I know, I know, we played the Vikings two weeks ago. So why am I doing yet another game preview for them, when not much will have changed since then? For once, I will relent to you, dear reader, this is not your usual long stats-driven game preview. Instead, I'm going to give you a few groups I'm going to be watching when we watch the game on Sunday.
The edge room: We can presume Hutch will be seeing less snaps than he usually does against the Vikings. He has played 929 snaps this season, or roughly 58 snaps per game. While this is partly due to his motor and own desire to play every snap, it has also came out of necessity as he is arguably being our only effective pass rusher. With the playoffs quite literally around the corner, we should limit Hutch's snaps to keep him fresh. This might also have the added consequence of the team testing out our other edges to see if anyone can step up to a larger role opposite Aidan in the playoffs.
My top candidate is Josh Paschal. The former second-round pick has steadily been improving through the season, showing development as a pass-rusher while still performing in the run game. While the team has utilised him as an interior rusher on passing downs while Alim has been out, in the Saints game where he saw the most snaps so far this season, he took all but one of his snaps on the edge. Giving Paschal a start and playing him on a majority of snaps could give him a chance to develop further while also giving him a chance to nail down a larger role going forward.
This of course couldn't be a Roar of the Lions edge discussion without mentioning Romeo Okwara. While he hasn't seen more than 19 snaps since Week 5 against the Panthers, his grades have been career highs in all but pass-rushing. One could argue he deserves more snaps, and it's likely he'll take more than 20 snaps on Sunday, but in my opinion this limited snap count has played into his favour by keeping him fresh so trying to increase his snap count going forward might actually prove counter-intuitive.
Of course, we have other veterans we could lean on. Charles Harris has seen his snap count drastically cut since Week 5, with his snap count halving from then to the week after against the Bucs. He is also posting bad grades according to PFF, with this year being his second-lowest in defence grade and worst in pass-rushing grade. While he will likely see more snaps on Sunday, this will more than likely be him playing for his career elsewhere rather than him earning a future here. Let him put some tape out there for other teams in the off-season and hope this motivates him to ball out. Likewise, while John Cominsky has been a consistent 20-plus snap guy, he is also having a down year compared to last year in all areas except for run defence. Commish is a good run defender, but this perhaps limits his impact to run downs. We need him to step up and play that facilitator role again to open up opportunities for the others on Sunday, especially if he takes snaps on the interior on passing downs.
The safety room- With Ceedy Duce being listed as questionable for Sunday, we could have our big free agency signing back for the first time since Week 2 against the Seahawks. This poses a problem though. Can we really bench Iffy or Kerby for him to get straight back into a starting role? Can we justify benching Branch to maybe get him in there? I'd say no personally. If there had to be a sacrificial lamb, those who watch our live watchalongs will know I would put myself on the altar and bench Kerby for him. But we all saw what happened when he last faced Mullens? Can we risk not playing him when he has Mullens' number? This means we have to look at some form of rotation that gives Ceedy a proportion of snaps while some other players take less. Sounds simple, right? But we need to be clever about not tipping our hand by making it easy for the Vikings to see who is doing what when they're on the field.
The key to this will actually be Branch's ability to play in the box. While Hockenson unfortunately suffered a season-ender last time out against us, the TE position is still important to how the Vikings' offence works. Therefore, playing Branch as a overhang linebacker, much like how we infamously played Jeff Okudah against Dallas last year, to cover Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt will free up the slot for Ceedy to play in like he used to in New Orleans, while also allowing Iffy and Kerby to play in the safety roles. This could be the best way to get all of our best players on the field at the same time.
The wide receiver room- Jamo will not be playing on Sunday. The Sun God (as much as he will hate it) will likely be on a snap count. This will open up the chance for more snaps for those WRs who have perhaps not as been as involved in the passing attack as we are usually used to. Surprisingly, the Spider of Death known as Josh Reynolds is close to matching his totals from last season, with him needing two targets and three catches to match his totals from last year, while already posting Detroit highs in yardage and touchdowns. However, he will not be able to carry us by himself on Sunday.
Kalif Raymond, one of the most underrated guys in the league, is posting near career highs in PFF grades (arguably career highs since his highest graded season is from when he was a bit-part player for Tennessee in 2019). However, he has not played more than 29 snaps on offence in any game this season, while he topped this mark 8 times last year. Giving him more snaps on the concepts for Jamo will not only allow him to get more snaps under his belt but will also give Ben Johnson more data on how to best use a burner in this current iteration of the offence.
Another guy who could get more snaps on Sunday is the man we got on the trade deadline: DPJ (who I learnt is younger than me during the process of writing this piece...). He has not played more than 12 snaps on offence in any game since he was brought in, and is averaging less than a target a game at this moment. This game will be a major chance for him to show why we traded for him, and perhaps could allow him to stake a claim for sticking around after the end of the season as we still have a need for a tall X-style WR going forward. While I will be on the draft train for this position, if DPJ is able to show me something over the next few weeks, I'd be willing to bring him back on a reasonable prove-it deal in the off-season.
And for those of you who are worried about potentially going into this game with only 4 WRs as Antoine Green could likely be inactive once again, there's a certain guy on the practise squad who can alleviate those fears... 👀
When do we sit Goff?- Now comes one of the big questions; when do we sit Goff, if we do even sit him at all..? We need to protect him to an extent, because I wouldn't put it past the Vikings to attempt a Bruce Irvin-esqe WWE spear on Goff. If we have a lead greater than one score at the half, sit Goff's Ryan Gosling-looking ass on the pine and let Teddy get some sweet revenge against his former team. If we lead going into the fourth quarter, let Goff recharge his Kenergy on the bench. Simple.
Hot Take: Kerby does it again, he gets another game-sealing pick like he did last year.
Score Prediction: Don't care how this game goes to be honest, but I need to put some numbers down and I said this on the preview podcast so 🤣
Detroit Lions 34, Minnesota Vikings 14
How do you see the game going? Will the Lions go into Wildcard weekend on the back of the dub, or will we be stuck in the doldrums after how last week ended?
Podcast Links: linktr.ee/roarofthelionsuk