Vikings brace for Lions’ blitz amid Kirk Cousins’ recent struggles

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Nine yards separated the Vikings from a two-score game in the fourth quarter of Monday night's loss in Philadelphia. Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon called three straight blitzes. Cousins threw two incompletions and an interception.

The Vikings know Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was watching and are preparing for more heat from Detroit on Sunday. Cousins completed just three of 11 passes for 20 yards and two interceptions when facing Eagles pass rushes of five or more.

"We're kind of expecting that this week," left guard Ezra Cleveland said. "It'll be easier at home, too, talking to each other across the line up on the ball. The crowd noise last week made it kind of hard, but I think we did a pretty good job communicating."

Head coach Kevin O'Connell left Lincoln Financial Field feeling like Gannon got him with pressure calls that O'Connell's plays weren't best suited to handle at the time. O'Connell said the coaching staff "definitely could have helped" Cousins more after the quarterback's first three-interception game since Oct. 2020.

"They did a nice job with kind of some timely all-out pressure," O'Connell said. "We felt good about our plan to handle [it]. But then there's one thing to feel good about it on paper or out here, but then we've got to make sure our guys are prepared and ready to handle it in real time, and that's where I think we'll continue to grow as a group and something I've got to do a better job of."

Players also weren't perfect. On the second-and-goal play from the Eagles' 9-yard line, O'Connell called a five-wide formation that gave Cousins no extra protection. The Eagles ran a "zero blitz," which always sends more than the offense can block by assigning man-to-man coverage across the board and sending the extra defender after the passer.

Center Garrett Bradbury appears to miss an Eagles linebacker, leading to two unblocked rushers when Cousins hurried the first deflected lob to receiver Justin Jefferson.

'We have to adjust quickly'

Through two games, only the Arizona Cardinals have blitzed more than the Detroit Lions, averaging 20 blitzes in each. Vikings players studied cutups this week of the Lions' third-down pressure schemes to prepare for varied attacks that have coaches ready to pivot against an aggressive defense.

"They've got a lot of different packages," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. "They've got some things that look very similar but end up playing out differently, so when you look at all the things they've done, we've just got to figure out what their plan is against us. They're not going to run every package they have, but we're going to have to be able to adjust quickly."

Vikings coaches said they need to better prepare the offense for blitzes in varied situations by designing "answers" in plays. Those answers were missing as Cousins threw incompletes and interceptions against the Eagles.

They can ill afford to be unprepared against the Lions and a defense that will send the house. Detroit unloaded an unconventional zero blitz on a long third down — 13 yards to go — against the Commanders. Quarterback Carson Wentz was hit while throwing an incompletion.

"We just gotta be able to handle it and make plays against it," Cousins said. "It's something that we'll see throughout the year and we've seen a lot throughout the past. It's important to handle it well and we didn't handle it well enough on Monday night."

Playing fast and loose

On the other side, Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash told Detroit reporters that he had a "real heart-to-heart" with the team's interior linemen like Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs — who received game balls after the Lions' win over Washington — about "how they have to play well this week inside for us to win" against the Vikings.

Cleveland, the Vikings' left guard, sees a Lions defensive line that is aggressive on the edges with rookie No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris.

The so-called key for the Lions defense, the interior linemen, are set-up men. They assist Lions linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Alex Anzalone, who lead the defense in run stops.

"Lot of lateral movement," Cleveland said, "and then the linebackers are also aggressive. They pop a lot. I think the defensive tackles try to loosen up the [O-line] combinations so the linebackers can make plays."

There are plays to be made against aggressive defenses, and the Lions have still been vulnerable. Detroit allowed 38 points and 455 yards to the Eagles in Week 1. The Commanders had 340 yards in the second half of the Lions' win last week, when Wentz found receiver Terry McLaurin for an 18-yard gain against the blitz.