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Hock Around the Clock

This Sunday, the Lions could do something they have never done in my 25 years and 1 week of existence. The fact the Lions could win the division for the first time in its current iteration (remember the last time we won the division, it was the NFC Central) is both exciting and daunting. The fact we could do it with a win over a divisional foe would make it all that sweeter. So how do the stats say this win could happen?

 

Offence:

The Vikings are, like most teams, 11 personnel heavy, running it on 64% of their offensive snaps for 0.03 EPA per play. They also run 12 personnel on 22% of their plays for -0.1 EPA/play. They also run 21 and 13 personnel on more than 5% of their offensive snaps, gaining -0.18 and -0.01 EPA/play respectively. Overall, the Vikings pass the ball on 66% of their offensive plays and gain -0.02 EPA per play.


As per usual, we start with the quarterback spot. This spot has been more in flux than the excuses made for why FSU didn't make the CFP. According to Kevin O'Connell, it will be Nick Mullens under center on Sunday.


According to nfelo, Mullens has been the 26th-best QB in the league this year, offering -0.2 points over the average starter. He has the best CPOE of any QB in the league this year with a mark of +13.9%, and his 50% success rate on throws ranks 6th in the league. Mullens averages 0.17 EPA per dropback, which is 6th-best in the league. His 0.008 WPA per dropback ties for 1st of all QBs, with his backup (and former draft crush of mine) Jaren Hall being the QB who can match this mark. So how is he not higher ranked overall? It is because he is 42nd in EPA per dropback added by penalties (-0.01), 45th in EPA/db for interceptions (-0.04), and 56th in EPA/db added by rushing (-0.1). He is also 49th in ADOT (6.8 yards) and 39th in average depth of throw vs the sticks (-1.7 yards).


Mullens is best throwing against Cover 0, averaging 1.16 EPA per attempt against this coverage, which is the 6th-best of any passer against this coverage. He is also above the league average against Cover 2 (0.63 EPA/att, 3rd-best) and Cover 3 (0.47 EPA/att, 13th). The good news is that the Lions defence is just around league average when running Cover 2 (0.15 EPA/att, 19th) and Cover 0 (0.37 EPA/att, 20th). The bad news is that they're not good when running Cover 3 (0.26 EPA/att, 27th), though this might be skewed by this being our most common coverage (24.4% of defensive snaps) and by the fact the website I use to track this is selective with what it tracks (it doesn't include sacks and scrambles).


According to PFF, Mullens has been the 34th-best QB in offence grade (65.0) and 31st in passing grade (66.3). His 3.8% turnover-worthy play rate ranks 47th in the league, and his 2.1% big-time play rate ranks 54th. Mullens is responsible for 7.1% of the pressures on him so far this season, which ranks as tied for 19th-best in the league this season. He is also the 47th-best QB in offence grade (41.1) and 41st in passing grade (42.3) under pressure, and 50th in offence grade (55.8) and in passing grade (56.2) against the blitz. When going deep, Mullens is the 60th-best QB with a 43.8 passing grade on these throws. On intermediate throws, Mullens is the 6th-best QB with a 92.6 grade. On short throws, he has earned a 49.4 grade, which is good for 65th in the league. When targeting receivers behind the line of scrimmage, Mullens is tied for 61st with a 60.1 grade.


Of WRs with at least 65 targets on the season, Justin Jefferson is 5th in offence grade (90.2) and receiving grade (90.3), 19th in drop grade (77.4) and 43rd in fumble grade (34.4). His 2.78 yards per route ran is the 4th-best of these WRs, 15.2 yards per reception ranks 11th, his 50% contested catch success rate is tied for 13th, and his 69.2% catch rate is tied for 24th. Of WRs with at least 15 targets so far this season against man coverage, Jefferson ranks 10th in receiving grade (84.7) and is tied for 44th in drop grade (58.5). With a similar filter applied but for zone coverage, he is 5th in receiving grade (89.3) and 28th in drop grade (78.0).


Of TEs with at least 30 targets on the year, former Lion T.J. Hockenson has the 6th-best offence grade (78.8), the 4th-best receiving grade (82.3), the 16th-best drop grade (78.4), the 24th-best pass-blocking grade (65.6), and the 28th-best fumble grade (55.5). Hock's 1.84 yards per route ran ranks 6th of these TEs, his 75.8% catch rate ranks 11th, his 9.9 yards per reception ranks 22nd, and his 32% contested catch rate ranks 30th. Hockenson has the best receiving (89.8) and drop (84.1) grade of all TEs with at least 10 targets against man coverage, while of those with at least 10 targets against zone coverage, his 75.4 receiving grade ranks 6th while his 65.8 drop grade is tied for 21st with fellow former Lion Logan Thomas. Hock's 56.3 run-blocking grade is 61st of all TEs so far this season.


