clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Opposition Analysis and Research, Week 12: Detroit Edition

New, comments

A statistical look at Minnesota’s opponent on Thursday, the Detroit Lions

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
A divisional battle is always a meat grinder, and it’s even moreso when the divisional game is on a short week. Which team will pull the game out and improve their chances at a division title?
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a short week and a fast turnaround, but there’s plenty of time for the newly-renamed OAR (because you SOB’s are persistent with your naming suggestions if nothing else). Let’s take our weekly deep dive into the matchup our division rival Detroit Lions present for the Vikings on a short week.

Schedule

Things have been up and down for the Lions this entire season. They started off by winning two games, then lost on a last-second play against the Falcons. Then of course they beat the Vikings, and then dropped into a three-game losing streak against the Panthers, Saints and Steelers. THAT has then turned into a rebound three-game winning streak against the Packers, Browns and Bears.

Detroit is basically playing like your middling 6-4 team usually plays. They beat the Cardinals and Giants, played the Falcons tough, got destroyed by the Saints, lost tight games to the Panthers and Steelers, and eked out their wins against the Packers, Bears and Browns. Detroit is currently fifth in the NFL in scoring, so this will be yet another tough test for the Vikings’ defense.

Most recent game

Week 11 saw the Lions traveling to Soldier Field to take on rookie starter Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago Bears. It was a tight game throughout, as the Bears started off with a 10-point lead in the first quarter, go up 17-7, then the Lions scored 17 unanswered points to go ahead 24-17. The Bears tied things up with just over five minutes left on a Tarik Cohen 15-yard touchdown run, but Matthew Stafford and Matt Prater worked their magic and the Lions got far enough for Prater to hit a game-winning 52-yard field goal.

Matthew Stafford was 21/31 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, Theo Riddick led the Lions with 35 yards on nine carries and Marvin Jones had 85 yards receiving and a touchdown catch to lead the pass catchers.

The biggest story from this game, though, was the Lions second consecutive game of struggling against the run. The Browns ran for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries against the Lions (6.1 YPC) and the Bears followed that up by putting 222 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the Lions on 30 carries (7.4 YPC). Jordan Howard ran for 125 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries and Tarik Cohen ran nine times for 44 yards and a score. Trubisky was a pedestrian 18/30 for 179 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the issues on the defensive side of the ball, Stafford and the Lions came away with the win, a record-breaking win at that.

So the Lions have been playing well on the road in the NFC North this season. Now they head home for their first of three home games against divisional opponents over the next six weeks. Now let’s see what the Vikings will be facing on Sunday.

Offense

Ground game

Detroit, as they have tended to do for the last God only knows how many years, is once again operating one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. They have just two games where they have rushed for more than 100 yards (wins against the Giants and Browns), and just one additional game where they have rushed for more than 90 yards (their win against us in Week 4). That hasn’t necessarily slowed them down too much, as they have managed to win games rushing for as few as 64 and 65 yards (Packers and Bears, respectively), so their run game doesn’t necessarily have to be working for the Lions to win. So let’s look at how this team divides its carries.

Detroit’s rushing game

Player Attempts (Rank) Yards (Rank) Yards per attempt (Rank) Rushing touchdowns (Rank) DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank)
Player Attempts (Rank) Yards (Rank) Yards per attempt (Rank) Rushing touchdowns (Rank) DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank)
Ameer Abdullah 144 (t-12) 491 (18) 3.4 (t-41) 3 (t-22) -11 (25) -10.7% (25)
Theo Riddick 40 (t-70) 141 (80) 3.5 (DNQ) 0 (t-100) 8 (DNQ) -2.8% (DNQ)
Matthew Stafford 21 (t-100) 88 (101) 4.2 (DNQ) 0 (t-100) 22 (17) 21.1% (14)
Dwayne Washington 20 (t-104) 44 (t-125) 2.2 (DNQ) 0 (t-100) -30 (DNQ) -41.6% (DNQ)

For reasons that are beyond me, there are actually five teams who have scored fewer rushing touchdowns than the four the Lions have scored (the Dolphins have just 1 rushing touchdown, how does that even happen???). So the ground game, especially inside the red zone, is not a particularly strong point of Detroit’s offense. Both Stafford and Dwayne Washington average under 2 carries a game and Theo Riddick gets on average just more than 3.5. Ameer Abdullah has led this paltry attack with 13.1 carries a game which on average get about 3.4 yards an attempt and has three of Detroit’s four rushing touchdowns.

