NFL Wars Episode III: A New Cope

So I was again off with most of my predictions last week, but I did predict we'd win despite the worries over the interior of our offensive line. This week, we travel to Minnie Mouse-sota to play the Vikings with the chance to move out of last place in the division for the first time since Week 9 of the 2020 season. Or, since we are a Kool-Aid laced preview in this town, to become the true leader of the pack for the first time since Week 4 of the 2017 season. But who will need to hit the copium this week; is it us after Captain Kirk kills us via death by a thousand cuts, or is it the purple prudes after the Sun God shows them the true pagan religion?


As with our previous previews, we will look at the Vikings roster, how they've fared so far, see which matchups we can exploit, and make some predictions. But we also may get spicy and suggest how changing a key aspect of our defensive philosophy might lead to a better chance for another Detroit Lions victory.


Minnesota Vikings:

1-1 (W vs Packers, L at Eagles), t-1st/4th in NFCN, 12th in NFC, 18th overall

Offence- 30 points (25th), 659 yards (20th), 471 passing (13th), 188 rushing (21st), 3 TOs (17th)

Defence- 31 points (6th), 824 yards (29th), 550 passing (29th), 274 rushing (24th), 3 TOs (10th)


Offence: (notable players only) [* denotes offseason addition]

QB- Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens*

RB- Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, C.J. Ham (FB), Kene Nwagnwu, Ty Chandler*

WR- Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor*, Jalen Nailor*

TE- Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt*

OL- Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Ed Ingram*, Brian O'Neill, Blake Brandel, Austin Schlottmann*, Chris Reed*, Olisaemeka Udoh


Let's start with the most important position in football. Cousins has completed 50 passes on 78 attempts (64.1%) for 498 yards (6.4 Y/A), 3 TDs and 3 INTs. More than half of these yards have come after the catch (256 YAC compared to 242 CAY [Completed Air Yards]), suggesting his arm is weaker than Lorraine's oat milk. PFR also (dis)credits him with an 18.4% bad throw percentage. Furthermore, Cousins is currently averaging 5.4 intended air yards per attempt, which is 32nd in the league. Only Geno Smith is averaging less, but we'll discuss him more next week. For further context, Goff averaged 6.4 last season, which ranked 32nd in the NFL and is averaging 8.5 this season which ranks 7th. Two games of course is a small sample size, but this suggests that a move to more man coverage will help stifle the Vikings' offence as it'll make it harder for him to work the short-to-intermediate game and force him to try hitting Jefferson and Thielen deep. The stats further back this up. When facing man coverage against the Eagles on MNF, Cousins had a QBR of 1.3 and posted a 35.3% completion rate, 2.6 Y/A and 2 INTs. While we usually don't play man as much as we do zone, and our secondary doesn't travel on receivers, I would personally change that this week to make things as hard as possible for Cousins.


As for the line protecting Cousins, it's about the same as last year despite the addition of Ed Ingram. Last season, Cousins was pressured on 26.6% of his dropbacks (25th of 31 tracked), and so far this season he's been pressured on 26.5% (23rd of 32). He's been pressured 22 times, hit 13, hurried 6 and sacked 3 times for 27 yards (3.7% of dropbacks). In the run game, they are averaging 2.8 yards before contact per attempt (t-11th).


On the ground, their lead back is, of course, Dalvin Cook. He's had 26 attempts for 107 yards (4.1 average) for no TDs, 6 first downs, 2 broken tackles, 41 yards after contact, and a long of 16 yards. His backup Alexander Mattison has had 10 carries for 44 yards (4.4 average), no TDs, 2 first downs, 2 broken tackles, 26 yards after contact, and a long of 10 yards. Cousins has scrambled twice for 20 yards, 13 yards after contact and a first down, with a long of 13 yards. Reagor has also taken a carry for 17 yards and a first down, with no yards after contact. Despite what the stats say (27th ranked run defence in yards), I think our front seven have been good against the run. While we did give up 216 rushing yards against the Eagles, 90 of those yards were to Hurts. Cousins is definitely not Hurts. So for once, this Vikings run game does not scare me, as our linebackers (especially the Detroit Cowboy) have shown that they can handle a standard run game.


