The Detroit Lions 0-4 face the Minnesota Vikings 1-3 in Week 5. Despite the slow start for both teams, Minnesota did not look like a 1-3 team and will likely improve. Lions can beat them, however. And if there’s one area they need to capitalize on, it’s racing game with Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift.
Minnesota lost in overtime to the Cincinnati Bengals, a 37-yard misfire at the end of the time limit that would have beaten the Arizona Cardinals, and fell 14-7 to the Cleveland Browns in the course of week 4. The Vikings are better than other 1-3 from teams like the New York Jets and the Houston Texans.
However, their defense against the run was poor.
The Lions have had success with Williams and Swift. Their problems arose when they apparently dropped that part of the offense. The Chicago Bears led from start to finish in Week 4, but it was a close game the whole way through. Still, Williams only carried the ball 14 times despite scoring 66 yards for an average of 4.7.
Some of them can be accredited to play from behind so often, but with a legitimate punch in Williams and Swift, it makes sense to optimize them. If they want to hang on to the Vikings on Sunday, condensing the game and sticking to the attack on the ground would be the recipe for success.
The Browns beat the Vikings in a lousy, low-scoring game last week. Neither team was able to gain momentum in attack and Baker Mayfield looked lost. But Cleveland found the success fueled its own duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Chubb amassed 100 yards on 21 carries while the chase totaled 69 yards on 14 carries. The perception is that the Vikings have so many monsters up front – Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Tomlinson, Everson Griffen, and Michael Pierce (when he’s healthy) – that they must be great to stop the race. The reality is they are much better at rushing the passer and reaching the quarterback than they are at foiling the attack on the ground.
Minnesota’s rushing defense ranks 25th in the NFL, allowing 135.5 yards per game rushing. While the Browns are considered a strong running team, the Vikings have faced opponents like the Seattle Seahawks and the Cardinals who are best known along with Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
Even Seattle had success with the race against Minnesota in Week 3. Chris Carson ran 12 times for 80 yards and a touchdown, but Seattle ran just 18 total times the entire game. Once they fell in the second half, they went into fire drill mode and started throwing the ball all over the place. It often works and Wilson can keep Seattle in games. In week 3 this is not the case.
If the Lions opt for this method against the Vikings, they have virtually no chance of leaving Minneapolis with their first victory of the season.
Cincinnati, led by Joe Mixon’s 29 carries for 127 yards, and Cleveland have come up with a plan that works against that Vikings defense. It didn’t involve Joe Burrow or Mayfield doing five-stage drops and opening nukes on the ground. They relied on their running game from start to finish, and both teams scored victories against Minnesota.
That’s not to say the passing game should be sidelined. In fact, Jared Goff has been really good this year given the circumstances and the lack of a true No.1 receiver. The Lions just need to find that happy balance and use their best talents, which, apart from TJ Hockenson in attack, are Williams and Swift.
Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn blamed himself for not feeding Williams against the Bears more when Detroit returned to heavy passing in the second half, according to the Detroit News.
“I’m all about getting the warm hand up, and Jamaal ran really well last week,” said Lynn. “I probably should have used it more, to be honest with you.” I watched the tape the next day, like ‘This man pulled his tail off.’ “
Lions fans also don’t have to worry about Williams handling a heavy workload. He did it in Green Bay, and it’s something he embraces.
“At the end of the game, third quarter, fourth quarter, it’s the golden quarters, especially for running the ball, because the defense is tired,” said Williams. “It’s just a matter of imposing your will. I just want to impose my will, if you understand me.
If the Lions can stick to a one-possession game, it is in these “golden quarters” that the running game becomes even more critical. They have the talent of Jamaal Williams and Andre Swift to do it.