Breaking Down Minnesota’s Tremendous Fourth-Down Stop

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Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) and defensive back Parry Nickerson (39) and cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) and safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

If Minnesota’s defense doesn’t make a critical fourth-down stop late in the 4th quarter, the Detroit Lions would probably be sitting at 2-1. Thankfully, Ed Donatell’s group stepped up, tackling Jamaal Williams before he was able to pick up the first down.

Detroit was protecting a 24-21 lead, so they were trying to drain the clock so that the Vikings couldn’t score. Dan Campbell thus decided to go for it on 4th down with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter. For whatever it’s worth, I think Campbell made the right decision to go for it. At that point, the Lions were 4/5 on their 4th-down attempts.

The issue, at least from Detroit’s perspective, is that the Vikings’ defense played things beautifully. Indeed, Minnesota’s defense stepped up at a crucial moment in the 4th quarter, getting the stop on a crucial fourth-down rushing attempt.

Take a look at the play:

And took a look at this angle:

As Ragatz notes, Camryn Bynum and Danielle Hunter deserve a lot of credit. Bynum decisively fills a gap, forcing Williams to bounce outside. Meanwhile, Hunter is keeping his outside shoulder clean, getting into the lane that Williams is trying to escape toward. That being said, there’s more to the play than just those two.

The first thing to note is the personnel. Detroit is crowding the line of scrimmage with a lot of big bodies. They’re in 13 personnel, meaning there is 1 running back and 3 tight ends on the field. If I’m not mistaken, one of these TEs is actually a backup offensive lineman, making Detroit’s front even more formidable.

Furthermore, Williams is having a pretty nice year. He played well on Sunday, finishing the day with 87 rushing yards and a pair of TDs. He has good power, as his first TD demonstrated:

When the ball is snapped for the fourth-down run, the offensive line moves toward the left. The goal (as far as I can tell) is to get the defense to overcommit to that side. Indeed, the hope is often that the defense will be so fired up to make a play that they’ll abandon their responsiblities, aggressively flying down the field in a manner that opens up a cutback lane for the runner.

Keep an eye on Goff. He even makes it look like he’s handing the ball off on his left side before flipping around to hand it off on the right. If you pause the second video 3 seconds after it begins, you can see the entire offensive line stepping in unison toward the left. Look at the large gap between #67 and #89 on the right side. If Bynum isn’t aggressive, it’s an easy first down (unless Hunter makes a truly sensational play).

The Vikings, for their part, have also put some muscle onto the field. Jonathan Bullard, Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson, and James Lynch are all out there. So is Za’Darius Smith and Hunter. For the most part, they do a good job of getting penetration, so the defense would have been in a nice position if the ball did go to the left.

Back to the actual play side, though.

Williams cuts back and is met by Bynum. To his credit, Williams makes the first man miss, bouncing outside to try to find the edge. Detroit’s TE isn’t able to corral Hunter, though. Plus, take a peak at how Patrick Peterson plays things. He must have contain on the play, meaning he needs to ensure no one gets outside of him. Look at how he positions his body on an almost 45-degree angle to force Williams to cut back up where Hunter is winning his rep.

Making matters even worse for Detroit is that Eric Kendricks has diagnosed the play, so he has filled the gap that Bynum originally hit. At around the 5 second mark in the second video, you’ll see Williams heading toward 3 Vikings defenders with only 1 blocker. It’s an unenviable position to be in. He basically needs to run over multiple Vikings defenders just to gain a yard.

Minnesota’s ability to make that incredible fourth-down stop went a long way in ensuring the team had a chance to come back. True, the next drive didn’t result in a Vikings TD. Nevertheless, stopping the Lions in that moment kept them from being able to drain the clock, preserving precious seconds toward the end of the game.

Hunter, Peterson, Kendricks, and Bynum are all critically important players for the Vikings. If this defense is going to reach its potential, these four will need to keep making excellent plays. They’ll get the chance to keep producing at a high level this upcoming Sunday morning when the Vikings take on the Saints in London.