Lions’ Den: Lions look for bounce back win over division rival Vikings

Coming off of a controversial loss against the Atlanta Falcons, the Detroit Lions set their sights on the the 2-1 Minnesota Vikings. Game time is 1 p.m. EST, catch the action on FOX.

The Vikings have a glaring issue on offense: the quarterback position. Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings 2014 first-round pick, hasn’t played in over a calendar year with a torn ACL, plus a dislocation in the same knee. His replacement, Sam Bradford, is dealing with some knee issues himself and has been ruled out for Week 4.

The Vikings will have to rely on journeyman Case Keenum, who struggled in the Vikings Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The sixth-year quarterback threw for a lowly 167 yards with no touchdowns sporting a 65.9 quarterback rating.

The script was the complete opposite Week 3 when the Vikings took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Keenum torched the Bucs for 369 yards and three touchdowns.

The key difference in those two games? Pressure. The Steelers got to Keenum twice and didn’t allow him to use his legs to make plays. Tampa was unable to get to him at all, and Keenum had six carries getting away from the rush.

The Lions have done a great job getting pressure. They have eight sacks on the season (tied for 11th most) and have been getting it from the front seven.

Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata each have one sack on the year, the other six sacks have come from defensive ends. Ezekiel Ansah leads the way with three, Anthony Zettel has two and Jeremiah Valoaga has the last one.

The Vikings offensive line has played well this year. The Vikings revamped it in the offseason signing offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers along with drafting center Pat Elflein.

Ansah will get a majority of the attention, getting doubled all game, so somebody has to step up. Ngata’s job isn’t to get the quarterback, he’s there to plug holes and open up the field for other players.

Zettel has to be the guy. He gets most of the reps opposite of Ansah and has been a monster pass rusher. In Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, Zettel had seven quarterback pressures. He had six all of last year. The second-year end is improving every week and will be a big factor in this game.

Keenum gets a lot of help from his receiving corps, specifically Adam Thielen (19 receptions, 299 yards) and Stefon Diggs (17, 297), who are second and third in the NFL in receiving yards respectively.

Luckily for the Lions, their pass defense has been solid, giving up 219 yards per game (14th best in the NFL), but the seven passing touchdowns is tied for the second-most in the league.

Another week, another game where the Lions are going to abandon the run early.

Ameer Abdullah has been Detroit’s only run threat with 163 yards on 46 carries. The Lions haven’t had a rushing touchdown yet this year and the Vikings haven’t given one up. That won’t change in Week 4.

Surprise! Detroit’s success offensively rests squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Matthew Stafford. He’s been dependable as of late, but he can’t do it week in, week out. He needs help.

The only help he’s getting is from his receivers. Golden Tate has been the most dependable, catching 21 of his 27 targets for nearly 200 yards and finding the end zone once, but he’s got a tough matchup this week with Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Rhodes is Minnesota’s best corner and arguably the best in the league. Since 2016, Rhodes has faced Odell Beckham Jr, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans and Dez Bryant. He held them to an average of 44 yards and 0.3 touchdowns. Tate is going to be a cakewalk for him.

Marvin Jones has been a solid No. 2 option, but Golladay is coming for his spot. Golladay has more targets (15), than Jones (13) and more yards (102 compared to 88). Both have favorable matchups compared to Tate.


Keys to the Game

  • Third down is going to be huge for the Lions. They struggled in the Falcons game (3-of-13) and settled for field goals instead of getting to pay dirt. Minnesota’s third down defense is fantastic. Teams are 8-of-30 against the Vikings this season. Detroit needs to find a way to break its habit of not being able to extend drives.
  • Obviously the run game needs to find a way to be somewhat relevant. Even if it struggles, the Lions can’t give up on it. Abdullah gets better as the game goes on and the more carries he gets, the more dangerous he is.
  • Get to Keenum early and don’t allow him to use his legs. That early pressure will ruin his confidence and take him out of the game early. With Ansah getting all the attention from the offensive line, look for Zettel be Keenum’s biggest problem on Sunday.

Prediction

After a controversial loss, the same old Lions would get embarrassed, but this isn’t the same old Lions. I expect Stafford to come out confidently and pick apart this Minnesota defense. The Lions defense will continue to get after the quarterback and force turnovers. Keenum is too inconsistent. Lions win handily.

 

Lions 34, Vikings 20