For once in a long time, we stand on the precipice of playing the role of spoiler, the destroyer of dreams, the vanquisher of divisional hopes. This week's visitors to Ford Field come knowing that if they leave with a victory, they also take the divisional crown. But it shall not be as easy as it has been in recent times. Like the Greeks standing defiantly at the Hot Gates against the Persian horde, our Lions will meet the Vikings on the turf of Ford Field to resist their advances to conquer the NFC North this season. However, unlike those 300 Spartans (and the number of other Greeks like the Thespians, Corinthians and Thebans that everyone forgets were also there), we stand a good chance of succeeding.
Record/Standing: 10-2-0 (1st in NFC North)
Strength of Schedule: .491
Expected W/L: 6.3-5.7
Overall DVOA: -5.5% (20th)
Cousins is of course the place to start our look. He averages 37.4 passes a game, completing 64.6% of these for 24.2 completions. These passes go for 244.4 yards a game (6.5 Y/A), 1.5 TDs and 0.75 INTs. PFR credits Cousins with a 15.9% bad throw rate, and a 4.7% drop rate. He is currently 21st in passer rating, 19th in DVOA, 18th in DYAR, 21st in QBR, and 10th in EYds. He is also 23rd in ALEX (Air Less than EXpected on 3rd down) which suggests he is consistently throwing short of the sticks on key downs. Therefore, while the offence is doing well through the air, metrics suggest that he is more of a facilitator than a creator.
The Vikings' line gives Cousins 2.5 seconds in the pocket on average (t-3rd best in the league), and gives up a sack on 6.1% of dropbacks (15th), which is roughly 2.5 times a game (19th). The line gives up pressure on 24.6% of dropbacks (25th). FO has the Minnesota OL as their 10th best in pass pro, with an adjusted sack rate of 5.9%. In the run game, FO has them as the 17th best line with 4.36 adjusted line yards, ranking 24th in power success rate, 31st in stuff rate, 9th in second-level yards and 14th in open field yards. Despite how things went in the first matchup, their OL doesn't scare me at all.
Cook is still their lead back. He gets handed the ball 16.5 times a game, toting it for 77.3 yards (4.7 Y/A), 3.33 first downs, 0.58 TDs, and 0.08 fumbles. Cook is 15th in DVOA, 12th in DYAR, and 8th in EYds for backs with more than 100 carries, but is 25th in run success rate. Backup and perennial Lion heartbreaker Mattison gets 4 carries a game for 14.5 yards (3.6 Y/A), a first down, and 0.25 TDs. Given how well our run defence has improved in recent weeks, the Vikings' run game does not scare me.
So far in his five games in Minnesota, Hock has corralled 8 targets a game, catching 6 (75%) for 45 yards (7.5 Y/R), 0.4 drops, 2.8 first downs, 0.2 TDs and a 96.4 passer rating when targeted. He is 11th in DYAR, 20th in DVOA, and 5th in EYds for TEs with more than 25 catches. On the outside, Jefferson is thrown at 10.6 times a game for 7.33 catches (69.3%), 106.4 yards (14.5 Y/R), 0.42 drops, 4.5 first downs, 0.5 TDs and a 104.3 passer rating. Of WRs with more than 50 catches, Jefferson is 3rd in DYAR, 7th in DVOA and 3rd in EYds. On the other side, Thielen is targeted 6.92 times a game, catching 4.67 of these passes (67.5%) for 48.3 yards (10/4 Y/R), 0.08 drops, 3 first downs, 0.25 TDs and a passer rating of 96.4. In the same criteria as Jefferson, Thielen is 29th in DYAR, 33rd in DVOA and 24th in EYds. Out of the slot, KJ Osborn is thrown at 4.33 times a game for 2.5 catches (55.7%), 21.8 yards (8.7 Y/R), 1.08 first downs, 0.17 TDs and a 67.9 passer rating. Cook has been targeted out the backfield 3.5 times a game, catching 2.33 passes (66.7%) for 13.1 yards (5.6 Y/R), 0.92 first downs, 0.08 TDs and a passer rating of 81.2. If we can somehow eliminate Jefferson and Hock, we can stall their passing game and grind their train to a halt.
Unsurprisingly, the Vikings' most common personnel on offence is 11. They use it on 75% of snaps, throwing the ball on 73% of these snaps, creating 0.02 EPA/p. The only other set of personnel they have used on more than 10% of snaps is 12, which they have deployed on 12% of snaps, running the ball on 51% of snaps for -0.04 EPA/p. Overall, the Vikings pass the ball on 66% of their offensive plays and somehow create exactly 0 EPA/p.
Overall, Kirk is Captain Average, Cook is having a down year in the new scheme, Jefferson is a top WR, Hock is likely to have a decent revenge game against us, and not much else matters. Given our defence's resurgence in recent weeks, I have faith that we can stop them and keep our offence on the field.
The Vikings are FO's 12th DL against the run, allowing 4.18 adjusted line yards. They are 27th in power run success rate allowed, 6th in stuff rate, 7th in second-level yards allowed, and 7th in open field yards allowed. Both Hicks (5.75 solo, 2.42 assisted) and Kendricks (5.33 solo, 2.83 assisted) average 8.17 tackles a game. Za'Darius Smith is their leader in the clubhouse in TFLs, averaging 1.25 a game along with 2.92 combined tackles. Out of their starters, only Tomlinson (0.13 per game) and Hicks (0.08) have forced fumbles. Therefore, this projects to be a good game for Jamaal as he can exploit their weakness for runs between the tackles.