Now for the players that could actually hurt us. Jefferson has been targetted 23 times for 15 receptions (65.2%) for 232 yards (15.5 Y/R), 2 TDs, 11 first downs and a 91.2 passer rating when targeted. Their next leading receiver is Adam Thielen, with 7 catches on 11 targets (63.6%) for 88 yards (12.6 Y/R), no TDs, 5 first downs and a 50.6 rating. Cook has also caught 7 passes on 11 targets and dropped 1 pass (9.1%), for 37 yards (5.3 Y/R), no TDs, 3 first downs and a 69.1 rating. Their leading TE in the passing game is Irv Smith Jr., who's caught 5 balls on 10 targets (50%) and dropped 1 (10%), for 36 yards (7.2 Y/R), 1 TD, 3 first downs and a 92.1 rating. Their second-string TE, Johnny Mundt, has also caught 5 passes but on 6 targets (83.3%), having dropped his other target (16.7%), for 45 yards (9 Y/R), no TDs, 2 first downs and a 97.9 rating. Their WR3 is K.J. Osborn, who also has caught 5 passes on 6 targets for 39 yards (7.8 Y/R), no TDs, 2 first downs and a 93.7 rating. Mattison has 3 catches on 5 targets (60%) and dropped 1 (20%), for 6 yards (2 Y/R), no TDs, 1 first down and a 64.6 rating.


To play the matchup game in the secondary, I'd put Okudah on Jefferson and let him travel. Jefe has only given up 50% (6/12) of passes thrown his way, for 60 yards (39 after the catch), no TDs, 1 PD, and a 64.6 rating. I'd then let Amani (LP-back on Wednesday) be hooked on A. Thielen as he has only given up 2 passes on 9 targets (22.2%) for 69 yards (29 YAC), 0 TDs, 1 PD, and a 59.0 rating. This would put either Mike Hughes or Will Harris in coverage on Osborn. Hughes has a 90.9% completion rate in coverage (10/11) for 131 yards (74 YAC), 0 TDs and a 116.3 rating. Harris is only slightly better, sporting a 75% completion rate (9/12) for 142 yards (57 YAC), 1 TD, 1 PD, 1 INT, and a 106.9 rating. This is why I suggest moving to more man coverage. This way, we can stop the Vikings from exploiting this mismatch by putting Jefferson in the slot to face Hughes and can instead keep Okudah on him. Cook, Mattison, Smith and Mundt will be covered by the likes of Elliott (6/7, 117 (15), 2, 0, 158.3), Walker (1/4, 13 (10), 0, 1, 40.6), Rodrigo (7/11, 78 (42), 1, 0, 115.0), Anzalone (4/9, 23 (13), 0, 0, 51.6) and Iffy (FP-hamstring, no stats recorded).


Looking at the battle in the trenches, O'Neill is a good RT and due to our scheme, he will be facing Hutchinson (NP-thigh on Wednesday, 2 TFLs, 4 pressures [3 sacks, 1 hurry]) a lot on normal downs, and likely a combination of Charles Harris (1 TFL, 2 pressures [1 sack, 1 hurry]) and Julian Okwara (3 pressures [3 hurries]) on obvious passing downs. On the other side, Darrisaw will be watching Harris or Julian go by after he falls for the finesse moves. On the interior, Cleveland, Ingram and Bradbury will have their hands full facing Alim, Buggs, Brockers and Jones on standard downs, with Hutch added to the mix when we go to our NASCAR package on passing downs. If I were AG and Wash game-planning for the Vikings, I'd up the edge rotation, both to lessen Hutch's workload after his injury scare last week, and so neither Darrisaw nor O'Neill can get used to one style of rush. On standard downs, I'd have Alim at the weakside interior spot to use his quick first step and power to overwhelm Cleveland, while Buggs holds the designed double team at the strongside spot. On obvious passing downs, I'd take Buggs out, slide Alim back to the strongside, and put Hutch in as the weakside 3T to exploit the matchup.


