Two banged up teams met at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday, and it was the Vikings who felt the most pain in a 17-3 loss to division rival Detroit. The Lions defense entered the game as one of the best units in the NFL and played like it, sacking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater eight times and holding the Vikings to just 212 yards of offense. The Vikings defense fought to keep the team in the game, but Detroit ultimately prevailed.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss to Detroit.
View images from the week six matchup at TCF Bank Stadium between the Vikings and Lions.
1. Vikings Defense Responded (again) after Opening-Drive StrugglesAfter allowing the Lions to drive 80 yards in seven plays to score a touchdown and go up 7-0 on the opening drive, the Vikings defense responded and was stingy the rest of the way. Detroit's next six drives ended with five punts and a missed field goal, and none of the drives included more than two 1st downs. Detroit didn't put together another drive of more than 26 yards until the 4th quarter and they ended the game going just one of 13 (8%) on 3rd down. Even with Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson sidelined, those are still impressive numbers produced by the Vikings defense. Lions QB Matthew Stafford was just 19 of 33 (57.6%) for 185 yards and one touchdown, pedestrian numbers for a quarterback who ordinarily produces gaudy numbers.
There are certainly issues to clean up defensively, particularly the opening drive struggles, but in general the Vikings defense rebounded spectacularly from last week's performance and gave the Vikings a chance to win the game.
2. Lions Defense as Good as AdvertisedDetroit came into Sunday's game with one of the NFL's best defenses, ranked first in offensive yards allowed per game (282.4), third in rushing yards allowed per game (74.4), fourth in offense points allowed per game (15.8) and sixth in passing yards allowed per game (208). And they played like a top-ranked defense, sacking Bridgewater eight times, holding the Vikings to just 3.8 yards per carry and turning the Vikings over three times (all interceptions). The Lions front four was disruptive consistently against both the run and pass, five different defenders totaled six pass breakups (PBUs) and the entire group tackled well.
3. Little Production from Vikings OffenseAll the talk of defense set aside, the most visible blemish in the Vikings performance on Sunday was a lack of offensive production. The Vikings totaled just 212 yards offense, averaged only 3.8 yards per play, were three of 14 (21%) on 3rd down, zero of two in the red zone, and had just one play of over 20 yards. Whether it was subpar pass protection, receivers not getting open and dropping passes, or not taking care of the ball, there were plenty of culprits for the anemic offensive output.
4. Anthony Barr Continues to ImpressIt's approaching the time to stop saying rookie linebacker Anthony Barr is "off to a great start." Barr is getting closer and closer to earning the label of being a great player. He came into Sunday's game as the Vikings leading tackler and was unofficially credited with seven tackles against the Lions, which would keep him as the team's leader in that category. As impressive, though, is the manner in which Barr makes his tackles. On one play he can take on a bruising fullback, shed the block and make a tackle, and on the next snap he's running toward the flat and chasing down a speedy running back for little-to-no gain. Harrison Smith is a great fit in Mike Zimmer's defense because he can cover in space, defend the run near the line of scrimmage and blitz from the edge. Barr is similar in that he can lineup as a stacked linebacker and play the run, he can pressure from the edge and he's good in space when he's chasing to tackle or covering.* *
5. Vikings Keep Losing the Turnover TallyThe importance of the turnover battle cannot be overstated in the NFL. Aside from total score, it is the single most important statistic in pro football. The Vikings were -3 in turnover margin on Sunday and they failed to force a turnover on defense. The Vikings defense did well when responding to sudden change, allowing just three points on those three turnovers, but the Vikings defense also did not give the Vikings offense any short fields. The Vikings average starting field position was the -27 and the Vikings didn't start one drive beyond the -41. The lack of offensive production aside, the defense can help the offense along by forcing turnovers and creating short fields. In order to get back on the winning track, the Vikings must start getting back on the right side of the turnover margin.