Getting to know the enemy again
Is this going to be the one? Can the Detroit Lions finally win a game? This is the Lions last chance to avoid 365 days of losing. Fortunately for the Lions, they play a Minnesota Vikings team they took to the wire in their previous meeting. They also play a Vikings team that’s dealing with a hefty of amount injuries.
What should Lions fans expect from this Vikings team that’s different from the last time they played? I don’t know. So I asked our pal Eric Thompson from Daily Norseman to fill us in.
“I think Robert Langdon had an easier time finding the Holy Grail in The Da Vinci Code than anyone trying to figure out what the hell is actually going on with the Vikings this year. It’s truly baffling how this team plays almost to the exact level of their competition week in and week out. Their 30-17 Week 3 win over the Seahawks was a true anomaly—it was the only Vikings game this year that wasn’t a one-score finish and it was the only game where they didn’t lose a 7+ point lead at one point. All in all, I think the 5-6 record is a pretty fair reflection of what this team is. They’re either the worst good team in the league or the best bad team in the league; take your pick. There’s plenty of talent and a lot to like, but there are just too many faults for them to succeed consistently.”
2. Can Alexander Mattison do enough damage to make up for the loss of Dalvin Cook?
“Sure. Cook missed the first meeting, and Mattison racked up 153 total yards and a touchdown in Week 5. Mattison is basically “Dalvin Cook Lite.” He can do just about everything that Cook does, but it usually doesn’t come with as much upside. Personally, I have been rather frustrated with Mattison’s development in his third season. He’s usually good for a highlight play or two (watch out for those hurdles!) when he fills in for Cook, but he can also leave a lot of yards on the field by making bad decisions on where to go at the line of scrimmage.
The Vikings’ run game has quietly been one of the weaker parts of the team this season. The volume numbers look fine thanks to Mike Zimmer’s Woody Hayes impression, but they’re 28th in Pro Football Focus run grade and 29th in Football Outsiders run DVOA. Hopefully the Vikings air it out more with Cook absent, especially to their potent wide receiver combo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. The Vikings are 5-0 when Jefferson has 7 or more receptions this year and 0-6 when he has 6 or less. At the very least, perhaps they’ll get explosive back Kene Nwangwu in the mix. Nwangwu already has two kick return touchdowns but has barely seen the field on offense. The Vikings could use his literal change of pace.”
3. How can the Lions attack this team? Can they? Like, is it possible?
“I mean, they damn near won the last meeting, and that was when the Vikings defense was a lot healthier, so sure, it’s possible. If the Vikings do their usual bit of letting lesser teams hang around, I could see Jared Goff and the Lions offense dinking and dunking their way down the field enough to keep it interesting, much like they did against Chicago on Thanksgiving. The Vikings are 0-3 when losing the turnover battle this year, so if the Lions can get a couple takeaways and get some short fields, Minnesota could be in trouble. The Vikings run defense has been pretty porous and allowed 108 yards on the ground in Week 5, but they might be getting reinforcements with the possible returns of Michael Pierce (elbow) and Dalvin Tomlinson (COVID).
On defense, I’d do my best to prevent big plays from Jefferson and Thielen and dare the Vikings to depend too much on the run—something that Zimmer & company are all too willing to accommodate. And send lots of pressure over the right guard. Oli Udoh has been a real weak link there for the past two months after a decent start to the season.”
4. Will Kirk Cousins set up behind his guard this week?
“That play was kind of a microcosm of the Kirk Cousins Experience. You can (and should) absolutely blame him for the ridiculous brain fart on a crucial 4th and goal. But of course his defenders will point out that the play clock was already dwindling down because other players were lined up incorrectly. It was certainly Kirk’s fault, but it’s never all Kirk’s fault. Conversely, Cousins has already proven several times this season that he can lead the team to crucial scores late in games. It’s what kind of makes him the perfect quarterback for this maddeningly imperfect team. Cousins and the Vikings on the whole probably deserve better based on how they have played this year, but neither the quarterback nor his teammates have been consistently good enough to get over the hump.”
5. Who’s winning this thing?
“I have half a mind to just DVR this game, turn on my TV at about 2:45 Central time, and fast forward to the end of what will likely be yet another nail-biting finish. It’s practically predestined at this point. There’s also a part of me that thinks Sunday could be the complete disaster that finally tells us that the 2021 Vikings season is simply doomed. Giving the Lions their first win of the season would finally give us some closure.
But if I know the Vikings like I think I do, they won’t let us off the hook that easy. Oh no. There are still five excruciating games left to endure after Sunday. A win gets the Vikings back to .500 and keeps them right in the thick of the steaming pile of mediocrity that is the NFC Wild Card race. I think they’ll escape with another uninspiring, way-too-close, late win that leaves fans simultaneously hopeful and disgusted. I’ll say Vikings 23, Lions 17, my life expectancy another -4 years.”