It seems odd that it’s only Week 7 and the Vikings are already facing the Lions for the second and last time of the 2015 season. After beating up on Matthew Stafford and defeating Detroit 26-16 in Minneapolis Week 2, Minnesota will look to shut out its division rivals on the road Sunday.
The Lions are coming off its first win of the 2015 season, having beat Chicago last week, and you can bet they’re feeling some momentum on their end. The Vikings should prepare to face a chippy team in a must-win situation.
Lets take a look at how the Vikings offensively line up against the Lions for their second meeting.
We’re singing the same old tune with the offensive line this week—some positives, some negatives and a lot of hoping things work together Sunday. Against Detroit in Week 2, the line performed well and did an effective job protecting Teddy Bridgewater, allowing only one sack. The unit did okay with pass blocking in the most recent game against the Chiefs as well, receiving a Pro Football Focus rating of +3.4.
One focus going into Sunday will be blocking against Ezekiel Ansah. The defensive end has only 17 tackles thus far, but he ranks No. 5 in the league with five sacks under his belt. Ansah will be lining up primarily against left tackle Matt Kalil, who has demonstrated a large upswing in performance over the first five games. If Kalil can keep Ansah from getting to Bridgewater, it will be a big statement by the offensive line.
Let’s talk about last week’s run blocking—it proved abysmal. PFF gave Minnesota a -10.0 rating in that column… a stat that will need to improve significantly so the Vikings can get a solid run game going. Minnesota gets into trouble when it has to relay solely on passing, so fill-in center Joe Berger and Co. must create holes for Peterson ramp up the rushing numbers.
In Minnesota’s first meeting with Detroit, Bridgewater had a 77.8 completion percentage … but he only threw 18 passes (completing 14). Granted, the Lions’ passing defense is certainly respectable, ranking No. 11 in the league, but the second-year quarterback needs to break out and throw more times during the game. You can bet the Lions will hope to work harder against the run this week, forcing Bridgewater to make more passes. Is he up to the challenge?
Over five games, Bridgewater has tallied only 1,023 yards (as a just-for-fun comparison, Philip Rivers threw for almost half that number last week against Green Bay). Do I still think Bridgewater is a high-caliber quarterback who will go far in the league? Yes. Do I think something needs to change for him offensively? Absolutely.
My passing previews are beginning to sound like a broken record, but Bridgewater needs to stretch the field much more than he has been. The quick pitches and slant passes will only get him so far, as Vikings fans witnessed during Minnesota’s [rocky] win against Kansas City last week. Bridgewater has proved to be a solid game manager, which is important, but fans are growing antsy to see the arm he’s shown he has. Whether it’s Norv Turner’s play calling or Bridgewater’s seeming lack of confidence in calling audibles, something needs to be adjusted soon.
Bridgewater threw two interceptions (counting the tipped pass) against the Chiefs, who had only two interceptions total coming into that game. Detroit has not proven a big threat with interceptions, ranking No. 20 in the NFL with just four, but Week 2 proved that a stat line shouldn’t be taken lightly.
One bright spot in the passing area is Stefon Diggs, who has had an obvious connection with Bridgewater in the two games they’ve played together. Diggs certainly appears to have the athleticism and the hands to be an elite receiver, and I’m looking forward to seeing Bridgewater sync up with the rookie multiple times in Detroit.
After having an excellent pair of games in Weeks 2 and 3, Adrian Peterson has been held to mediocre since then. In his first meeting with the Lions, Peterson ran for 134 yards on 29 carries and added an additional 59 yards on two receptions. Detroit’s rushing defense ranks No. 26 in the league, and Sunday will be an opportunity for Minnesota’s star running back to record another 100+-yard game.
One observation recently is Peterson’s difficulty running out of the shotgun formation, and Turner continues to set up plays that way with the expectation of No. 28 making headway—so far, that’s just not the case. The offense needs to switch it up a bit when utilizing Peterson.
Matt Asiata has been finding some rhythm on the field as well. Although he is officially listed as the third-string option at running back, Asiata seems to be making a bigger impact (at least as of late) than second-string Jerick McKinnon. Last week, Asiata recorded five carries and a reception for 35 yards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minnesota utilize Asiata again against the Lions; the 26-year-old is the best pass blocker of the three backs, and he proves a nice option on snaps where Peterson needs a breather.
All of this being said, the Vikings are of course counting on the offensive line to do a much better job run blocking. With an effort like that against Kansas City, Peterson (or Asiata, for that matter) can hardly be expected to gain much ground. With a better performance by the line and variance of play calling by Turner, rushing against Detroit could be a huge advantage.
The Vikings have solid receiver depth on paper, but we have yet to see most of it in action. As stated earlier, Diggs has made a big impact in his two games on the field. Sure, two games is only two games, but this kid looks like the real deal; at the very least, he’s come up with some catches from Bridgewater that we haven’t seen from Charles Johnson or even Mike Wallace.
If Johnson plays this season, it would be great to see plays spread out between him, Wallace, Diggs and Jarius Wright to really open up some routes and find the endzone. Diggs has been raring for those first six points in the NFL, and I predict he’ll grab a touchdown this weekend.
Minnesota’s receivers will be up against veteran strong safety James Ihedigbo, who proves a major threat to offensives. Ihedigbo has 34 tackles and three forced fumbles on the seasons; he recorded nine of those tackles and two forced fumbles against the Vikings in Week 2.
Thus far, Minnesota’s offense ranks as the least penalized offensive unit in the league with only nine penalties, and the Vikings special teams unit has the second-fewest penalties with three. Let’s hope they keep up this trend against Detroit.
The Lions have made improvements since last facing the Vikings, and that was evidenced in their game last week. However, the Vikings are the better team here—hopefully for Minnesota fans, they play that way Sunday. A win coming out of the bye week, ugly though it was, gave the Vikings some momentum to use heading into back-to-back division games on the road.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Lions 17