Out of all running backs to have at least 150 rushing attempts so far this season, Alexander Mattison ranks last out of these 30 RBs in offence grade (62.6), 24th in rushing grade (70.5), and 27th in fumble grade (49.8). His 3.9 yards per carry is tied for 20th, his 2.75 yards after contact per carry is 23rd-best, his 33 forced missed tackles are tied for 13th, and his 17.9% breakaway run rate is 24th. Mattison's 57.1 pass-blocking grade ranks 70th of all RBs this season.


Christian Darrisaw is PFF's 4th highest-graded tackle (though not the best graded...) with an 83.7 grade made up of an 85.5 pass-blocking grade (4th) and a 76.9 run-blocking grade (11th). Darrisaw has conceded 24 pressures so far this season; 5 sacks, 10 QB hits and 9 hurries. The weak link of Minnesota's line according to PFF is the free agent acquisition Dalton Risner with a 55.0 grade (79th of all guards). He has given up 7 hits and 15 hurries for a 67.6 pass-block grade (31st) and has a 48.5 run-block grade (103rd).


Justin Jefferson will get his, there's no doubt about that. The key will be getting pressure on Mullens, which means exploiting matchups. As much as we would love to see Darrisaw try and block Hutch, it is more than likely that Hutch will continue to line up over the RT as per usual as this is the best matchup for him. Hopefully we can continue to get interior pressure with the likes of Paschal and Commish sliding inside on passing downs to press the issue against good Saint Nick (come onnnnn, you really didn't expect me to drop this pun so close to Xmas?!?). As for the run, I know Mattison has been a bit of a Lion tamer in the past, but since having to take that RB1 role with the departure of Cook, he has dropped off like a leaf in autumn. We have a good run defence, and their run game doesn't scare me. Next!

 

Defence:

The Vikings are one of the more variable defences in the league, running 6 different personnel sets on more than 5% of their defensive snaps. As is to be expected, the most common of these is a nickel set, 2-4-5 in particular. They use this personnel set on 36% of their defensive plays for -0.08 EPA/play. They also run 3-3-5 nickel on 26% of their defensive snaps, allowing -0.16 EPA/play. They also use a 0-5-6 set on 10% of their snaps for 0.27 EPA/play. They run 1-4-6 on 9% of their snaps for -0.08 EPA/play, 0-4-7 on 8% for -0.13 EPA/play and 1-5-5 on 5% for -0.03 EPA/play. Overall, the Vikings defence faces a pass 65% of the time and gives up -0.07 EPA/play.


The Vikings are led in run defence by IDL Harrison Phillips with a 72.1 grade. He has missed 7.2% of his tackle attempts but has made 49 solo and 15 assisted tackles, with an average depth of tackle of 2.4 yards. 29 of his tackles have been run stops. In the edge room, D.J. Wonnum has been the better run defender with a 71.4 grade on the season. He has made 24 solo and 12 assisted tackles, missing a further 2. His tackles have had an average depth of 2.8 yards. 17 of his tackles have been run stops. For as good as Hunter has been, he has been the worst Viking starter in run defence with a 47.9 grade. He has made 30 solo and 11 assisted tackles, missing a further 3, with 20 of his tackles being run stops. His tackles have had an average depth of 2.8 yards.


Unfortunately for the Vikings, the three IDLs who have taken the most pass-rushing snaps have been the three worst pass-rushers along the line. The better of these evils is former Packer Dean Lowry with a 53.6 pass-rush grade on the season. He has created 4 pressures (all hurries) on 109 pass-rush snaps. The Vikings' best pass-rusher has, of course, been Hunter with a 78.1 pass-rush grade. On his 516 pass-rushing snaps, he has created 66 pressures; 15.5 sacks, 6 QB hits and 44 hurries. On the other side, Wonnum has made 38 pressures (9 sacks, 6 hits and 23 hurries) for a 56.3 grade.


The Vikings' best linebacker has been the former favourite of the college pod Ivan Pace Jr., who leads their room with a 78.9 grade. This grade is made up of a 57.4 run defence grade, a 69.3 tackling grade, a 79.1 pass-rush grade (which makes sense as he was the best blitzing LB in last year's class despite his size), and an 82.3 coverage grade. In short, the Vikings have found their own Malcolm Rodriguez but in perhaps a better scheme fit for those kinds of 'backers.