Defence:

IDL- Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips*, Jonathan Bullard*, Ross Blacklock*, James Lynch

Edge- Danielle Hunter, Za'Darius Smith*, Patrick Jones II, D.J. Wonnum

LB- Eric Kendricks, Jordan Hicks*, Troy Dye, Brian Asamoah II*

CB- Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler Sr., Chandon Sullivan*, Akayleb Evans*, Andrew Booth Jr.*

S- Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine*, Josh Metellus


Under their new coaching staff, the Vikings have moved from an even front to an odd front. Their starters on the line in base are Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips and Jonathan Bullard, with Blacklock and Lynch rotating in. Tomlinson has recorded 8 tackles, 2 pressures [1 hurry], half a sack, and a fumble recovery. Phillips has 5 tackles, 3 pressures [1 hurry] and half a sack. Bullard has only recorded 4 tackles on the stat sheet. Blacklock has 1 tackle, which was for a loss. Lynch has 1 tackle and missed another tackle. In short, this defensive line does not scare me in the middle, even with the injuries we have sustained to our interior offensive line. Fraley has shown time and time again that he can get good play from our second- and third-stringers, and even with a practice squad tackle in at LG, he can still clear massive holes for the run game. With Frank looking more and more likely to return soon (LP-foot on Wednesday), we could dominate up front on Sunday. As for the edges, this is where the Vikings are still potent. Now healthy, Hunter already has 9 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 3 pressures [2 sacks, 1 hurry]. Once a Packer, now a Viking, Smith has 4 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 4 pressures [1 sack, 2 QB knockdowns, 1 hurry]. The first man off the bench, D.J. Wonnum, has 5 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 2 pressures [both sacks]. Patrick Jones II has 2 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure [a hurry]. While I have complete faith in our tackles, one cannot remember how talented the Vikings' starters are and their familiarity with facing us and not feel a kind of worry in their stomach.


Only two off-ball linebackers have taken defensive snaps for the Vikings, as Dye and Asamoah are currently playing exclusively on special teams. The leader in the clubhouse for them is free agent signing Jordan Hicks, who has 17 tackles (12 solo), a forced fumble, 1 pressure [1 sack], and 3 missed tackles (15%). He has been targeted 13 times for 12 completions (92.3%) for 148 yards (12.3 Y/C) (101 YAC), no TDs, an interception, and an 82.1 passer rating when targeted. Veteran Viking Kendricks has 12 tackles (8 solo), 2 pressures [1 QB knockdown, 1 hurry], and 4 missed tackles (25%). He's allowed 5 catches on 9 targets (55.6%) for 70 yards (14 Y/C) (52 YAC), no TDs, 1 PD, and an 80.8 rating. This linebacker core is something I could see Johnson, Duce, Swift (NP-ankle [rest]) and co. targeting, especially with how dominant our interior has been clearing lanes up the middle for our backs. I could also see Swift, Hock (LP-hip) and the Sun God abusing Hicks if he's ever put in coverage on them.


Their secondary is looking weak. The leader on the backend, Harrison Smith, did not practice on Wednesday as he was in the concussion protocol. Smith is the Vikings' leading tackler with 20 (18 solo), having also missed 1 (4.8%). He has also been targeted 6 times for 5 completions (83.3%) for 66 yards (13.2 Y/C) (14 YAC), no TDs, 1 INT, and a 72.9 rating. His partner at the back is Camryn Bynum. He has 15 tackles (8 solo), and has missed another (6.3%). Bynum has been targeted 3 times for 2 catches (66.7%), 76 yards (38 Y/C) (8 YAC), 1 TD, and a 149.3 rating. The first safety off the bench (as rookie Cine has only taken 1 defensive snap to this point) is Josh Metellus, who has 4 tackles (3 solo), has missed another (20% missed tackle rate) and hasn't been targeted so far this season. The outside CBs are (the ghost of) Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler. Both have recorded a TFL and 9 tackles (Dantzler's all solo, Peterson with 7 solo). Dantzler has also missed 1 tackle (10%). In coverage, Dantzler has allowed 11 catches on 14 targets (78.6%) for 91 yards (8.3 Y/C) (45 YAC) for no TDs, 1 PD, and a 93.7 rating. Peterson has been targeted 11 times for 8 catches (72.7%) for 68 yards (8.5 Y/C) (44 YAC), for no TDs and an 88.4 rating. Sullivan usually covers the slot. He has 8 tackles (5 solo), and has 3 completions on 4 targets (75%) for 20 yards (6.7 Y/C) (17 YAC), no TDs and an 85.4 passer rating when targeted in coverage. CB4 is Evans, who has registered 3 solo tackles and has allowed catches on all 3 of his targets for 23 yards (7.7 Y/C) (5 YAC), no TDs and a 98.6 rating.