Minnesota is the 16th-best pass rush in the league according to FO, with a 7.1% adjusted sack rate. Za'Darius Smith is their leading pressure maker, getting 2.41 pressures a game, consisting of 0.79 sacks, 0.83 QB hits and 0.75 hurries. On the other side of the defence, Hunter gets 1.75 pressures a game (0.58 sacks, 0.42 QB hits and 0.75 hurries). The third man in the rotation is Jones, who gets 0.42 pressures a game (0.25 sacks and 0.17 hurries). Up front, Phillips gets 0.92 pressures a game (0.13 sacks, 0.33 QB hits and 0.42 hurries), Tomlinson gets 1 pressure a game (0.19 sacks, 0.38 QB hits and 0.38 hurries) and Bullard gets 0.09 pressures a game (only QB hits). As usual, it is the edges that are the main threat, but this is also where we are strongest. With Evan Brown projecting to be back at the RG spot, I have confidence we can minimise the Vikings' pass rush and can keep Goff upright.
On the backend, Peterson is their most targeted player. He is targeted 5.17 times a game for 3.17 catches (61.3%), 40.1 yards (12.7 Y/C), 1 PD, 0.25 INTs and an 86.8 passer rating when targeted. On the other side of the field, Evans is thrown at 2.4 times a game for 1.5 catches (62.5%), 23.8 yards (15.9 Y/C), 0.2 PDs and a 109.4 passer rating in coverage. In the slot, Sullivan is targeted 4.17 times a game for 2.92 catches (70%), 37.2 yards (12.7 Y/C), 0.5 PDs and a 104.2 passer rating. Further back, Harrison Smith allows 2.55 catches on 3.27 targets (77.8%), 29.9 yards (11.8 Y/C), 0.91 PDs, 0.45 INTs and a 74.4 passer rating. Bynum is targeted 2.5 times a game for 1.58 catches (63.3%), 28.7 yards (18.1 Y/C), 0.5 PDs, 0.17 INTs and a passer rating of 114.4. Once again, this projects to be a good game for St. Brown out of the slot. Having Chark, Reynolds and Jamo all healthy will allow us to test their outside corners. Smith being relatively in-form means the tight ends might not have a good game, which is ironic considering the potential narrative entering this game.
On defence, they use 245 nickel the most. They use this personnel set on 35% on snaps, facing a pass on 65% of these snaps, and allowing 0.02 EPA/p. They use 335 nickel on 21% of defensive snaps, facing a pass on 69% of snaps for 0.13 EPA/p. 155 nickel is deployed on 14% of snaps, giving up -0.02 EPA/p and being passed on on 97% of plays. The only other personnel set Minnesota has used on more than 9% of their defensive snaps is 425 nickel, which they use 10% of the time, facing a pass on 53% of these snaps and giving up 0.02 EPA/p. Overall, they face a pass on 65% of their defensive snaps, and allow 0.01 EPA/p.
The way I would attack this defence is by running it up the middle, then using play action to get St. Brown open over the middle or to hit the outside receivers on deep crossing patterns that attack Bynum. Unfortunately for the fantasy normies who always moan when Swift doesn't get touches, this does not project to be a good game for him (but I will be more than happy to be proven wrong on this).
Joseph is a bad kicker, but he usually turns up against us.
Wright is a discount Jack Fox.
Nwangwu is a good kicker returner.
Reagor is not good and, per Ry McCluskey, would be lucky to lace Jefferson's cleats.
Keys to Victory:
Repeat the Jefferson gameplan from Wk3- While we did not win, we did a good job of bottling up Jefferson in the first matchup against the Vikings. With Jerry being a lot more consistent than Amani was on the other side of the field, we can happily copy that game plan with a higher degree of confidence.
Contain the edges in the run game- If we can keep the edge and funnel any runs inside, we stand a good chance of winning as we can force Cook and Mattison into our strong defensive line.
Attack their front- With our offensive line looking to be "fully" healthy for the first time in a while, we can really force the issue up front where the Vikings' run defence is weak, allowing Jamaal to eat up yards and the clock.
Attack the middle- Aside from Harrison Smith potentially erasing our tight ends, for the most part, the middle of the Vikings' defence is weak. Attack this with St. Brown and deep crossers with our outside receivers when the chance is there.
Goff- 29/41, 385 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 117.2 passer rating
Jamaal Williams- 15 carries, 60 yards, 2 TDs
St. Brown- 10 targets, 9 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD
Paschal- 3 tackles (2 solo), 1 TFL, 2 pressures, 0.5 sacks
Anzalone- 9 tackles (7 solo), 0.5 TFls, 1 pressure
Jacobs- 6 tackles (5 solo), 1 PD, 1 INT
Cousins- 25/43, 255 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 81.1 passer rating
Cook- 13 carries, 45 yards, 1 TD, 3 targets, 1 catch, 5 yards
Hockenson- 7 targets, 6 catches, 55 yards, 1 TD
Phillips- 4 tackles (2 solo), 0.5 TFLs, 1 pressure
Za'Darius Smith- 6 tackles (4 solo), 0.5 TFLs, 2 pressures
Sullivan- 7 tackles (5 solo)
Hot take: Goff sets a new season high in passing yards (>378 yards)
Score: 38 Lions, 24 Vikings
Draft Rooting Guide:
5) Philadelphia (via New Orleans): win vs Atlanta
4) Detroit (via LA Rams)
3) Seattle (via Denver): win vs Kansas City
2) Chicago: bye week
1) Houston: win vs Dallas
How do you think the game will go? Who will win this week and earn the bragging rights? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?
Pod Links: linktr.ee/roarofthelionsuk