Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson and DT Ndamukong Suh are arguably the best players at their respective positions in the NFL. Johnson has more TD receptions (33) than any other WR since he entered the League and Suh was a consensus choice for defensive rookie of the year honors after last season.
So the Vikings will certainly focus much of their attention on those two players this Sunday when the Lions challenge at Mall of America Field. But Detroit has several other talented players in the fold as well, and it’s clear the Vikings won’t be overlooking them.
One such player is WR Nate Burleson, a former Viking who is known for his intelligence and quicker-than-fast, sure-handed skill set. Burleson was a 3rd-round pick of the Vikings in 2003, was signed by the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 and then returned to the NFC North with the Lions in 2010. He jumped right into the swing of things last year by grabbing 55 receptions and scoring 6 TDs, and this year he leads the Lions in receptions with 12 and looks to be a serious threat from the slot.
To give you an idea of the kind of player he is, Burleson recently compared his style of play to that of New England’s Wes Welker. While comparing oneself to Welker is lofty, Burleson has looked the part at times in his career and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier didn’t deny that he’s someone for which the defense needs to account.
“You can’t ignore him,” Frazier said after practice on Friday. “He’s making a lot of plays for their offense on reverses, underneath routes, a lot of yards after the catch. He’s really helped make their offense a complete offense. He’s not getting some of the headlines of course that Calvin will get, but he’s really become a major factor in their pass offense.”
The other player to watch is DT Corey Williams, a player with whom the Vikings are quite familiar. Williams began his career with the Green Bay Packers and after 4 seasons there played for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns traded him to Detroit in 2010 and, much like Burleson, it didn’t take Williams long to become a factor on the team. Williams played and started in 16 games in 2010, and along the way he recorded 4 passes defensed, 2.0 sacks and an INT.
At 6-4, 320 pounds, Williams has the bulk to stuff the run. But he’s also athletic enough to chase the passer. The Vikings saw that athleticism last year because Williams INT came against the Vikings. It should also be noted that Williams’ impact on Detroit’s defense is not always seen in the box score; he’s much like Kevin Williams for the Vikings defense in that way. Williams is huge for the Lions defense because he can command attention from multiple blockers, and if he gets a one-on-one matchup he can ruin plays and change games.
Yes, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh are the best players on Detroit’s team. But don’t sleep on Burleson and Williams, either. The Vikings won’t be.
Tags: Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 110 Comments »
When you begin the season with a 2-0 record, you’re obviously doing a lot of things correctly. But when I popped in the tape of the Detroit Lions first two games of the season, there’s one thing that stands out more than any other: QB Matthew Stafford is picking teams apart and he’s doing it while sitting comfortably in the pocket.
The Lions have not given up a sack yet in the 2011 season, and they’re the only team to accomplish that feat. So this week’s After (Film) Review is dedicated to analyzing how to pressure Stafford.
Before we get into details, numbers and statistics, let’s address the Lions offensive personnel at QB and OL. This is a group on the rise, and it starts with Stafford. Now fully healthy, Stafford appears to be one of the fastest-rising passers in the NFL. In two games this season, Stafford is 47 of 72 (65.2%) for 599 yards with 7 TDs and 2 INTs. Stafford’s passer rating is 111.9, and I’d also note that one of his two INTs was a deflected pass that should’ve been caught.
The offensive line is a solid group that has protected Stafford very well through two games (zero sacks allowed). Jeff Backus is the LT and he’ll go against Jared Allen on Sunday. Chiefs DE Tamba Hali was better than Backus last week, beating him with a combination of power and speed moves. Allen has 4.5 sacks against Detroit in 6 games, and he’ll need more if the Vikings are going to hang with Detroit. The interior of the Lions offensive line features Rob Sims at LG, Dominic Raiola at C and Stephen Peterman at RG. This is a solid trio in the middle, but the Vikings have Kevin Williams returning and I think there will be opportunities for the Vikings to win in this area. The Lions RT is Gosder Cherilus, a solid player whom I saw pick up a few blitzers against the Chiefs. He is playing well.
Vikings fans should find the name Scott Linehan familiar. He’s the Lions Offensive Coordinator, but the reason Vikings fans should know his name is because he was the Vikings Offensive Coordinator from 2002-04 and guided the NFL’s 2nd, 1st and 4th best offenses in his three Vikings seasons. So Linehan knows how to get it done, and in Detroit he has the combination of offensive weapons and scheme that creates explosive results.
The biggest trend in the Lions scheme is their reliance on the gun (commonly referred to as the shotgun) formation. Stafford has been on the field for 125 snaps through two games, and he’s been in the gun for 81 of those 125 snaps (64.8%). Also, Stafford has thrown 61 of his 72 pass attempts (84.7%) from the gun. Why does Detroit use the gun formation so much? Is it a comfort issue for Stafford? Does Stafford have trouble scanning the field from under center? I’m not sure, but the high rate of snaps out of the gun stands out to me.
Bringing Pressure to Stafford
Put simply, the Buccaneers and Chiefs were conservative in bringing extra rushers to pressure Stafford. In 72 dropbacks against Stafford, the Buccaneers and Chiefs brought 5 or more rushers just 15 times (20.8%), according to my count. In the snaps Stafford saw 5+ rushers, he completed 5 of 12 (41.6%) passes for 87 yards with 2 TDs, 1 INT and a passer rating of 71.8. In 60 dropbacks against 4 or fewer rushers, Stafford is 42 of 60 (70.0%) for 512 yards with 5 TDs, 1 INT and a passer rating of 116.8.
It’s a limited sample size with only 12 attempts, but Stafford’s efficiency declines against 5+ rushers. Although in fairness, I should also point out that Stafford has 2 TD throws against pressure.
My thinking is the best strategy is to bring pressure against Stafford. Specifically, I would attack the left edge of the Lions offensive line (Antoine Winfield from the slot, if the alignment matches up?) and the A gaps (E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway). Yes, if Detroit covers up that pressure, Stafford can gash the Vikings big time. But, if you look at his numbers against 4 or fewer rushers, he’s killing defenses anyway. At the end of the day, it’d be easier for me to accept Stafford beating me while I was bringing pressure than to accept the fact that Stafford beat me while I was sitting back on the defensive and trying to guard that talented group of playmakers.
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 89 Comments »