It’s prediction time again, ladies and gentlemen! We’re just hours. . .well, about nine hours as I write this. . .away from kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium in our Week 9 matchup between the Detroit Lions and your Minnesota Vikings. Time to see how everyone’s feeling about this one.
As we always do, we have our widget from our friends at The Crowd’s Line for you to make your picks on.
When you look at the Lions, the first thing that jumps out over the first half of the season has been the play of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Despite the loss of Calvin Johnson, Stafford has put up some pretty outstanding numbers this season, including a TD-to-INT ratio of 16:4. In his last four games, he’s thrown nine touchdown passes and no interceptions, which is very good, but he’s only had one touchdown pass in each of the last two weeks. Last week, he struggled against a Houston Texans’ defense that Minnesota lit up earlier this season, so maybe he’s cooling off a bit.
The Lions are also having issues along the offensive line. Last night, they downloaded one of their starting tackles (Riley Reiff) from “questionable” to “out” because of an illness. Their other starting tackle, rookie Taylor Decker, has been listed as questionable as well. Stafford has some very good targets in the passing game that he can take advantage of in Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, tight end Eric Ebron, and running back Theo Riddick. That means it’s imperative for the Vikings’ defense to get pressure on Stafford and knock him around like they did in 2015. Minnesota’s defense has had two games out of their last four with zero sacks, and only managed one last week against the Bears’ makeshift offensive line, but hopefully they can take advantage of the Lions’ woes up front.
Of course, nothing that the Vikings do on defense is going to matter if they can’t figure out their own offensive line issues. Sam Bradford absorbed five quarterback sacks against Chicago last week, bringing this post-bye week total to 11. That’s the sort of rate that can’t be sustained over the long term. With left guard Alex Boone slated to miss this game with concussion issues, Minnesota will be forced to shuffle their offensive line again, this time with Jeremiah Sirles likely slotting into Boone’s place at left guard. However the Vikings configure the offensive line this week, they need to do a better job in both the passing game and the running game for this offense to be successful.
The Vikings, thus far, have the worst rushing offense in football, and it’s not really close. They’ve had some measure of success running at the edge, but the repeated runs between the tackles we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks have done nothing. Perhaps the transition from Norv Turner to Pat Shurmur calling the plays will give us a shift in that philosophy this week. The buzz has been that Shurmur had a lot of input into the play calling before the bye week when Sam Bradford was getting familiar with the offense, and then it went back to being Norv’s offense after the bye. If that’s the case, we’ll likely see a lot more of the short, quick passing game that we saw over the first few weeks of the season when the Vikings’ offense was more successful. The Vikings could also make use of Cordarrelle Patterson in this one, using him on the shorter screen type of passes that could act as an extension of the run game. Patterson has had a bit of a renaissance this season, and if the Vikings want to mix things up on offense, getting him more involved would be the way to do just that.
Last week, I said it was tough to imagine the Vikings playing two bad games in a row, but somehow it happened. It’s even more difficult for me to imagine them playing three bad games in a row, and they need to right the ship. Thus far this season, the Lions haven’t been great on defense, and they have some key players that aren’t at 100%. If returning to U.S. Bank Stadium and facing a defense like Detroit’s can’t wake this offense up, it might officially be panic time in the Twin Cities. Fortunately, I don’t think it’s going to come to that.
Vikings 23, Lions 17 to help the Vikings finish the first half of the regular season with a 6-2 mark and sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
That’s who I’ve got, ladies and gentlemen. Who have you got in this one?