lineman, who are great at both pass rushing the quarterback and filling up running lanes.
Now, I wanted to take a look at the Vikings defense and see what works against them and what doesn’t, so let’s look at some tape. The first video is from their game against the Carolina Panthers, who like the Lions, had their backup in Matt Moore in there at quarterback.
The first play I want to bring to your attention starts at 0:12 of the video. You will notice immediately that the Panthers are in a 3rd down situation, they have their receivers spread out and the Vikings are showing blitz. Run the play, and you will notice that the Vikings get solid pressure from the edges with Allen and Edwards, but Moore doesn’t have pressure up the middle (i.e. Panther’s interior line does a good job of blocking the Williamses), so he can clearly see Muhsin Muhammad and makes a solid throw for a first down. The other play I want to focus on from the Panthers game is the play starting at 2:21. Notice again that the Panthers are in a spread formation. Run the play and you will see that Steve Smith breaks away from the defensive backs and scores a touchdown. If you want to, go ahead and watch the whole highlight reel and you will notice that the Panthers scored almost every time from the spread look, and I think that is the best way to attack the Vikings defense that has two of their top three corners injured.
Personally, I would like to see them utilize the spread formation as much as possible and have Jahvid Best or Tony Scheffler lined up outside against` the Vikings nickel corner. Best in my mind is good enough of a route runner to get open against those guys, and as we saw in the Panthers game, the Vikings secondary has trouble containing guys with elite speed. Also, I think it would be a good idea to show two and three tight end looks and use both Pettigrew and Scheffler as slot receivers because they create mismatches against either defensive backs or linebackers.
Overall, I think the amount of success the Lions offense has on Sunday will depend a lot on which Vikings defense shows up to play. Currently, they are ranked 16th in the NFL, and defenses that ranked in the middle like that are capable of having great games (like last week) and terrible games, like their blowout loss two weeks ago against the Bears. In the end, I see the Lions offense scoring anywhere from 24 to 32 points.
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