Vikings at Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Vikings 7-6-1; Lions 5-9
Line: Vikings by 5 1/2
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: It's only been a week, but are there noticeable differences with the offense, whether personnel usage or schematic, since changing coordinators?
►Tomasson: The Vikings have simplified the offense under interim coordinator Kevin Stefanski. They’re not running as many shifts and have cut down on some plays. But the players still say it comes down to execution. In a 41-17 win over Miami last Sunday, the Vikings were more committed to the run than they had been under fired coordinator John DeFilippo, gaining a season-high 220 yards. But it must be noted that the Vikings rolled up 418 yards of total offense and their highest point total in three years against a defense ranked 29th in the NFL. The Vikings had been held under 300 yards in four of their previous five games. Three of those games were losses, but all were on the road against upper-echelon teams Chicago, New England and Seattle.
►Question: Adam Thielen opened the year with eight consecutive 100-yard performances, but since Detroit held him to 22 yards in the previous matchup, he's topped the century mark just once in six weeks. Has the league adjusted or is there something else at play, such as an injury?
►Tomasson: The NFL has made adjustments on Thielen, as well as to fellow top receiver Stefon Diggs. They’ve been seeing double and triple teams. Because the Vikings have had some struggles running the ball and don’t have a consistent reliable third wide receiver, the better opponents have been getting away with it. Against the Dolphins, the Vikings ran the ball more than threw it and took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, so that’s primarily why Thielen caught just two passes for 19 yards. And Aldrick Robinson, who at times has been able to make defenses pay for loading up on Thielen and Diggs, was able to catch a 40-yard touchdown. He has five TDs on his 17 receptions this season.
►Question: The Vikings have really struggled against playoff-caliber competition this year. Is there any reason to believe this team can come together in time to make a serious playoff run?
►Tomasson: The Vikings likely will make the playoffs because other contenders for wild-card berths have unexpectedly dropped some games and the remaining schedule is generally favorable for the Vikings. After they face the Lions, the Vikings play host to Chicago in the finale, but the Bears could end up resting starters. If the defense really steps up and gets a few turnovers, the Vikings could pull an upset in the playoffs. But quarterback Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) has to stop committing turnovers himself. He leads the NFL with 17, throwing 10 interceptions and losing seven fumbles. Cousins has had three interceptions and two fumbles returned for touchdowns. The Vikings have not beaten a team this season that currently has a winning record, losing to the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans, Chicago, New England and Seattle. But there’s still time to do it.
►Question: Few quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball quicker these days than Matthew Stafford. How would you anticipate the Vikings countering this strategy?
►Tomasson: The Vikings have have sacked Mattew Stafford a staggering 61 times in the 17 games he has played against them, an average of 3.6 per outing. In the last meeting, a 24-9 Minnesota home win on Nov. 4, they sacked him a team-record 10 times. The Vikings are expecting Stafford to get the ball out quicker, but they have one of the NFL’s top defensive lines and a very good secondary. If Minnesota’s defenders do their jobs, Stafford might have trouble finding open receivers. If Stafford wants to get the ball out quickly and throw incompletions, the Vikings will take that. But, considering their history of sacking Stafford, it would be surprising if they don’t find some ways to keep him off balance.
►Question: The Vikings win this game if...
►Tomasson: They continue to run the ball effectively. The Vikings got a career-high 136 yards from Dalvin Cook against the Dolphins, and he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Cook doesn’t necessarily need to duplicate that effort, but if he can be keep the Lions off balance by running and also catch some screen passes, the Vikings will be in good shape.
Vikings to watch
Stefon Diggs, WR: With 92 receptions, the fourth-year pro is on the verge of his first 100-catch season. He has 964 yards and seven touchdowns, trailing Adam Thielen (105 receptions, 1,255 yards, nine TD) in all three categories. Diggs missed the first game against the Lions on Nov. 4 with bruised ribs.
Dalvin Cook, RB: He is coming off his biggest game of the season – 136 yards on just 19 carries with two TD in a 41-17 win over the Dolphins. The Vikings are 29th in the NFL in rushing (95 yards per game) but are trying to place greater emphasis on the run game.
Xavier Rhodes, CB: The sixth-year Pro Bowl cornerback leads a Vikings secondary that ranks fourth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing an average of 203 yards per game. He’s likely to be assigned the task of trying to slow the Lions’ top pass option, Kenny Golladay.