View from the other side: Lions at Vikings

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Lions at Vikings

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

Vikings quarterback and former Michigan State star Kirk Cousins (8) of Holland will play against the Detroit Lions, his home-state team, on Sunday.

TV/radio: Fox/WJR 760

Records: Lions 3-4, Vikings 4-3-1

Line: Vikings by 5

View from the other side

Chris Tomasson covers the Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He breaks down the Lions’ upcoming opponent for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter @christomasson.

Question: Are the Vikings actually better with Kirk Cousins at quarterback compared to Case Keenum a year ago? 

Tomasson: Yes, Cousins is the more accurate thrower and has more of a track record than Keenum. While Keenum had a tremendous season in 2017, he was prone at times to reverting to his earlier wayward days. That especially was the case in the 38-7 loss to Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. While he may not have the scrambling ability of Keenum, Cousins (Michigan State) has proven himself adept at being able to get the ball out quickly when the pass rush is coming. Cousins is on pace to set an NFL record for completions in a season. Keenum benefited last year by having a better Vikings defense and a better offensive line. How he’s looking this season for Denver is more of an indication of what type of quarterback he is.

More: Lions mailbag: Trade could be Golden opportunity for TJ Jones

Question: When Dalvin Cook was playing against the Lions last season, the Vikings were dictating the pace of that game. Only after he went out with an injury were the Lions able to seize control. How big is the drop off if Cook can't go this week? 

Tomasson: One of the biggest things the Vikings lose with Cook is his receiving ability. He really looked good catching the ball out of the backfield early in the season before going down with a hamstring injury. Replacement Latavius Murray has had his moments carrying the ball, namely a career-high 155 yards against Arizona, but Cook has more upside as a runner, if he can get healthy. Cook was lost for the season in the third quarter in Week 4 last year against the Lions when he suffered a torn ACL. He had 354 yards rushing on the season at the time.

Question: Minnesota's defense has been one of the best in the NFL the past few years, but has been less than stellar this year. Is this strictly related to the team's injury issues? 

Tomasson: It didn’t help that defensive end Everson Griffen was out for five games because of a mental health issue, but some of the defensive struggles early in the season had a lot more to do with than just that. And the defense did start looking much better prior to Griffen’s return last Sunday. Overall, Minnesota’s pass defense has been sub-par all season, which is quite unexpected since the Vikings have pair of All-Pros in the secondary in Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. They rank 20th in the NFL with their passer rating allowed of 91.2.

Question: The Vikings win this game if? 

Tomasson: If they can avoid turnovers. The Vikings this season are 3-0 when they win the turnover battle and 0-3-1 when they lose it. The Vikings lost 30-20 to New Orleans last Sunday when they had two costly turnovers, a fumble in the second quarter by Adam Thielen that was returned 54 yards, and an interception in the third quarter that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown. Avoiding turnovers starts with Cousins, who is tied with Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz for the NFL lead with five lost fumbles and has thrown four interceptions. The Vikings obviously don’t want a repeat of last season’s 14-7 loss to Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium, when they committed three turnovers to none for the Lions.

Players to watch

Adam Thielen, WR: He's long past the stage of sneaking up on anyone. The former Minnesota State standout is on pace to break the NFL's single-season receptions record and is a legitimate threat to Calvin Johnson's yardage mark, as well.

Harrison Smith, S: The Vikings can wreak havoc up front with their pressure looks, but Smith is the glue in the back end. The playmaking machine is just as capable of dislodging the ball with a big hit as he is tracking a deep ball and snagging a pick. He's got 3.0 sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble on the year.

Kirk Cousins, QB: You may remember Cousins from his Michigan State days, but he's put together a fine NFL career as an extremely efficient passer. His one weakness is fumbles, but it's not like the Lions have been forcing many turnovers this season.