The Detroit Lions have only to look at the Minnesota Vikings to see how a football team can get the right elements to succeed.

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Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia speaks to the media after the 42-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Ford Field. Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press

This team has a talented roster, a tremendous running game and a top-tier defense that clamps down on the run and gets after the quarterback. It has a strong running game that complements its own quarterback, who threw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns. 



This is what the Lions have been trying to build. Only here’s the problem: It was the Minnesota Vikings that looked so impressive. They have become the team the Lions want to be.

The Lions are just — well, mediocre. Good enough to keep it close, but not good enough to beat a contender like the Vikings.

“We’re running the ball — play-action pass and we’re converting on third downs, the pocket has been clean, offensive line has been playing with great intensity,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said after the Vikings’ 42-30 victory at Ford Field.

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay gives up a long pass to Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs during the first half Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 at Ford Field. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Minnesota is 5-2 and is a legitimate contender in the NFC North. The Lions have lost three straight and are 2-3-1.

“Obviously, not a very good game for us there,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said, echoing the familiar words of countless Lions coaches before him. “We’re all disappointed. I think all three phases had things on the field they’d like to do better.”

The disparity between the teams starts with the run defense. The Lions couldn’t stop someone if you spotted them a traffic light and left it stuck on red. Something would still go wrong. 

“Yeah, I mean, those guys came out with a great game plan and they executed very well,” Lions defensive back Tracy Walker said. “Obviously, our game plan didn’t stick very well when we tried to compete.”

Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook ran 25 times for 142 yards with two touchdowns. The Vikings had 166 yards rushing, becoming the fifth-straight team to gain at least 120 yards rushing against the Lions.

Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson is tackled by Minnesota Vikings defenders during the first half Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 at Ford Field. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Late in the fourth quarter, the Lions still had a shred of hope. They pulled to within 28-24 after Matt Prater's field goal with 3:01 left.

You had to figure the Vikings would try to run out the clock. So the Lions loaded up the box. They sold out, trying to stop the run, trying to get the ball back.

“We wanted to stay aggressive,” Zimmer said. “They were moving the ball really well, and we felt like we had to. It was a play that we had up off of a play-action, and we had a chance to get Diggs in space. There wasn’t much conversation ... we didn’t come here to tower down, we came here to try and hit it.”

Again, wouldn’t you love to hear a Lions coach talk like that after a game? Instead, Patricia talked about trying to find answers.

“Let’s coach it better, let’s play it better, let’s do better with our fundamentals,” he said. “That’s what we did last year — it’s the same thing. It doesn’t really change. We just have to execute on the field better and keep committing to trying to get that done because we have to do it.”

Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11) celebrates his third touchdown against the Vikings during the first half on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, at Ford Field. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

They solved their red-zone problems by doing something revolutionary: getting the ball to their play-makers.

Marvin Jones Jr. caught three touchdown passes. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” he said. “We know what type of game it is and we just have to execute. If we do that and we control what we can control, then we’ll be in good shape. But we have to do that for four quarters and I think we will.”

But it wasn’t enough. Not when the other team can run the ball, stop the run, and throw play-action passes.

It’s hard to say what was more impressive. The way the Vikings scored on a 97-yard scoring drive, shoving it down the Lions' throat. Or the way they scored touchdowns on three straight drives in the first half. Or how they scored TDs on two consecutive drives in the second half.

“I feel like they had their way with us defensively,” Lions linebacker Devon Kennard said. “It’s very frustrating, disappointing and nobody is coming to save us.”

Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis pressures Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the first half Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 at Ford Field. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Defensive tackle Damon Harrison had to be helped off the field with a groin injury. On the bench, linebacker Jarrad Davis was getting his ankle taped — he hobbled back onto the field and kept playing. But cornerback Darius Slay was out with a hamstring injury, and running back Kerryon Johnson left with a knee injury.

But this team has too many warts, injuries, weaknesses and issues to be considered a contender, or to even beat one.

Pliers

The Vikings have a general manager who has built a talented roster. They have a talented running back. An offensive line that creates holes. A stout defense. All the pieces fit together. And they have all kinds of hope.

Debating what's wrong with the Lions defense after they were shredded by the Vikings 42-30 at Ford Field, Oct. 20, 2019. Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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