After a brief hiatus and my first trip to the D, we are back previewing tomorrow's game at Ford Field against the Minnesota Vikings (5-6).
The Vikings come into this game as they have done for pretty much every game in the last 2 years - a schizophrenic team. They're only 2 weeks removed from a very impressive win at home to Green Bay, but only a week removed from a disappointing loss away in San Fransicsco. Which Vikings side will turn up?
Looking overall at the Vikings this season, their sub .500 standing is unfortunate given their play by most metrics. DVOA has them 10th overall, with an expected win total of 7.1! Pro Football Reference is more conservative but still rate them ahead of their actual record at 5.6.
The main reason for the high expected win total is an offense that has hummed for most of the year. They're 9th in points per game with 25.5, Cousins has only thrown 3 INTs (1st in the NFL), and they're rushing for 4.2 yards per carry. They're also a very efficient red-zone offense, with 23/34 trips resulting in TD, good for 6th. The only black mark? 3rd down. They've only converted on 56/147, good for 21st. This is something that Ceejay Seymour of Viking World Order attributed to something quite Lions-like, conservativism on 3rd and long-running on that play is no surprise to them this season.
However, Ceejay also revealed that Vikings HC Mike Zimmer has been having showdown talks with the powers that be in Minnesota, which has resulted in the playcalling being more adventurous in the last 3 games, much to the delight of the fanbase.
The Vikings offense boasts two elite WRs in Justin Jefferson, the best sophomore WR in the NFL and Adam Thielen, who already has 10 TDs this year.
They will however miss Dalvin Cook for this game, one of the premier RBs in the league, through injury. He however has not played against Detroit for some time, his understudy then and for this game is Alexander Mattison who has enjoyed huge success against Detroit's porous run defense. Will that continue? It might be hard when the Vikings best run blocker, rookie tackle Christian Darrisaw, has been ruled out with injury once again.
The Vikings defense has been... less good. Rated middle of the pack by DVOA (17th), they're awful against the run, conceding 4.8 yards per carry ON AVERAGE. This goes some way then to explaining their awful record in red zone defense, conceding 22/32 TDs, good for 27th. On paper, this is a defense full of stars such as Xavier Woods, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, even ignoring those on the injury/absentee list (Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen). Another stud Anthony Barr is questionable having only returned to limited practice on Friday, he missed almost all of last season with injury too.
One of the more heinous statistics about this Vikings team? They're awful inside of two minutes. This piece (https://vikingsterritory.com/2021/general-news/the-vikings-one-heinous-tendency-on-defense) highlights just how much - by halfway through November, they'd conceded 25% of all points within 2 minutes of the 2nd Quarter (which is only 3.3% of the total length of a game).
Here's the full injury report.
For the Lions, the best route to victory is to target the Vikings woes on run defense. Although D'Andre Swift has been ruled out for the Lions (MCDC thinks he's a week away at least), D'Andre was perhaps the worse pure runner of the Lions running backs. Jamaal Williams has quietly had an excellent year on the ground, and both Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike had flashed when given the chance.
The Vikings should combat the above by stacking the box and daring Goff to beat them with his arm. Goff's task, should he choose to accept it, will be to recognise when the Vikings overcommit to the run and pass over them to push them back and keep them honest. This will only give Detroit's receivers limited opportunities, and will need to see their better receivers stand out in isolated clutch moments (looking at you Hockenson, St Brown and Reynolds). If Goff's succeeds in throwing just enough to push the Vikings back, the Lions should control the time of possession and line of scrimmage.
For the Vikings, the matchup advantage is obvious. Cousins' arm and Jefferson and Thielen against Amani Oruwariye, Jerry Jacobs, Tracy Walker and Will Harris. Cousins needs to put that fragile secondary under as much pressure as possible. Despite being one of the "top pass defenses in the last few weeks", teams have not needed to take risks against the Lions to win games, giving the pass defense a natural boost, it doesn't reflect on their actual quality. Now, I'm a big Jacobs fan, he's come in and made that CB2 role his - but what will happen if he actually gets targetted for an entire game?
To combat the risk in the air, I'm going to suggest something I hate suggesting, it's basically the opposite of what I usually say... I want to see 3 rushing and 8 in coverage a lot more often than normal. Intermixt with a steady amount of blitzes to keep everyone guessing, giving the secondary extra guys should help combat the risk in the air, and dare Minnesota to run the ball. Whilst Mattison is obviously a quality running back, it actually plays into the Lions real strength on defense, run defense. Every time Mattison is handed the ball, chalk up a very small victory for the Lions.
I promised to not pick the Lions again this season after the loss against the Eagles, and I'm holding true to it. This Lions team is not good enough to be considered a favourite in any remaining game - I still expect them to win a game this year, but any they do win will be a surprise to me on their own.
Perversely, I fancy this game to go down in a similar way to the first matchup between these teams. I expect the Lions to score 2 TDs the Vikings 1, but a flurry of field goals will leave the Vikings clinging to life in the playoff race.
Minnesota Vikings 19 - 17 Detroit Lions. Yes, call me sick.
What do you think happens in this one?
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