NFL Preview Week 2: Will The Lions Run The Football All Over The Vikings?

The Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings both come off Week 1 losses on the road, and meet in Minneapolis to kick off the NFC North schedules for both squads. Mark Schofield says that something will have to give when the Lions run the football against the Vikings this week.

In their season-opening loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Lions rushed 16 times for 69 yards, led by rookie Ameer Abdullah who gained 50 yards on just 7 carries, and recording one touchdown.

On Monday night, the Vikings surrendered 230 yards on 39 attempts, a 5.9 yard per carry average. San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde turned in a huge performance against Minnesota, gaining 168 yards on 20 carries and scoring two touchdowns. So something likely changes Sunday: Either the Vikings sort out their run defense woes, or the Lions get their ground game on track.

Outside Zone with a Cutback Twist

On this play the 49ers have quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the pistol with 13 offensive personnel on the field. Hyde stands a few yards behind his quarterback, while tight end Vance MacDonald (#89) lines up in the backfield to the right of the quarterback. The offense has slot formation on the left, with TE Vernon Davis (#85) on the inside and wide receiver Anquan Boldin (#81) on the outside, and TE Garrett Celek (#88) on the end of the line on the right. The defense has their base 4-3 personnel in the game showing an over front:NFLPreview2LionsPlay1Still1

The offense runs an outside zone play here to the closed end of the formation, with the linemen and MacDonald all blocking in unison to the right:NFLPreview2LionsPlay1Still2

Hyde takes the handoff from Kaepernick and heads towards the right edge. But as the blocking flows outside to the right, the RB is able to identify a cutback lane in the middle, which he exploits:

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From there, it is a footrace to the goal line and Hyde outraces safety Robert Blanton to the end zone, adding a little wave at the end for good measure.

Here are the Lions, and Abdullah, from last week. On a 3rd and 2 from the San Diego 25-yard line, Matthew Stafford is under center as Detroit and has 11 personnel on the field. The Chargers have their 4-2-5 nickel defense in the game for this play and show Cover 1 in the secondary with nine defenders in the box:NFLPreview2LionsPlay2Still1

The Lions run the outside zone play to the right, with the offensive line and TE Eric Ebron (#85) blocking outside to the right in unison. Similar to the 49ers play, Abdullah takes the handoff heading to the right, but as the blocking begins to push the defense to the outside, the running back cuts back to the inside and is into the secondary:

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Then one more cut on safety Eric Weddle, and Abdullah is in the endzone.

TE Crossblock

Another concept the 49ers used on Monday night was the tight end cross blocking across the formation. On this play San Francisco has 12 offensive personnel on the field, with Kaepernick in the pistol and Hyde a few yards behind him. The Vikings have their base 4-3 defense in the game:NFLPreview2LionsPlay3Still1

The 49ers run the ball to the inside with TE Celek, who begins the play in a wing alignment on the right, blocking across the formation on the left edge:NFLPreview2LionsPlay3Still2

The offensive line gets a number of solid blocks on this play, beginning on the inside with left guard Alex Boone (#75) and center Marcus Martin (#66) double-teaming the nose tackle at the snap. Left tackle Joe Staley is able to fire out and turn the defensive end to the outside, opening up a nice running lane for Hyde:

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But there are two other elements of note. First, Vernon Davis begins this play in a wing alignment to the left, and at the snap he bursts out towards the sideline, which pulls OLB Anthony Barr (#55) to the outside a few steps. Behind Davis comes Celek from the other side of  the formation, who is in position to block Barr once the OLB recognizes run and tries to pursue the ball.

The Lions and Abdullah using a similar concept last week against the Chargers. Stafford lines up under center with 11 personnel on the field against San Diego’s 4-2-5 nickel defense, showing Cover 1 in the secondary and both defensive ends using a wide-9 alignment:NFLPreview2LionsPlay4Still1

As with the San Francisco example, tight end Brandon Pettigrew (#87) starts this play in a wing alignment on the right and cuts across the formation to block an edge defender on the left. The blocking scheme is a bit different, as the offensive line blocks out to the right on this play, but the result is similar:

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Abdullah takes the snap and immediately cuts back to the left, inside the block of Pettigrew. He then puts a juke on Wedell, cutting inside the safety for a very quick eight-yard gain.

These two examples highlight that what awaits the Vikings this weekend is more of the same that worked against them on Monday night. Minnesota need to quickly sort out their run defense ‒ and how to defend these two schemes in particular ‒ otherwise the Vikings might see a lot of Ameer Abdullah in their secondary.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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