MINNEAPOLIS -- Through one quarter against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings looked like they were headed for a road letdown on the order of their season-opening Monday night clunker in San Francisco. The Vikings were down 14-3, had let Matthew Stafford hit all six of his throws and had given up as many completions of 40 yards or more (two) as they had all season.
But instead of letting Stafford pick the Vikings apart, coach Mike Zimmer decided to go after Stafford like he'd rarely gone after an opposing quarterback. The Vikings blitzed Stafford on 41.7 percent of his dropbacks Sunday -- the second-highest percentage in any of Zimmer's 22 games as head coach, according to ESPN Stats and Information -- and came after him with extra pressure on 12 dropbacks after the first quarter. The Vikings got all seven of their sacks in the game's final three quarters, and six of the seven came on blitzes, as Stafford had to get X-rays on his hand after the game.
"We made some adjustments. We had to," Zimmer said. "They double-moved us once and then they snuck the tight end (Eric Ebron) out the back side and we just missed it. They were also doing a lot of the 'check with me' things based our coverages, so we had to fix those things. Once we got them into throwing situations, I felt pretty good about it."
Here is a breakdown of the defense in Sunday's game:
Total defensive plays: 54
Brian Robison: 51
Everson Griffen: 51
Linval Joseph: 44
Tom Johnson: 44
Danielle Hunter: 13
Notes: With Sharrif Floyd out, the Vikings gave up an average of 4.5 yards per carry, but they mostly contained the Lions' run game after the first quarter. Joseph was again a bulwark in the middle, shedding Riley Reiff's block to stuff Joique Bell for a one-yard gain in the fourth quarter, and Johnson held up well next to him while filling in for Floyd. In the race of former third-round picks trying to work themselves into the Vikings' defensive end rotation, Hunter (this year's third-rounder) has clearly moved ahead of Crichton, working himself into some of the team's nickel pass rush packages. The fact that the Vikings are still willing to use their top two defensive ends almost all of the time is a reflection of how far their young pass rushers have to go, but Hunter -- who only turns 21 this week -- seems to be outpacing Crichton.
Anthony Barr: 54
Eric Kendricks: 48
Chad Greenway : 27
Audie Cole: 2
Notes: Half of the Vikings' sacks on Sunday came from linebackers, and all three of their starters -- Barr, Kendricks and Greenway -- had at least a half-sack. Kendricks wound up with two, as well as a tackle for loss, and now has four for the season. Asked what he's learned about how to be a successful blitzer in Zimmer's defense, Kendricks said, "Go. Light a fire under your butt and get to the quarterback. You've got to feel where you can move in the pocket and just run." The Lions did cross Kendricks up on Ebron's 55-yard reception, when the linebacker turned back toward the middle of the field and let Ebron run free down the left side of the field; Greenway was pointing at Ebron and telling Kendricks to head back toward him when the rookie drifted toward the middle.
Harrison Smith: 54
Andrew Sendejo: 54
Xavier Rhodes: 53
Terence Newman: 52
Notes: Rhodes had a tough day, giving up four catches in five targets against Calvin Johnson (according to Pro Football Focus) and getting flagged twice for penalties. He followed Johnson for much of the day, but again stayed outside when the Lions moved Johnson into the slot. On Johnson's 46-yard reception in the first quarter, Munnerlyn appeared to have tight coverage on a trail technique, but the receiver freed himself from the 5-foot-9 corner with a subtle hand move that sent Munnerlyn to the ground. Smith had an active day as part of the Vikings' blitz package, posting his first sack of the year and registering two quarterback hits. Playing in Michigan for the first time in the NFL, Michigan State product Trae Waynes was only active on special teams.