Vikings at Lions preview: Beware of Thielen
James Hawkins of The Detroit News breaks down Thursday’s Vikings-Lions game at Ford Field (12:30 p.m. Fox/ WJR 760).
VIKINGS TO WATCH
Adam Thielen, WR
The fourth-year pro has established himself as Minnesota’s top downfield threat. Thielen ranks second in the league in receiving yards (916), is tied for fifth in receptions (62) and is tied for the most receptions of 20-plus yards (16). He was held in check in the first meeting (five catches, 59 yards), but has been on fire as of late averaging 129 yards and a touchdown the past three games.
Everson Griffen, DE
He’s tied for fourth in the league in sacks (10) and has reached the double-digit mark for the third time in four seasons, but saw his eight-game sack streak come to an end last week. Griffen took down Matthew Stafford once in the Week 4 clash but will face a stiffer test against Taylor Decker, not Greg Robinson, in the rematch.
Harrison Smith, S
One of the top safeties in the league, Smith’s versatility makes him a dynamic weapon for Minnesota’s fifth-ranked defense. He makes plays all over the field, excels in all phases – coverage, pass rush and run stuffing – and spearheads the secondary with eight passes defensed and three interceptions.
■High stakes: This game is crucial for the Lions. At 6-4, Detroit sits two games behind the red-hot Vikings, who have won six straight, in the NFC North. A win would give the Lions a legitimate shot to claim their first division title in 24 years and reach the playoffs for a second straight season, while a loss would leave little margin for error with five weeks to go.
■Bowled over: The Lions’ run defense hasn’t offered much resistance as of late, allowing the Browns churn out 201 yards and the Bears 222 yards on the ground. Injuries have played a role in the declining effectiveness, but Detroit won’t be given much time to find a quick fix. Behind the tandem of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings have rushed for at least 150 yards three times since losing rookie Dalvin Cook in Week 4.
■Set the tone: The Lions have fallen into 10-point holes in the first quarter the past two games before a first-half defensive touchdown helped them climb out of it. Following a similar script is a dangerous proposition and highly unlikely against a Minnesota team that is tied for the third fewest turnovers (10) in the league.
■Let it fly: Matthew Stafford has been at his best during Detroit’s three-game win streak, throwing seven touchdowns to one interception and posting his three top passer ratings of the season. With Vikings top corner Xavier Rhodes nursing a calf injury, it could open up more deep shots for Stafford, who has the league’s top passer rating (128.6) on throws 20-plus yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■The Lions have 14 wins against NFC North opponents under coach Jim Caldwell, which is tied for the fifth-most divisional wins in the NFL since 2014.
■The Lions and the Seahawks are the only teams with at least 11 wins in November since 2014. Dating back to 2015, Detroit has won a league-leading nine straight games in November, tying the franchise’s second-longest winning streak in the month (10 wins from 1953-55; nine from 1950-52).
■The Lions lead the league with seven touchdowns returned on defense and special teams. The mark also tied the team’s single-season record that has been reached eight times (1937, 1950, 1954, 1971, 1994, 2003, 2011 and 2017).
■Detroit’s 271 points scored is the fifth-most in team history through the first 10 games.
■The Lions have won four straight on Thanksgiving and are 2-2 against the Vikings in the holiday classic.
■Matthew Stafford joined Peyton Manning as the only QBs to reach 33,000 career passing yards before turning 30 and needs 127 yards to top Manning’s mark of 33,189 yards.
■The Vikings have scored first just once during their six-game winning streak.