The Detroit Lions like to throw the ball. Quarterback Matthew Stafford set a NFL record for single-season passing attempts last year with 727, and the next highest total in the League in 2012 was Drew Brees with 670. In 2011 Stafford also led the NFL in attempts with 663, a number that ranks as the fifth-highest single-season total in NFL history. And Stafford nearly became a back-to-back 5,000-yard passer last season, coming up 33 yards shy of the threshold after surpassing it in 2011.
Suffice it to say, the Vikings have been preparing all week for Stafford and the Lions sophisticated passing attack. There aren’t a lot of new faces and the scheme doesn’t figure to have changed much, but Stafford and his top target, Calvin Johnson, are so prolific it still requires plenty of work to prepare for them.
At the same time, the Vikings know there’s more to the Lions offense this season than a gunslinging quarterback and nearly unstoppable receiver. Despite the Lions penchant for the pass, the Vikings will come into this weekend’s game committed to stopping the run first. Yes, against the pass-happy Lions, the Vikings have prioritized stopping the run.
The Vikings swept the season series against Detroit last year, and they also happened to be the toughest opponent to run against for the Lions all season. The Lions two lowest rushing totals of the season both came against the Vikings – 55 yards on 20 attempts in Week 4 and 60 yards on 17 attempts in Week 12.
“I think you have to spend a lot of time on it,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said when asked if he’d work his defense against the run at all this week. “One of the things that we did well was we defended the run plays that they had last year and I think when we got up on them they had to abandon some of the runs that they had and go to the pass because they were playing catch up. They are very capable of running the ball and running it well.”
The guys capable of carrying the rock include Reggie Bush, the new acquisition, but also holdovers from last year’s team such as Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Those three runners give the Lions a full complement of inside runners, outside runners and receivers out of the backfield.
It’s hard enough to ground the Lions aerial attack with Stafford slinging the rock to guys such as Reggie Bush, Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew. But trying to do it while also giving up chunks of yardage on the ground is an entirely different problem. The Vikings are looking to avoid that problem and turn Detroit into a one-dimensional offensive operation.