The Vikings run Cover 3 as their most common coverage, running it on 30.7% of their defensive snaps and allowing 0.05 EPA/db in this coverage (14th). They are most successful in Cover 2, allowing -0.04 EPA/db (7th) on the 25.5% of snaps they run this coverage. They are weakest when they run Cover 2 man, allowing 1.61 EPA/db (32nd) on the 3 throws they've faced in this coverage, though this of course likely skewed by giving up one big play. Good news: Goff is most successful against Cover 3 (0.32 EPA/db, 9th-best). Bad news? Goff is at his worst against Cover 2 (-0.37 EPA/db, 2nd-worst).


Much to the chagrin of some of our panellists who laughed at this pick (myself included), Mekhi Blackmon has been the best corner for the Vikings. He has a 78.8 coverage grade on the season, having allowed a 64.5% catch rate for 10.9 yards per catch and forcing 7 incompletions, including 6 PBUs, 1 interception and 1 dropped interception. On the other side, Akayleb Evans has been around average with a 63.4 grade. He has allowed a 66% catch rate for 11.3 yards per reception and has forced 6 incompletions including 3 PBUs, an interception and another dropped pick.


In the slot, Minnesota's answer to Roy Kent Josh Metellus has been pretty good. He has a 70.3 coverage grade on the season, having allowed an 88.2% catch rate but for only 9.3 yards per reception. He has also registered 4 forced incompletions, 3 PBUs and an interception. Further back, Camryn Bynum has been the best of the safeties with a 76.9 coverage grade. He has allowed a 77.8% catch rate for 8.4 yards per reception. He also has forced 9 incompletions, 6 PBUs, 2 interceptions and a further 3 dropped interceptions. Veteran Harrison Smith has also been good with a 74.7 coverage grade. He has the lowest completion rate allowed of the starting safeties with 68.3%. He has also allowed the least yards per catch with 7.8. On the other hand, Smith has only registered one forced incompletion and 1 PBU.


The Vikings love to blitz, and the Broncos also love to blitz so hopefully we can bring along the protection concepts that kept Goff mostly clean last week and reuse them for the same effect this week. While running the ball will of course be key as always to keep the defence honest and the chains moving, we will probably need to pass the ball to open up the middle of the field for Monty and Gibbs to get to work. Goff needs to do what he did last week by replacing the blitzer with the ball when Flores calls for a blitz. Metellus will be facing the Sun God, so Amon-Ra could be getting a lot of catches but for minimal yardage, just what I need when I'm facing the Puka Nacua owner in one of my fantasy playoffs... If Hicks is activated off of IR before the game, they could have a chance of covering LaPorta. If not, Matt should maybe be betting on him getting another hat trick of touchdowns. We should also make sure to keep up Jamo's target share to keep the Vikings respecting the deep ball and keeping their safeties out of the box. All in all, we need our strength to be better than theirs, and with all the talent we have, we should be able to do this, even away from home.

 

Special Teams:

Greg Joseph has been meh on kicks this year, missing 3 of his 5 attempts from between 40 and 49 yards, and 3 of his 6 kicks beyond 50 yards this season. He has also missed 2 of his 32 extra-point attempts. These misses have landed him with a 59.2 field goal grade. He has been better on kickoffs with a 78.1 grade. His kickaways have averaged 3.89 seconds of hang time, with 22.4% being returned, leaving the opposition with an average starting position of the 25.4-yard line.


Ryan Wright has been average punting the ball with a 64.6 grade. 44.9% of his punts have been returned, with 16 of his punts landing inside the opposition's 20-yard line. Of the punts of his not returned, 6 went for touchbacks, 6 went out-of-bounds, 13 were fair-caught and 2 were downed by his punt coverage team. His punts average 4.35 seconds of hang time.


Former Lion Brandon Powell is the Vikings' punt returner, and he has been average at it with a 63.1 grade. He has fair-caught 13 of the 33 punts he's faced. Despite only facing 4 kicks this season, Ty Chandler has been their best kick returner with a 67.6 grade, averaging 24.3 yards per return.

 

Hot Take: F it, this is personal. We get two interceptions from our safeties (I'm looking at you Kerby).


Score Prediction: This comes down to how the line can handle the blitz. If the front five can keep Goff clean, he should be able to find the open guy against the Vikings' man-heavy coverage approach. If not, it could be a long day. Of course, I will side with optimism like Indiana Jones taking the leap of faith in The Last Crusade.


Minnesota Vikings 27, Detroit Lions 31


How do you see the game going? Will the Lions win the NFC North in enemy territory, or will the Vikings make us wait one more week?