Football Outsiders has Detroit’s run game ranked 29th in DVOA, with a hideous -22.9% mark. Ground game aficionados these Lions are not. For reasons that have to do with us having issues tackling that game, the best game in Abdullah’s career came against the Vikings in Week 4, when he rushed 20 times for 94 yards (4.7 YPC) and a touchdown, and only a mid-game injury held him back from being the first Detroit running back with over 100 yards rushing in I don’t even know how long. The Vikings would do well to make sure Abdullah plays more like his other two games against the Vikings, where he’s totaled 14 carries for 52 yards (a 3.7 YPC clip) and no touchdowns.

Football Outsiders: Detroit’s OL

Detroit's Offensive Line Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed percentage (Rank) 2nd level yards (Rank) Open field yards (Rank) ALY: Left End (Rank) ALY: Left tackle (Rank) ALY: Mid/Guard (Rank) ALY: Right tackle (Rank) ALY: Right end (Rank)
Detroit's Offensive Line Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed percentage (Rank) 2nd level yards (Rank) Open field yards (Rank) ALY: Left End (Rank) ALY: Left tackle (Rank) ALY: Mid/Guard (Rank) ALY: Right tackle (Rank) ALY: Right end (Rank)
2017 2.99 (32) 33% (32) 31% (32) .97 (27) .62 (18) 2.86 (25) 2.94 (30) 3.2 (32) 2.27 (30) 3.53 (21)

So....you guys all remember how bad the Vikings were at running the ball/run blocking in general last season? Yeah, Detroit’s offensive line last season was nearly as bad as ours was, and now they’ve actually managed to perform so badly they’re actually out-sucking Minnesota’s 2016 offensive line in basically every run-blocking category Football Outsiders measures.

They suck at getting yards for their running backs, suck at short-yardage situations, constantly get their running backs stuffed for no gain, and basically have no ability to run up the middle whatsoever. That’s even with the Lions running 22% less than the NFL average up the middle (32% vs. 56%).

About the only good things they are capable of doing is getting long runs from their backs when they work to the outside of their offensive line. The Lions take advantage of that slightly-less sucktitude in running outside by running outside in both directions five and nine percent more than the average NFL team (16% to left end and 18% to right end for the Lions, 11% is the NFL avg. carries that go to the left end and 9% go to the right end). The Lions also like to run to the right tackle 6% more than average (19% vs. 13%), so if the Lions are going to run, nearly 70% of the time the ball will be going up the middle or to the right.

Detroit’s offensive line is also ninth-worst in pass protection, with an adjusted sack rate of 7.8% with 33 sacks allowed so far. So yeah, it’s been a rough time for Stafford and the Lions passing game.

Passing game

Detroit’s passing game

Player Targets Receptions Yards Receiving touchdowns Catch % DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank) DPI
Player Targets Receptions Yards Receiving touchdowns Catch % DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank) DPI
Golden Tate 75 59 691 3 78.70% 167 (8) 16.8% (6) 0
Marvin Jones 71 38 622 6 53.50% 190 (5) 21.2% (4) 4/92
Eric Ebron 46 24 283 2 52.20% 20 (16) -.5% (19) 0
Theo Riddick 44 33 282 2 75% 37 (18) 1.2% (21) 0
T.J. Jones 43 24 347 0 55.80% 37 (46) -1.2% (38) 1/4
Ameer Abdullah 22 17 104 1 77.30% 31 (20) 11% (16) 0
Kenny Golladay 21 11 218 2 52.40% 78 (DNQ) 36.3% (DNQ) 1/34
Darren Fells 19 13 132 3 68.40% 50 (DNQ) 35.8% (DNQ) 0

Much like our previous opponents, the Rams, the Lions have been spreading the ball around particularly well so far this season, with eight different receivers receiving double digit targets. Vikings fans should remember backup tight end Darren Fells particularly well, as two of his four best games in the NFL have come against the Vikings (Week 4 this season, 4 catches on 5 targets for 40 yards and Week 14 in 2015 when he was with the Cardinals and caught three of four targets for 43 yards).

