The 2014 Minnesota Vikings have had a turbulent season, to say the very least. They've endured three different quarterbacks and a load of off-field issues, and they've lost their star player and got blown out. Yet they've also seen the good side of things, dominating the St. Louis Rams to lead the season and getting a huge upset over the Atlanta Falcons in Teddy Bridgewater's first career start. They've been almost as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-ish as the Detroit Lions have been. But through five games, some of their weaknesses are clear.
The jury has barely even begun to congregate on Bridgewater's career. He has only played in a little more than a game and a half, with only one start to his name. But regardless of who is behind center, the Vikings offense starts with their running game. In Minnesota's two victories, they are averaging 213 rushing yards and 5.6 yards per carry. In their three losses: 74.7 yards and just 3.4 a carry.
So how do you stop the run? The key, as usual, is winning the battle in the trenches. Luckily for the Lions -- as Justin Simon pointed out earlier -- the Vikings have trouble on their offensive line, specifically the interior. This works perfectly with the Lions' biggest strength, their defensive tackles. The Lions need to create disruption in the middle of the line, clog rushing lanes and allow their linebackers free rein to clean up the mess. The New Orleans Saints laid out the blueprint for this perfectly:
Though the Saints play a 3-4 defense, we can still see the disruption that bigger interior defensive linemen can create against this weak Minnesota front. Watch specifically No. 76 and No. 77 on the Saints:
The nose tackle (No. 77) takes on a double team and takes both offensive linemen for a ride to clog up the A-gap to the quarterback's left (camera right). The left defensive end (No. 76) cuts inside to hopefully clean up the gap on the other side of the line.
The left defensive end does a good enough job to force the runner outside. Additionally, he has made a huge lane for the linebacker to jump into and meet the running back in the backfield. This is exactly DeAndre Levy's specialty. If Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley do their jobs on Sunday, Levy could be in for another big game.
Stopping the run early could provide huge benefits for the Detroit defense later. One staple for the Bridgewater-led offense has been the use of zone-read play-action to get defenders quickly out of position. However, if the Lions can trust their front four to help in stopping the run, play-action will not work later in the game. Watch below as Bridgewater's fake-draw has absolutely no effect on the linebackers:
None of the second-level defenders even take one step toward the line of scrimmage after the run fake. This leaves them in excellent position to take away any of the interior passing lanes. The Saints end up having seven defenders in coverage against just three receivers. Bridgewater is forced to abort the play and try to scramble to create something out of nothing. He trips over his left tackle and is sacked.
The Vikings defense is a tougher assignment for the Lions, especially considering Detroit's offensive woes and injuries. But, again, let's look to the Saints as a model. The Lions have a similar offense, and though the Saints only managed 20 points against Minnesota, they tallied nearly 400 yards of offense.
The Saints scored touchdowns on their first two drives against Minnesota, and they did so by mostly chipping away at the defense. They were particularly successful attacking the edges of the Vikings defense with quick wide receiver screens, outside rushes and quick-outs. They were successful because of the Vikings' weak linebacker play:
Watch as Chad Greenway (No. 52) gets sucked into the line and essentially takes himself out of the play, giving the running back the edge as he picks up an easy 11 yards. Greenway is widely considered Minnesota's best linebacker, but he is battling a few broken ribs and may not be able to play. This leaves a huge weakness in the Vikings defense that the Lions need to exploit.
Though it is looking more likely that the Lions will be without the speed and elusiveness of Reggie Bush, they have other players who can win this matchup. Eric Ebron matches up well against these linebackers, and Golden Tate's ability to pick up yards after the catch could be huge in this game.
Overall, the Lions defense matches up very well against the Minnesota offense, even not knowing exactly what Bridgewater is capable of. The Lions offense will have a more difficult time finding success against the Vikings, but the opportunity is there.