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Vikings vs. Lions: The Matchup

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions come to US Bank stadium Sunday to play the Vikings for early bragging rights and a spot atop the NFC North division. It should be a good challenge for the Vikings, who let the Lions come away with two narrow victories in the series last year that cost the Vikings a playoff birth.

The Lions come in fresh after a last second loss to the Falcons at home last week. The Lions should have won the game on that final play, but the refs thought otherwise. Nevertheless, except for some tipped balls that led to a couple fortuitous interceptions, the Lions did little to slow the Falcons offense most of the game, while the Lions’ offense struggled to turn 3 Falcons turnovers into points.

It’ll be interesting to see how they bounce back (or not) in the aftermath of that loss, playing a Vikings offense suddenly ranked #2 in the league, along with an always stingy Vikings defense - on the road.

It’s an interesting match-up.

When the Vikings have the Ball

I’m gonna go with the assumption that Case Keenum gets the start against the Lions. No real insight into Sam Bradford’s situation, and he could start, but I note that Keenum went 27/32 for 321 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT against the Lions, with 75% red-zone TD efficiency and a 66% conversion rate on 3rd down last year playing with the Rams. The Rams lost 31-28, but that wasn’t because of Keenum. I wouldn’t be surprised if Keenum had another good outing if he gets the start, although I think Bradford would do as well or better if he’s ready to go.

The Lions will be a test for the Vikings on offense because this is the first pretty good defensive secondary the Vikings have faced this year. The Lions have faced some good passing attacks in the Cardinals, Giants and Falcons, and except for the Falcons, held their scoring down reasonably well, allowing the Cardinals 23 points, and the Giants 10. The Falcons had 30.

The key matchups here will be Darius Slay on Stefon Diggs, and possibly Quandre Diggs on Adam Thielen. I say possibly because Quandre Diggs is the Lions’ slot CB, and while Thielen plays a lot in the slot now, the Vikings may, or may not, have him play there as much this week, depending on how they feel about the match-ups. Quandre Diggs is a better CB than their other outside CBs, Nevin Lawson and CJ Hayden, who are both pretty bad. On the other hand, Diggs is only 5’9”, and Thielen is 6’3”, so that 6” height differential is a matchup advantage too. I suspect the Vikings will test Thielen outside and in the slot, and see what works out best.

But the other key match-up to look out for is Dalvin Cook vs. the Lions defense. The Lions have a weak interior defensive line, and even their DEs are not that great against the run. There is potential here for Cook to have a break out game. Watching Cook since week 1, as good as he’s been, with a little more help up front he could rack up 200 yards on the ground. The other aspect of Cook’s game could also come into play: receiving. The Lions linebackers are not that good in coverage. That could also lead to some explosive plays for Cook out of the backfield. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pat Shurmur motion Cook out of the backfield at times or line him up outside to expose a potential linebacker match-up, whether a simple wheel route or crossing route over the middle- maybe even a go route. But a Lions linebacker on Cook is a match-up the Vikings will want to exploit all day long.

Look for Dalvin Cook to have the best game of his young career on Sunday. Heard it here first.

When the Lions have the Ball

The Lions lost their starting left tackle for at least the first half of the season, so they were forced to trade for Greg Robinson (think Matt Kalil, only bigger and just as bad). He was picked #2 overall by the Rams in 2014 and has been an unqualified bust. The Lions also have injury issues at left guard, and could end up starting former Viking 3rd stringer Zac Kerin. The Vikings are gonna need to exploit the left side of the Lions offensive line early and often to help keep Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing attack at bay. It’s also possible Travis Swanson may not play again this week, leaving the snapping duties to Graham Glascow. Wouldn’t be surprised to see more A gap stunt looks from Mike Zimmer to keep things complicated for the Lions partially re-made offensive line in any case.

It will be interesting to see how Mike Zimmer decides to match-up against the Lions wide receivers. Stafford spreads the ball around a certain amount, so I’m not sure Xavier Rhodes will be assigned to any one particular receiver. I could see Rhodes on Tate when he’s lined up outside or in 2WR sets, and Newman or Alexander on him when he’s in the slot. But if the Vikings are able to exploit the left side of the Lions offensive line, that should give Stafford a short leash on which to operate, making coverage duties a bit easier.

Lastly, the Lions have not been able to run the ball very successfully so far this year, and the Vikings defense have not allowed much at all on the ground. The Vikings need to make sure those trends remain in place to put the Lions in difficult 3rd down situations where the Vikings can bring pressure. Getting out to an early lead would also- obviously- help in that regard.

Bottom Line

I like the Vikings to match-up well against the Lions in the trenches on both sides of the ball this time around, and that along with home field advantage should tilt the game in the Vikings favor. I look for a big game from Dalvin Cook, complemented by a passing game that both moves the chains and picks up some big plays.

The Lions have averaged a +2 turnover advantage over their first three games, but I don’t see that continuing this week against the Vikings, who take care of the ball pretty well, taking the wind out of their sails. In fact, they may even lose that battle against the Vikings on Sunday.

I like the Vikings to take care of business and win at home, 34-17.


Who starts at QB against the Lioms?

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  • 13%
    Sam Bradford
    (255 votes)
  • 86%
    Case Keenum
    (1631 votes)
1886 votes total Vote Now