Stafford’s second-lowest passing total on the season came in the Week 4 win over the Vikings, as he threw for just 154 yards. Marvin Jones led the Lions in receiving yards that game with two catches on five targets for 42 yards, Fells was second with his 40 yards and T.J. Jones rounded out Detroit’s top three with 33 yards receiving on three catches (five targets). It’s been the Marvin Jones and Golden Tate show again in Detroit this season, as they are 13th and 19th, respectively, in receiving yards, and have combined for nine receiving touchdowns on the season. Detroit’s passing game has played well enough for it to be given a 22.6% DVOA, 12th-best in the NFL.

The reason why Detroit ranks 11th in attempts (360), sixth in passing yards (2576), fifth in passing touchdowns (19), third in interceptions thrown (5), and 12th in net yards per attempt (6.6) is a mix of having two top-20 wide receivers, a wide variety of depth in players who can catch the ball and having one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.

Quarterback

Matthew Stafford is playing one of the best seasons of his career, possibly even the best depending on how he finishes out the year with the schedule the Lions have remaining.

Matthew Stafford

Player Comp./Att. (Comp %) Yards TD/INT Y/A (Rank) AY/A (Rank) Quarterback rating (Rank) QBR (rank) NY/A (Rank) ANY/A (Rank) DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank)
Player Comp./Att. (Comp %) Yards TD/INT Y/A (Rank) AY/A (Rank) Quarterback rating (Rank) QBR (rank) NY/A (Rank) ANY/A (Rank) DYAR (Rank) DVOA (Rank)
Matthew Stafford 227/360 (63.1%) 2760 19/5 7.7 (8) 8.1 (8) 98.4 (9) 59.3 (11) 6.55 (14) 6.95 (10) 624 (9) 14.5% (11)

He’s within the top ten in nearly every stat I’m looking at here and I can only imagine that will improve as he and the Lions continue through their cupcake of a second half. Anyway, Stafford is currently 8-7 lifetime against the Vikings through 15 games. He completes 62.6% of his passes against us, has a lifetime 21-6 touchdown/interception ratio, has a yards per attempt of 6.54 and adjusted yards per attempt of 6.81.

What Vikings fans should be enthused about is that in 15 games against the Vikings, Stafford has taken 48 sacks, an average of 3.2 per game. Stafford has been sacked, on average, three times a game so far this season, so the Vikings should have a good chance of putting Stafford on the deck at least that many times. The Week 4 matchup between these two teams saw our defensive line abuse the hell out of their offensive line, racking up six sacks and losing the Lions 55 yards of offense in the process. Coming close to matching that level of defensive prowess would go a long way in ensuring a Minnesota victory against the Lions.

Stafford, like most NFL quarterbacks, plays better at home than he does on the road. His QB rating goes up over six points, his yards per attempt and adjusted yards per attempt are more than .5 higher at home than on the road, he throws for 17 more yards per game at home, and runs slightly more at home and for more yardage than he does on the road. Keeping Stafford from getting comfortable with the home crowd will also be essential for a Vikings win.

Offensive efficiency

PFR Efficiency: Detroit Lions

Organization Offensive scoring % (Rank) Offensive turnover % (Rank) Average starting field position (Rank) Average time of drive (Rank) Avg. # of plays per drive (Rank) Avg. # of yards per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Organization Offensive scoring % (Rank) Offensive turnover % (Rank) Average starting field position (Rank) Average time of drive (Rank) Avg. # of plays per drive (Rank) Avg. # of yards per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
PFR 38.3% (10) 10.4 (12th-best) 29.8 (6) 2:40 (13) 5.72 (16) 29.4 (16) 1.95 (10)

Football Outsiders Efficiency: Detroit Lions

Organization Yards per drive (Rank) Points per drive (Rank) Avg. starting field position (Rank) Plays per drive (Rank) TOP per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate (Rank) Touchdowns per drive (Rank) Field goals per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs per drive (Rank) Average field position after kickoff (Rank) Pts. per red zone drive (Rank) TDs per red zone drive (Rank) Avg. lead at the beginning of drives (Rank)
Organization Yards per drive (Rank) Points per drive (Rank) Avg. starting field position (Rank) Plays per drive (Rank) TOP per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate (Rank) Touchdowns per drive (Rank) Field goals per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs per drive (Rank) Average field position after kickoff (Rank) Pts. per red zone drive (Rank) TDs per red zone drive (Rank) Avg. lead at the beginning of drives (Rank)
Football Outsiders 30.66 (14) 2.02 (10) 29.74 (5) 5.85 (16) 2:44 (13) .682 (18) .207 (14) .189 (9) .387 (11) .234 (16) 25.12 (13) 4.57 (23) .500 (23) -3.4 (22)

