Lions Den: Getting Back on Track

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The Detroit Lions (4-4) will travel to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. to take on the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) on Sunday at 1 p.m. on Fox.

Detroit is coming off of a 20-13 loss to the Houston Texans and Minnesota is trying to end a two-game losing streak after losing to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could have another rough day throwing the ball going against the talented Vikings secondary. Minnesota is ranked first overall in total defense and fourth overall in passing yards allowed per game. Stafford threw for 240 yards and a touchdown last week against the Texan’s impressive secondary, but the Vikings present a much tougher challenge.

Like the passing game, the Lions could have hard time getting things going on the ground. Minnesota ranks eighth overall in rushing yards allowed per game and the Lions don’t have a very good rushing attack to begin with. Detroit rushed 14 times for 58 yards last week against a beatable Texans front seven, so expecting the Lions to find holes against a much more talented Vikings front seven isn’t realistic.

Bears running back Jordan Howard did gain 153 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries last week against the Vikings, but the Lions’ offense isn’t built around the run and they don’t have a workhorse back to carry the ball that many times.

Detroit’s receivers are the key to this game. Stafford has proven that he can get them the ball if they get separation. Tight end Eric Ebron had seven catches for 79 yards last week and running back Theo Riddick chipped in with eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Minnesota has one of the top secondary’s in the NFL, so Detroit’s passing will have to be better than normal.

Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford isn’t a top tier quarterback, but he could have success against the poor Detroit secondary. The Lions are ranked 19th in passing yards allowed per game and have allowed 19 passing touchdowns to opposing teams, which ranks last in the league. Against the Bears, Bradford had 228 yards and a touchdown. Bradford’s numbers should improve this week against Detroit’s banged up secondary.

The Lions’ run defense isn’t much better than their pass defense as it ranks 17th in terms of rushing yards allowed per game. The good news for the Lions is that Minnesota’s top running back Adrian Peterson will not be playing in this game as he is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata have done an adequate job filling in for Peterson. McKinnon missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, but is expected to return against the Lions and Asiata finished last week’s game against the Bears with 14 carries for 52 yards. The Lions’ run defense hasn’t been stellar this season, but being able to play against backup running backs is a good way to turn things around.

Detroit’s top cornerback Darius Slay will not play this week and that could help the Vikings receivers in a big way. Minnesota’s top receiver Stefon Diggs is a playmaker, and not having Slay to cover him could cost the Lions big time. Detroit did trade for cornerback Johnthan Banks earlier this week, but it will be hard to replace a player as good as Slay. Diggs caught eight passes for 76 yards and a touchdown last week.

Detroit will also have to cover Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Lions have had a hard time covering tight ends this season. They have given up eight touchdowns in eight weeks to tight ends. Rudolph had five catches for 31 yards last week.


Keys to the game

  • Detroit’s passing game will be the biggest key in this game. If the Lions can’t pass the ball, they have no chance of winning this game. Stafford has been clutch all season long and the Lions have to trust him to make plays against a top defense.
  • The Vikings ability to run the ball will be a big story to follow in the game. If the Vikings are able to run the ball effectively, it will open the passing game a lot more. Play action could lead to big plays for the Vikings down the field.
  • Detroit’s defensive line will have to get pressure on Bradford. The Lions had three sacks last week and they will have to repeat that performance this week. The secondary has struggled this year and with Slay out, the Lions’ front seven will have to make sure Bradford doesn’t have time to pick apart the Lions’ vulnerable secondary.

Prediction

The Lions have been in close games all season long, and I think this game will be close as well. Minnesota is a top team in the NFL right now and very good defensively, but the Lions have a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The Lions have the offensive firepower to win this game, but I think the Vikings defense gets enough stops and they win a low scoring game.

Vikings 21, Lions 17.

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