EAGAN, Minn. — At first glance, the Lions defense looks to be among the league’s worst teams against the run.
Detroit ranks 31st in the NFL, having allowed 144.6 yards per game on the ground, which is just one-tenth of a yard better than last-place Oakland, which allows 144.7 rushing yards per game.
But the Vikings aren’t buying it ahead of Sunday’s big divisional showdown at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Stats are what they are. They can be deceiving at times,” said Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo. “They’ve given up a few long runs. Then you watch the rest of the tape, and it’s 2 yards, 3 yards, 5 yards, 0 yards.
“They’ve given up a few explosives in the run game, which I think kind of throw those stats off a little bit,” DeFilippo added. “If you look at their overall body of work, taking away those few plays, they’re a lot better than 31st in the league in rush defense.”
DeFilippo was spot-on with his recollection of how the Lions have played so far in 2018.
Detroit has allowed four runs of 40-plus yards, which is tied with Oakland for the most in the league. Opponents have scored on three of those runs against the Lions — a 61-yard touchdown by the Jets in Week 1, San Francisco’s 66-yard score in Week 2 and a 54-yard scamper into the end zone by Miami in Week 7. [The fourth run was a 41-yarder by Dallas in Week 4].
All in all, the Lions have allowed six runs of 20-plus yards, which is tied with seven other teams for the fifth-most in the NFL. [The Vikings are one of two teams who haven’t allowed a run of 20 or more yards on defense].
Even still, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer shied away from the notion the Vikings will be able to pick up easy yards on Sunday.
“I’ve seen some teams that have been gashed before, but I don’t see [that in] this,” Zimmer said.
Vikings running back Latavius Murray, who leads Minnesota with 386 rushing yards and four scores, agreed with both of his coaches that Sunday will not be a walk in the park.
“It’s very easy to get caught up in the numbers and what they’ve allowed on the ground,” Murray said. “But if a bulk of those rushing yards come from a 60-yard touchdown, 20-yard gain and a 20-yard gain, then obviously that average is very high, but you have to look at the whole game and see what they’re doing every single play.
“They’re a very stout front. Their safeties, their [defensive backs], they’ll come in and tackle. Their linebackers can run sideline to sideline,” Murray added. “Every week, you can’t look the stats; you can’t look at records; and you definitely can’t look at what a team did the week before or whatnot. You have to take each week at a time and prepare the best way you can for how the Vikings are going to go out and win and be successful.”
Detroit has allowed 100 or more rushing yards in five of seven games and hasn’t allowed less than 89 yards in any game this season.
On the flip side, the Vikings rank 29th at just 87.1 yards per game. But Minnesota has been able to hit the big play at times, as the Vikings are tied for third in the league with eight runs for 20 or more yards.
Murray said he likes how the Vikings run game — and Minnesota’s offense overall — has been playing, but noted that wins are the most important stat he cares about.
“We’re doing some really good things. I think we’ve improved as a team,” Murray said. “We’ve gotten better and better. I think we obviously have to keep building on that, but at the end of the day, we have to win. That’s what’s important.
“Continuing to make sure we get better but continuing to make sure we find ways to win,” Murray added. “None of that matters if we don’t win – that we’re getting better and we’re improving. If you’re not winning, that’s what we’re going to remember the most, obviously.”
Griffen excited to keep working in return to field
Everson Griffen said after Sunday’s game that he was a bit rusty after playing for the first time since mid-September.
The Vikings defensive end, who missed five games due to personal health reasons, said he’s hoping for a more polished performance against the Lions.
“I feel better this week. I take it one thing at a time and one practice at a time. I’m feeling better each and every day,” Griffen said. “I’m just excited to get back out there with my boys and go out there and compete and just keeping on working toward our goal, which is to get a win against Detroit.
“I expect more out of myself each and every game and each and every week,” Griffen later added. “I just need to get back to my form, and it’s coming back more and more each day.”
Griffen played 37 defensive snaps [70 percent] in Sunday’s loss to the Saints, and Zimmer said “we’ll see” about an increased snap count against Detroit.
The defensive end said he’ll be ready for “whatever the coaches have in store for me” on Sunday.
Griffen ranks seventh in franchise history with 62 career sacks.
The Vikings will get a well-deserved break next weekend as Minnesota’s bye week is in Week 10 on the schedule.
But first, there is business to take care of.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said Thursday that Zimmer has created a strong belief that good teams win before the bye and don’t just pack it in.
“It’s something that we’ve actually done pretty well under Coach Zimmer here with going into the bye week with a win,” Rudolph said. “I know I’ve been around a lot of teams in the past that, when the bye week hits the next week on the schedule … you start looking ahead to that bye week, and you’ve already made your plans and at practice the following week your car is already started and you’re ready to roll.
“That’s not the case with the team that we’ve had here over the last few years,” Rudolph said.
Sure enough, the Vikings are 3-1 in games right before the bye in the previous four years under Zimmer. Minnesota beat Washington in 2014, lost to Denver on the road in 2015 and topped Houston at home in 2016 before getting past Cleveland in London during the 2017 season.
Rudolph joked the team has extra incentive to get a win before the break.
“It seems like it’s been really important to go out and play well before the bye week so that usually puts Coach Zimmer in a little bit better mood on the bye week,” Rudolph said. “A way for us to really make him mad would be to not play well going into the bye.”
The Vikings are an even .500 in games following the break.
Minnesota is 2-2 in games post-bye over the past four years, with losses on the road to Chicago (2014) and Philadelphia (2016) and victories against Kansas City at home in 2015 and at Washington this past season.
The Vikings travel to Chicago for a Week 11 road game following the Week 10 bye.
For the Vikings: Stefon Diggs (rib), Tom Compton (knee), Roc Thomas (hamstring) and Anthony Barr (hamstring) did not practice. Xavier Rhodes (foot), Andrew Sendejo (groin), Dalvin Cook (hamstring), Riley Reiff (foot) and Linval Joseph (ankle/knee) were limited.
For the Lions: Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), Taylor Decker (back), Christian Jones (knee), T.J. Lang (hip), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck/toe) and Theo Riddick (knee) were limited.