So yeah, much less difficult of an offense to face than the Rams was. They’re about NFL average in most categories, with the exception of their general starting field position (boosted by their abilities to turn the ball over and punt return unit, but I’ll cover those later) and their field goals per drive, which usually indicates that their drives are stalling out of field goal range and they are content for their top-notch kicking team to take shots from longer range.

As Eric Thompson mentioned in his preview article, this is a squad that struggles to convert red zone opportunities to touchdowns, largely because of their lack of a running game and a poor offensive scheme for close-range scoring chances. The Vikings managed to hold the Rams to just one score in three red zone opportunities, and their abilities to hold teams to field goals or turnovers in the red zone will be much needed. That the Lions still have a top-10 offense in scoring despite their limitations in the red zone speaks to their ability to score touchdown from distance, which is another thing the Vikings will have to prevent against in tomorrow’s matchup.

This is a hard offense to stop between the twenties, but the Vikings need to do just that. Now let’s move on and see what the Lions bring to the table defensively.

Defense

Run defense

Detroit’s run defense, ‘16 & ‘17

Year Attempts against (Rank) Rushing yards against (Rank) Rushing touchdowns against (Rank) Yards per attempt (Rank) Rush defense DVOA (Rank) Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed (Rank) 2nd Level Yards (Rank) Open Field Yards (Rank)
Year Attempts against (Rank) Rushing yards against (Rank) Rushing touchdowns against (Rank) Yards per attempt (Rank) Rush defense DVOA (Rank) Adjusted line yards (Rank) Power success (Rank) Stuffed (Rank) 2nd Level Yards (Rank) Open Field Yards (Rank)
2016 389 (9th-fewest) 1701 (18) 8 (2) 4.4 (20) -4.1% (19) 4.4 (21) 73% (31) 15% (29) 1.2 (20) .73 (15)
2017 260 (12) 1142 (18) 12 (31) 4.4 (24) -3.6% (22) 4.61 (29) 59% (10) 17% (30) 1.28 (26) .74 (15)

So one of the most noticeable changes from Detroit’s run defense last year and this year is the number of touchdowns they have allowed on the ground. They allowed just eight all of last season, the second-best mark in the league, and this season they have already allowed 12, second-worst in the league behind only the Bills, who have allowed 16. They have also improved their play in “power success” situations while somehow staying really bad in stuff percentage, which is not an easy thing to do. Their defense has also remained more or less the same in 2nd level yards allowed and open field yards allowed, so the Vikings just need to take advantage of what Detroit gives them on the ground and hope that’s enough to make their running game successful.

Detroit’s run defense is ranked 22nd in DVOA (-3.6%) so the Vikings should have an okay time of running the ball. In fact, Minnesota ran the ball so effectively against the Rams that we knocked them down 5 rankings in run defense DVOA (from -12.2% and #15 to -9.5% and #20). Carry that kind of success into our game against the Lions and we should be running the ball right down their throats all game long.

Pass Defense

Pass defense: Detroit Lions

Team Completions/Attempts/Comp. % Passing yards against (Rank) Passing touchdowns against (Rank) Net yards per attempt against (Rank) Pass Defense DVOA (Rank) Adjusted sack rate (Rank)
Team Completions/Attempts/Comp. % Passing yards against (Rank) Passing touchdowns against (Rank) Net yards per attempt against (Rank) Pass Defense DVOA (Rank) Adjusted sack rate (Rank)
Detroit 218/347 (62.8%) 2403 (13th-most) 12 (t-7 fewest) 6.5 (t-13 worst) 1.0% (11) 6.3% (20)

So in general this is an okay pass defense. Their DVOA is above-average, which is pretty good, but basically everything else is below-average. The passing touchdowns against is helped by the fact that the Lions give up the second-most rushing touchdowns in the league this year, so their ability to prevent passing touchdowns hasn’t shown up quite as much. But they give up a lot of yardage, teams get good net yards per attempt against them and the Lions aren’t too great at rushing the passer. Compared to the Rams defense, the Lions should be a much easier ask for our offense to handle.

