Vikings' Cook sends Lions from frying pan to the fire
Allen Park — The Lions’ primary defensive objective each week is to stop the run. If they can do that effectively, they believe it sets up everything else for success.
The Lions want opponents to throw the ball. They want to unleash their pass rush, led by Ziggy Ansah, and they want their surging secondary to have opportunities to build on their NFC-best seven interceptions
Through two games, the Lions were executing their mission. The Arizona Cardinals mustered a meager 45 yards on the ground. The New York Giants tallied 62. Combined, the two opponents averaged a shade under 3.0 yards per carry. And most importantly, the Lions won both games by double-digits.
Things came unraveled last week against the Atlanta Falcons. The team’s dual-threat tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran roughshod over Detroit’s defense, racking up 227 yards from scrimmage, including 152 on the ground.
“What I like to tell our guys is when there’s a bad play, it’s not one person or one thing, it’s usually a breakdown of a lot of things, and that’s really what we had last week,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said."
Austin’s players confirm it. They’ll tell you they failed to stick to the fundamentals, lost control of their gap assignments, and most importantly, failed to make stops when they had a chance.
“If you look at the last game, (Freeman) got all his yards after contact,” defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “So first things first, we’ve got to tackle.”
These issues cannot linger. The Lions must turn the page immediately, with the Minnesota Vikings and rookie running back Dalvin Cook on deck.
“Cook is probably a little bigger, but very similar (to Freeman) — one cut, explosive, quick, strong guys,” safety Glover Quin said.
You remember Cook, the highly touted Florida State prospect who plummeted out of the first round of this year’s draft due to character concerns and a subpar showing at the combine. While Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey came off the board in the first eight picks, Cook slid to No. 41, before the Vikings traded up seven spots to snag him.
The Vikings desperately needed a back after finishing dead last in the NFL in rushing last season and opting to part ways with longtime face of the franchise Adrian Peterson during the offseason.
“Yeah, we were excited when Dalvin was there, and (general manager) Rick (Spielman) did a nice job of making a trade to go up and get him,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “It’s hard to say about your expectations, you draft a guy and you really never know, but we thought he was very good at Florida State and he’s shown that those are the exact same things that he did in college, he’s doing here.”
Cook quickly established himself as the featured back in the Vikings backfield, capable of playing all three downs thanks to a combination of his ability as a ballcarrier, passing threat and pass protector, a rarity for any rookie. He rushed for 127 yards in his debut and racked up a season-best 169 yards from scrimmage and his first career touchdown in last week’s 34-17 thumping of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“You don’t have to take him off the field on third downs,” Zimmer said. “He runs good routes. He understands protections for a young guy and that’s extremely important.”
Cook has the Vikings back in the top half of the NFL in rushing, and that’s opened up the team’s passing attack, despite starting quarterback Sam Bradford missing two of the team’s three games. Only the New England Patriots have racked up more yards this year than the Vikings.
If the Lions want to flip the script, it’s going to start with slowing down the rookie in the backfield.
“He changes the game for them,” safety Glover Quin said. “We’ve got to do what we do to limit him. We’ve got to put bodies on him, we’ve got to know where he’s at and understand he’s going to make some plays, but as long as we keep the big plays off it, we should be fine.”