To once again play the matchup game, the combination of Chark (4/52/1) and Reynolds (4/66/1) will be going against Dantzler and Peterson. Expect Goff to take some shots in their direction off play action. Sullivan has the hard task of praying to Sól as the Sun God (17/180/3) burns past him, and I bet ARSB is licking his lips at the prospect of going against a corner that has allowed 85% of his yardage after the catch. Hockenson (7/64/0), Swift (5/62/1), and Wright (1/25/0) will face the safeties and linebackers, which are also plus matchups for the Lions. I would also use ARSB and Hock on mesh routes, and Swift on angle routes out the backfield, to give Goff clean separation to exploit between the hashes.


Special Teams:

K- Greg Joseph

P- Ryan Wright*

PR- Jalen Reagor*

KR- Kene Nwagnwu


Joseph is a decent kicker, even if he is the guy who kicked the game-winner in Week 5 last season. He is currently perfect this season on kicks with a long of 56 yards (that kick last year was from 54) and has a 62.5% touchback rate on kickoffs. Rookie punter Wright has punted 10 times for 478 yards and a long of 58. Former first-round Eagle flop Reagor now returns punts for the team who picked Jefferson right after him. This season, he's returned 3 for 12 yards, with a long of 7. In other words, he's still as useless as a chocolate teapot. Nwagnwu has fared a bit better on kickoffs, returning 3 for 67 yards and a long of 25. Long story short, I expect our excellent special teams to continue this week.


Keys to Victory:

  1. Travel the CBs- As I've pointed out above, Cousins has not done well against man coverage this season, and Okudah has done well shutting down whoever he's matched up on. For this week, travel the CBs to cover specific players, let Jefe shut down Jefferson, and trust the other CBs to cover their man.

  2. Run the ball- I think that much like against the Commanders, we can get ourselves into the lead against the Vikings on Sunday. However, unlike then, I would then keep pounding the rock and wind the clock down, taking the weight off Goff's shoulders so we don't have to try and sling the rock to try to beat the Vikings in a shootout at their own home.

  3. Take shots- This might seem at odds with the previous key and might seem hard when our best receiver will be keyed in on. But with the run established, it'll pull the safeties into the box, leaving Chark and Reynolds in one-on-one coverage deep. Johnson will need to keep the defence honest, so what better way to do this than to get the outside WRs going, moving coverage away from the Sun God so he can keep breaking records?

  4. Unleash the LBs- Barnes has been struggling recently, which is why he was relegated to ST only last week. But this week, against a weak Vikings interior line, it could be the perfect time to get his confidence back by sending him on some A-gap blitzes to make Cousins' life hell. Get him, Rodrigo and Julian going on blitzes, don't let Cousins get comfortable and he'll be like putty in our hands.

Predictions:

Lions-

  • Goff- 21/34, 240 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 102.6 passer rating, 2 sacks, 1 scramble, 5 yards

  • Swift- 12 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD, 4 targets, 3 catches, 35 yards

  • St. Brown- 11 targets, 9 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD, 1 carry, 15 yards

  • Hutchinson- 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 pressures, 1.5 sacks

  • Rodrigo- 9 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 1 PD, 1 FF, 1 TD

  • Okudah- 6 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PDs

Vikings-

  • Cousins- 24/43, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 67.5 passer rating, 4 sacks, 1 scramble, 2 yards, 1 fumble

  • Cook- 14 carries, 50 yards, 1 TD, 7 targets, 4 catches, 20 yards

  • Jefferson- 14 targets, 9 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD, 1 carry, 15 yards

  • Hunter- 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 pressures, 1.5 sacks

  • Kendricks- 9 tackles, 1 PD

  • Peterson- 7 tackles, 1 PD

Hot Take- The Detroit Cowboy recovers a Cousins fumble and returns it for a defensive TD


Score: Lions 38, Vikings 27


How do you think the game will go? Can our Lions become Kings of the North, or will we be sent back to the dungeons? Who do you think will lead in the box score, and what will the final score be?

 

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