Detroit Lions defenders

Player Solo tackles Assisted tackles Sacks Passes defensed
Player Solo tackles Assisted tackles Sacks Passes defensed
Tahir Whitehead 49 12 1 2
Tavon Wilson 40 12 2 1
Glover Quin 36 14 0 5
Jarrad Davis 35 14 1 2
Darius Slay 33 3 0 15
Anthony Zettel 25 5 6 0
Ezekiel Ansah 16 2 4 0
Cornelius Washington 9 5 2.5 1
Miles Killebrew 22 4 0 5
D.J. Hayden 18 6 0 5

Three of Detroit’s losses have come in the games where they have allowed their most passing yards on the season: 334 in a loss to the Panthers, 317 in their loss to the Steelers, and 277 in their loss to the Falcons. The only loss that bucks the trend was their loss against the Saints, where the Lions allowed just 186 passing yards but surrendered 193 rushing yards.

Much like the Rams, the Lions have allowed just two receivers to total more than 100 yards against them with one other getting close: Carolina’s Ed Dickson (5 catches on 5 targets for 175 yards), JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Steelers (7 catches on 10 targets for 193 yards and a touchdown) and our very own Stefon Diggs (5 catches on 7 targets for 98 yards). Getting a receiving option going against the Lions is key to a win, and if either Diggs or Thielen can have a big day against the Lions and their corners, that bodes well for the Vikings getting a win, as the Vikings are 4-0 when they have a receiver break 100 yards receiving this year and 4-2 when they do not.

Defensive efficiency

PFR defensive efficiency: Detroit Lions

Organization Scoring % (Rank) Avg. defensive starting field position (Rank) Avg. drive time allowed (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Yards allowed per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Organization Scoring % (Rank) Avg. defensive starting field position (Rank) Avg. drive time allowed (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Yards allowed per drive (Rank) Avg. points per drive (Rank)
Pro Football Reference 31.1 (8th-best) 27.1 (7) 2:28 (7) 5.5 (8) 29.9 (19) 1.74 (12)

Football Outsiders efficiency: Detroit Lions

Organization Yards per drive allowed (Rank) Points per drive allowed (Rank) LOS per drive (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Time of possession allowed per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate against (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per drive (Rank) Field goals allowed per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs forced per drive Defensive LOS after kickoff (Rank) Points allowed per red zone trip (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per red zone trip (Rank)
Organization Yards per drive allowed (Rank) Points per drive allowed (Rank) LOS per drive (Rank) Plays allowed per drive (Rank) Time of possession allowed per drive (Rank) Drive Success Rate against (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per drive (Rank) Field goals allowed per drive (Rank) Punts per drive (Rank) 3&Outs forced per drive Defensive LOS after kickoff (Rank) Points allowed per red zone trip (Rank) Touchdowns allowed per red zone trip (Rank)
Football Outsiders 30.39 (20) 1.77 (12) 27.15 (8) 5.51 (7) 2:30 (5) .685 (17) .205 (14) .111 (4) .376 (25) .265 (11) 24.46 (13) 4.91 (23) .588 (25)

So the Detroit defense is up and down, efficiency-wise. If you get the ball into the red zone, there’s a pretty good chance you’re scoring a touchdown. But they force an above-average number of three-and-outs, which cut down on the amount of time teams drive on them. They do a good job of limiting teams getting good starting field position on them, both after kickoffs and in general. They don’t allow a lot of field goals but allow an average number of touchdowns per drive. Basically, this can be a difficult defense to score on at times, but if you do manage it, it’s usually not after an extended time-consuming drive.

Turnovers

Like I will say at the beginning of this section in this analysis, turnovers are usually what separate the average teams from the elite teams. The average teams have games where they lose the turnover battle and games where they win it. Elite teams are almost always winning the turnover battle, even if they turn the ball over once or twice themselves. Much the LA Rams, the Lions have been very, very good at forcing turnovers this year, and the Vikings will need to reverse the -3 take/give the Lions had in last month’s game if they want a win. It would also help that if/when Stafford throws interceptable passes like he did in last month’s game, the Vikings would hold onto them instead of dropping them or going out of bounds before they could secure the catch.

