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Presser Points: Threats of Lions Offense, Elflein’s Influence & Assessing Return Game

EAGAN, Minn. – The NFC North looks a little bit different in the wake of Tuesday’s trade deadline coming and going.

One of the splashier trades in the division involved the Lions sending wide receiver Golden Tate to Philadelphia in exchange for a third-round draft pick.

Tate has certainly done damage against the Vikings, and it could be considered positive timing to have the receiver leave the Lions just before Detroit and Minnesota match up on Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards reminded media members on Thursday, however, that the Lions still have plenty of offensive weapons. The trading of Tate does not mean a relaxation by Minnesota’s defense.

Edwards highlighted Lions receivers Marvin Jones, Jr., Kenny Golladay, Brandon Powell and TJ Jones.

“All of those guys have played for them and have been successful for them,” Edwards said. “Also, the use of their backs in the passing game. They’ve done a good job of utilizing them in the passing game, whether it’s been screens or check-downs or just the option routes out of the backfield.

“Tate is who he is,” Edwards added. “He is a great run-after-the-catch guy, he does a great job of getting open in certain situations. He [played a big part in] what they did situationally. [But we] will have our test as far as matching up against their receivers this week. We are just going through game planning against them.”

Edwards also spoke about quarterback Matthew Stafford and what has enabled him to produce at a high level for a long time. So far this season, Stafford is 171-of-253 passing for 1,912 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions with a passer rating of 98.5.

Edwards said the biggest thing about Stafford is that he has been consistent over the years.

“You look at him, really over the last probably three years, you really see his mobility in the pocket, him having a good grasp of what they are doing offensively,” Edwards said. “Understanding situational football, being able to get the ball out of his hands. Understanding protection, what they are doing, how to step up. He’s got great pocket presence.

“He’s got the arm strength to make all the throws,” Edwards continued. “He is very decisive with what he is going against from week-to-week and where to put the ball. It will definitely be another stiff challenge for us against him. He’s a tough competitor and does a great job.”

Here are other topics addressed by Edwards, Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer:

Edwards on Lions offensive line:

Over the past four seasons, Stafford has been sacked an average of 43.3 times per campaign.

At the midpoint of the 2018 season, however, Stafford has been sacked just 13 times. Detroit’s offensive line has better protected its quarterback and also played a role in the Lions run game improving.

“I think their offensive line has done a great job of getting movement up front all year,” Edwards said. “You look at the one thing that has stayed consistent with their offensive line and also with [Kerryon Johnson] being their running back.”

Edwards also was asked about Lions guard T.J. Lang, who has been healthier this season.

“I think he looks like he’s getting back to his form,” Edwards said. “He really has been good in there. Solid getting movement on the run. He’s been doing a good job in protection. Really across the board, you look at their offensive line from their tackles to their guards, they really do a great job of understanding what they are trying to get accomplished.”

Added Edwards: “It will be a tough challenge for us this weekend, going against their front.”

DeFilippo on Elflein’s influence:

Having center Pat Elflein back has been beneficial for the Vikings run game.

DeFilippo said Elflein has been “very” influential in helping improve Minnesota’s ground game after it started slow.

“Especially when you are running your inside zone. Any runs. We always just talk about getting the play started,” DeFilippo said. “And when you’re running inside, Pat does a good job of denting the line of scrimmage at the point of attack to where you can get the play started, and I think you’ve seen our number of negative runs decrease since he came back. Obviously, our backs are doing a heck of a job running the ball, as well.”

DeFilippo said that Elflein’s ability to be quick with his hands is a key to getting the play started well.

“He gets the ball out to the quarterback very, very quickly,” DeFilippo said. “He has a great first step. The other thing is, he knows what is going on. He understands, he can diagnose fronts very quickly. He understands safety rotation, understands the alignment in the front where there could be a stunt up front.”

DeFilippo on Detroit adding Harrison:

The Lions strengthened their defensive line when they traded with the Giants on Oct. 25 to acquire Damon Harrison.

DeFilippo said the defensive tackle will bolster Detroit’s front and help clamp down on the run game.

“He is a heck of a player,” DeFilippo said of Harrison. “Obviously, being in Philadelphia the past two years [as the quarterbacks coach] and him in New York [with the Giants], he is a load there in the middle to move. For as big as he is, he is a darn good athlete. We are going to have to do a good job of trying to move him and getting to the second level.”

Priefer on the return game:

Priefer wasn’t particularly pleased with Minnesota’s special teams performance against the Saints on Sunday, saying the group didn’t do enough to win. He broke down the return game against New Orleans and explained the ways it needs to improve this week against Detroit.

“We just had the one opportunity, and we didn’t block the gunners at all, unfortunately, on the one punt return Marcus [Sherels] had, and then the other one was a fair catch at the end of the game,” Priefer said. “Kickoff return, I don’t think we blocked it very well – I don’t think it was Marcus’ fault, per se. I think he did a good job setting up the return. We had a little bit of a seam close up quickly on us and someone bounce left on the second return. I thought we had a real nice play going there, but [a Vikings blocker] got knocked back into the returner’s lap, and [Sherels] had nowhere to go. We had two bad blocks at the point of attack. You just can’t have that against a good team like New Orleans.

“Our focus this week is finishing blocks, playing penalty-free. We had a penalty on kickoff return, which is unacceptable, especially for our guys,” Priefer added. “So going forward, penalty free, ball possession, stay on our blocks and let’s take advantage of any kicks we might be able to return this week.”

Priefer on coaching a veteran kicker:

The Vikings signed kicker Dan Bailey in September, and Priefer was asked if he approaches his coaching style with an eight-year veteran differently than he would with a rookie kicker.

“Absolutely,” Priefer responded. “What I do with a veteran kicker, I think he’s been through a lot. He’s been through every situation, so I kind of draw on his experience, and when we talk about certain situations, we talk about the different situations that he’s been in in his career.

“When you take a younger kicker, you kind of have to practice those situations in practice and in the preseason type of games to prepare him for what he might kick in a regular-season game,” Priefer continued. “Dan’s been there, done that, so to speak. So when we talk about a hurry-up field goal at the end of a half, or certain situations where you’re coming in after a timeout, how do you approach that? I kind of pick his brain and learn from him on what makes him tick, so I’m better able to coach and prepare him on game day.”

Priefer also gave a practice update on Bailey, who missed an extra point in last weekend’s game.

“He hit 20, 22 kicks yesterday indoors,” Priefer said, “and the only one he missed was a mayday situation, a hurry-up situation where I didn’t give him time to give his steps. Then we did another one, and he drilled a 48-yarder down the middle. He’s ready, he’s ready to go, and we’ll have another good day today and get him ready for Sunday.”

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