Rogers and Wojo break down Detroit's decision to trade Golden Tate and the team's upcoming matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Last week, the big news for the Lions was how they would fold defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison into the mix after a trade with the New York Giants.
This week, the featured story line is about the replacement of veteran wide receiver Golden Tate after he was shipped to Philadelphia on Tuesday in a trade-deadline deal.
Even worse, the Lions are on the road against the NFC North favorite in Minnesota, which appears to be getting healthy after a string of early-season injuries.
To stay alive in the divisional race, the Lions likely need to steal one of these next two road games against teams ahead of them in the standings, the Vikings on Sunday and Chicago next week.
Here are five things to watch in Sunday against Minnesota (1 p.m., FOX, WJR 760):
1. Replacing Golden
Tate was a hallmark of consistency, catching between 90-99 passes in his four full seasons in Detroit.
He was again the leading receiver this season with 44 catches and 517 yards and long has been Matthew Stafford’s favorite target.
That’s a lot of production for the taking for Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, and the door is open for TJ Jones and undrafted rookie Brandon Powell.
If he’s able to go, running back Theo Riddick (knee) also should re-establish his role as the team’s primary third-down option.
2. Catching Calvin
Tate’s old wide receiver partner, Calvin Johnson, is also in the news this week.
Minnesota’s Adam Thielen has tied Johnson’s 2012 receiving record with eight straight 100-yard games.
Maybe if the Lions, who had trouble making plays on 50/50 balls in the secondary last week against Seattle, can keep Johnson’s name in the record books, they can build a little goodwill with their estranged former star.
3. Check the report
We were reminded of tensions between Jim Caldwell and the Lions press corps this week with Matt Patricia’s rant against a reporter. In honor of Caldwell, we’ll use one of his favorite phrases in “check the report.”
Injuries and inactives are a given on things to watch, but particularly this week, as Minnesota has been decimated, particularly on defense. Key Vikings who could return this week include cornerback Xavier Rhodes, safety Andrew Sendejo, running back Dalvin Cook, and offensive tackle Riley Reiff, a former Lions first-round draft pick. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs also missed three days of practice this week.
Linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Tom Compton have been ruled out.
4. Ragnow's reads
Rookie offensive guard Frank Ragnow will get his first up-close look at Mike Zimmer’s defense on Sunday.
Zimmer has favored "double-a gap" looks with linebackers lining up on the line of scrimmage on either side of the nose tackle. Those linebackers might rush the passer, fill running lanes or drop into coverage.
Already, Ragnow will have to help deal with nose tackle Linval Joseph, a man who was once shot during the 2014 preseason and still played 16 games that year.
5. Fun and fantasy
Bettors are scratching their heads at the Lions, who are 5-2 against the spread, winning games they shouldn’t, and dropping golden opportunities to move up in the NFC North.
Fantasy-wise, Matthew Berry of ESPN points out that Stafford has not reached 16.5 fantasy points (standard scoring) in his last four meetings with the Vikings, and that’s before the Tate trade.
Berry lists Stafford among the players he "hates" this week in comparison to their normal fantasy outputs, in addition to running back Kerryon Johnson, pointing to several factors. They included: Minnesota allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards (79.5) per game and fifth-lowest yards-per-carry output over the past four games; Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams being the only player to rush for more than 63 yards against the Vikings this season; and Minnesota’s fifth-best red zone defense this season.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.