Lions Leftovers: Combination of great, good, and ugly in win over Minnesota

Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions are 3-1, certainly a surprise to me and a lot of other folks across the NFL. They achieved that with a gutsy 14-7 win in Minnesota, which is never an easy place to win. Here are my observations as I take a look back at Sunday’s game, utilizing some of my favorite memes & moments from running the Detroit Sports Nation live Twitter feed during the game (if you haven’t followed along yet, try it this Sunday – @DetSportsNation). I am calling this one “The Great, the Good, and the Ugly,” so I thought some theme music would be appropriate.

THE GREAT

The best part of this game (and really the season) for the Lions has been their defense. Coming into this match-up, the Vikings had one of the top offenses in the League. They didn’t leave with one.

Through the first three weeks of the season, Viking quarterbacks, Sam Bradford in the season opener and Case Keenum for the last two games, were averaging 294 passing yards per contest, had thrown eight touchdowns and nary a single interception (side note: “nary” is not a word that gets used enough. I’m bringing nary back!).

On Sunday, the Lions still didn’t force Keenum to throw an INT, but he completed just barely over 50% of his passes for just 219 yards. In a game of inches, knocking 75 passing yards off their total is a big deal.

It wasn’t just through the air, though. Minnesota was averaging 115 yards rushing a game. On Sunday, they only had 87 yards. Yes, Dalvin Cook was averaging over five yards per carry before going down in the third quarter with a season-ending knee injury, but adversity happens all the time. Good teams can figure out a way around that, and behind Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota gained only 21 more yards on nine carries.

Coming into this game, Minnesota had one turnover in their first three games. The Lions defense forced three fumbles, including the game-clincher after Glover Quin punched a completed pass out of the arms of Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen when the Vikes were driving for a game-tying touchdown.

The Lions D has now forced 11 turnovers through four games. They only had 14 all last season. That has been the biggest change this year, and it is a change for the better.

Finally, no discussion of this defensive performance is complete without recognizing Anthony Zettel. The second-year pro had a pair of sacks, including one on a third-down play in the fourth quarter that left the Vikings with zero points.

THE GOOD

The run game wasn’t spectacular, but it was more than good enough. Ameer Abdullah was THIS CLOSE to being Detroit’s first 100-yard rusher in 56 games, but he got dinged up late and left the field with 96 yards on 20 carries. That was really it since the rest of the team got 3 yards on 11 carries.

The tight ends were also good, especially Darren Fells. He started out strong, catching the first two passes thrown his way, while Eric Ebron had yet to get a target.

And Fells kept going.

He ended the day with four catches on five targets for 40 yards. Ebron did end up with two catches for 27 yards, and rookie Michael Roberts even had a 15-yard catch.

THE UGLY

Where things got dicey was in every other phase of the passing game. Let’s start with the offensive line, which seemed a half step slow, but made up for it by not being physical. That is an awful combination, especially for Matthew Stafford, who got hit 20 times. Ouch.

Well, it was ONLY six sacks. My bad!

The lack of time behind the line completely took away the deep game, but that is OK because the Lions receivers cannot get open downfield anyway. With only a handful of exceptions, the wideouts are not getting behind anyone.

They only had one reception longer than 16 yards all day. If not for the aforementioned tight ends, this sorry passing game would have been downright dreadful.

As for Stafford, since he was rushed and spent so much time on the ground, it is difficult to be too critical of his game. But I’ll try!

Stafford made some awful decisions. On four separate occasions, he desperately tried to give the ball to the Vikings.

Seriously, if you are going to be paid like an elite player, and people are going to look at you like an elite player, you have to be smart like an elite player. Stafford has not been the reason the Lions have won their three games – the defense has.

Stafford ended the day 19-for-31 for 209 yards. Those are “game manager” types of numbers, not star-making numbers. Tell me that a quarterback making a fraction of Stafford’s numbers cannot do that, and I will tell you that you’re wrong. Stafford has yet to have a 300-yard passing game and has two below 210.

The argument can be made that Stafford hasn’t NEEDED to go off in the passing game, but I don’t think this team is capable. There will come some games where the defense falters, and they Lions fall way behind, and I am not convinced he and the passing game will be able to get the job done.

When it all comes down to it, the only numbers that matter are 3 and 1. The question is what the next three-quarters of the season will reveal. For many of you, there is nary a doubt that the winning will continue.

As the team gears up for a home tilt against Carolina on Sunday, let’s end this with what Coach Caldwell was thinking about during the victory…

Lions Leftovers is the weekly post-game commentary from Detroit Sports Nation contributor Rob Otto.