Turnovers: Detroit Lions

Side of ball Interceptions (Rank) Fumbles (Rank) Give/take (PFR) Turnover % (Rank) (FO) Turnovers per drive Interceptions per drive (Rank) Fumbles per drive (Rank)
Side of ball Interceptions (Rank) Fumbles (Rank) Give/take (PFR) Turnover % (Rank) (FO) Turnovers per drive Interceptions per drive (Rank) Fumbles per drive (Rank)
Offense 5 (3) 7 (22) 12 giveaways 10.4% (12-best) .108 (12) .045 (4) .063 (29)
Defense 11 (7) 8 (4) 19 takeaways 16% (4th-best) .162 (4) .094 (9) .068 (2)

This is an opportunistic and ballhawking defense. It was fumbles that killed the Vikings in their Week 4 game against the Lions. I would have to imagine ball security was a huge deal for the Vikings in practice this week. There’s not much I can say here that is different from last week’s summary about the Rams. The Vikings have won the turnover battle four times in their six-game winning streak; if they want to extend that to seven games, they absolutely need to make it five.

Special Teams

Also like the Rams, the Lions have a top-five special teams unit. They have a top-end punter, a top-end kicker and a usually top-end return unit. One of the biggest storylines of this matchup is how the Lions adjust to having likely Pro Bowl punt returner Jamal Agnew on the bench for this game.

Detroit’s return men

Player Punt returns (Rank) Punt return yards (Rank) Fair catches (Rank) Punt return TDs (Rank) Yards per punt return (Rank) Kick returns (Rank) Kick return yards (Rank) Kick return TDs (Rank) Yards per kick return (Rank)
Player Punt returns (Rank) Punt return yards (Rank) Fair catches (Rank) Punt return TDs (Rank) Yards per punt return (Rank) Kick returns (Rank) Kick return yards (Rank) Kick return TDs (Rank) Yards per kick return (Rank)
Jamal Agnew 22 (4) 370 (1) 10 (t-10) 2 (1) 16.8 (1) 11 (t-17) 196 (26) 0 (t-4) 17.8 (DNQ)
Dwayne Washington 0 0 0 0 0 2 (t-59) 31 (69) 0 (t-4) 15.5 (DNQ)
Ameer Abdullah 0 0 0 0 0 1 (t-71) 15 (t-88) 0 (t-4) 15 (DNQ)
Golden Tate 1 (t-60) 10 (t-54) 2 (t-44) 0 (t-6) 10 (t-16) 0 0 0 0
Zach Zenner 0 0 0 0 0 1 (t-71) 20 (t-77) 0 (t-4) 20 (DNQ)

The Vikings have been one of the few teams Jamal Agnew has not ripped to shreds. Neither Tate or Agnew got a return off against the Vikings in Week 4 and Quigley’s directional punting abilities will be huge in shutting down whomever the Lions have back taking punts. It could also be an opportunity for a fumble, so Vikings gunners should be hauling ass and getting in the returner’s face as much as they possibly can to try and affect their focus. Agnew has also been the returner Detroit trusts the most to take kicks out of the end zone, so while he has had less success on kick returns for whatever reason, the threat of him housing one on kickoffs is also neutralized.

Dwayne Washington is listed as the top kick returner for the Lions, so I guess we will see if he assumes that position again with Agnew down for the count in this one.

Kicking

Player 0-19 FGA/FGM 20-29 FGA/FGM 30-39 FGA/FGM 40-49 FGA/FGM 50+ FGA/FGM PAT's made
Player 0-19 FGA/FGM 20-29 FGA/FGM 30-39 FGA/FGM 40-49 FGA/FGM 50+ FGA/FGM PAT's made
Matt Prater 2/2 2/2 6/6 5/5 6/9 26/26

Prater has been one of the best kickers in the NFL since coming to the Lions and his success has continued this season. One of his three misses actually came against the Vikings in Week 4, when he missed a 59-yard field goal as time expired. His other two misses were a 56-yard miss against the Saints and a 55-yard miss against the Packers. He has hit every other field goal he has attempted this season and has started to become a thorn in the side of the Vikings. There’s not much the Vikings can do to stop him, and unless Detroit has a well-scouted idea of what the Vikings do on kickoff returns, I doubt there will be many returnable kicks.

