EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As first impressions go, the Lions' opportunity to introduce Reggie Bush to the NFC North by way of the Minnesota Vikings couldn't have worked out much better. The Lions added Bush this offseason to help their running game, yes, but also to add an underneath component to their passing game when defenses focused on stopping Calvin Johnson.
And in the Vikings, they had a Week 1 opponent with a new middle linebacker, a secondary trying to adjust to the departure of its best open-field tackler and a formidable pass rush that could cover for some of the uncertainty if it could get to Matthew Stafford.
The game was a perfect crucible for the Lions. Bush posted 191 combined yards, slashing the Vikings for 101 receiving yards mostly on screens. And for Minnesota, it quickly opened up a wound in the defense that the Chicago Bears and Matt Forte might be able to exploit this weekend.
Bush gained a career-high 104 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information (for those of you trying to do the math there, he caught a few of those screens behind the line of scrimmage). He did most of his damage when he floated through the middle of the Vikings defense on a screen for a 77-yard touchdown that coach Leslie Frazier said should not have happened.
"We were kind of blocked out on a couple where we needed certain guys to fit in certain positions," Frazier said. "They didn’t, and it resulted in the one big play, the 77-yarder. The others [were] maybe a 6-yarder or 8-yarder, but the 77-yarder was the back breaker. We have to do a better job of fitting it. That play should not end up being a touchdown, a 77-yard touchdown. We have to do a better job of fitting up screens."
If I'm the Vikings, I'd be just as concerned about the effect quick passes can have against a deep defensive line. Opponents used the tactic with some success last year, posting the fifth-highest quarterback rating in the league against them on passes that took 2.5 seconds or less to deliver. That was the magic number defensive end Brian Robison used on Monday, and he estimated Stafford threw only three or four times after holding the ball that long. The Vikings' only sack came from Jared Allen in the fourth quarter, and Stafford was pressured on just four drop-backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"It's frustrating, but you've got to keep working," Robison said. "Sometimes, things will come free, and you get there. But you've got to give your 'hat's off' to Stafford and that offense. They were getting the ball out of there so fast."
I'll be interested to see how much the Bears employ a similar tactic next week. Coach Marc Trestman has said he wants to use Forte more often in the passing game, and Forte caught four passes for 41 yards in Chicago's win Sunday. The Bears' offensive line has had enough trouble over the years, both specifically with the Vikings and in general, that Trestman could see a similar opportunity to exploit the Vikings defense after watching tape of the Lions game.
Until the Vikings prove they can stop it, they'll probably see a heavy dose of what Detroit executed.
"We’ve encountered that before. It’s not the first team to use that strategy," Frazier said. "There are some things that we’ve got to do better when teams do that. I would not be surprised if we saw some of that this coming weekend as well. We’ll have to devise a better plans for teams that do that, that don’t let us rush the quarterback."