ESPN: Detroit punters

Player Punts (Rank) Punt yards (Rank) Longest punt (Rank) Average punt (Rank) Net punt length (Rank) Blocked punts (Rank) Punts inside the 20 (Rank) Touchbacks (Rank) Fair catches (Rank) Punts returned (Rank) Punt return yardage (Rank) Punt return avg. yards
Player Punts (Rank) Punt yards (Rank) Longest punt (Rank) Average punt (Rank) Net punt length (Rank) Blocked punts (Rank) Punts inside the 20 (Rank) Touchbacks (Rank) Fair catches (Rank) Punts returned (Rank) Punt return yardage (Rank) Punt return avg. yards
Jeff Locke 27 (32) 1222 (32) 54 (33) 45.3 (t-19) 42.2 (t-9) 0 (t-1) 11 (30) 0 (t-1) 11 (t-20) 11 (4) 82 (11) 7.5 (20)
Sam Martin 11 (33) 467 (33) 55 (t-30) 42.5 (33) 38.5 (t-32) 0 (t-1) 5 (33) 1 (t-7) 3 (33) 4 (3) 23 (3) 5.8 (12)
Matt Prater 4 (34) 139 (34) 47 (35) 34.8 (35) 34.8 (35) 0 (t-1) 1 (34) 0 (t-1) 2 (34) 0 (1) 0 (1) 0 (1)
Kasey Redfern 1 (35) 50 (34) 50 (34) 50 (t-2) 50 (1) 0 (t-1) 0 (35) 0 (t-1) 0 (35) 1 (2) 0 (1) 0 (1)

So the Lions have had one of the more unsettled punting situations this season. They are the only team to have used more than one punter this season, which says a little about both the NFL’s current punting situation and the injury issues the Lions have dealt with this season. They started off training camp expecting their punter to be Sam Martin. Unfortunately, Martin had an ankle injury during the offseason and was placed on the non-football injury list (aka the Taylor Heinicke door-kicking list). That left the job to Kasey Redfern.

Redfern had the job for all of one punt in the regular season, as he tore his ACL, MCL and partially tore his patellar tendon while trying to run for a first down after recoving a bobbled snap in the end zone. The Lions then got through the remainder of the Cardinals game by using kicker Matt Prater as their punter, but obviously that couldn’t continue. So the Lions went out and brought in ex-Viking Jeff Locke to punt for them. Locke punted for them for games 2-7, but was replaced by Martin for Week 8 after Martin had been activated off the NFI list. It hasn’t been a great return for Martin, as he’s averaging just 42.5 yards per punt this season after averaging 46.9 yards per punt in his first four seasons. Detroit is one of the teams Marcus Sherels has a punt return touchdown against, and Thanksgiving would be a good time for him to add a second return touchdown to that tally.

Conclusion

This will be another good test for the Vikings coming off their biggest test of the season against the 7-2 LA Rams. The Lions have had the Vikings number in recent seasons and it would go a long way towards solidifying Minnesota’s position atop the NFC North if they were to win tomorrow morning’s game. Like I recommended against the Rams, getting both Jet and Latavius established early will be very helpful for the Vikings in this game. The Lions have next to no depth or quality of depth on their defensive line, so a healthy Vikings offensive line should be able to punish and brawl hard against the Lions defensive front.

This will be Minnesota’s first game against a 4-3 front since they last played Detroit, and the different look they present compared to the teams the Vikings have beat over the last six games will be an interesting challenge for the Vikings to face. This is also the start of a four-game streak against 4-3 defenses, so the Vikings will be getting plenty of work against this defense over the next few weeks whether they beat the Lions or not.

Besides that, keeping players healthy will be big. It appears as though the Vikings will have their entire 53-man roster healthy for the Lions game, which means they can pick and choose which players will be playing tomorrow. A turnover-free game on both sides would, I think, favor the Vikings, so let’s hope that the Vikings can continue limiting their mistakes and play like a team that deserves to be 9-2 and one of the best teams in the NFC.

As my score prediction, I’ll have the Vikings winning 27-17. Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and enjoy the holiday!