After an abysmal start to the season against San Francisco Week 1, the Vikings will play their home opener Sunday against the division rival Detroit Lions. In 2014, Minnesota’s offense ranked No. 20 and Detroit’s defense ranked No. 3 in the NFL.
According to Vikings.com, Minnesota is 38-14-1 (.726) at home all-time against the Lions, which is the best home winning percentage against any NFC North team.
Both teams suffered a loss in Week 1 and will be hungry to notch that first game for the “W” column; let’s take a look at how they will match up this weekend.
In the 20-3 loss to San Francisco, Minnesota’s offensive line looked weak more times than not, especially on the right side. With right tackle Phil Loadholt (Achilles) out for the season and center John Sullivan (back) sidelined for at least eight weeks, it’s hard to say it was much of a surprise. What was a surprise, however, was how shaky left guard Brandon Fusco appeared.
Let’s hope that Fusco’s performance can be attributed to his first week back after a long stretch of missed games and that he will rebound Sunday against Detroit.
While there were flashes of positives from the line—both Matt Kalil and Mike Harris looked pretty good—it seems hard to rely on the O-line unless Fusco, Joe Berger and rookie T.J. Clemmings have better games and figure out how to close the gaps.
Detroit’s defense is nothing to scoff at, and Teddy Bridgewater may have his hands full. Although he occasionally received a decent amount of time to throw Monday, Bridgewater never looked entirely confident in the pocket. The second-year quarterback was sacked five times by San Francisco, and that was by a lesser defense than the Lions have on hand.
The Lions are returning nine starters from their highly ranked 2014 defense, but they will be without DeAndre Levy (hip), who ranked No. 2 in the NFL for tackles last season. Another absence that will work in Minnesota’s favor is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (now in Miami) who tallied 8.5 sacks for Detroit in 2014.
Bridgewater threw for 231 yards last week, with a 71.9 completion percentage. He walked away with no touchdowns, one interception, and his average pass was only 7.2 yards.
Following Monday night’s game, Bridgewater admitted he was “over-hyped.” Vikings fans will hope that the quarterback has settled down over the week and will be more focused against the division rivals. Bridgewater took too long to pass against San Francisco, and giving that much time to LB Travis Lewis and SS James Ihedigbo to reach Bridgewater and his receivers will not work in Minnesota’s favor.
One way the Vikings can look to capitalize Sunday is to keep the offense moving quickly. In Week 1 against San Diego, Detroit’s defense struggled to adjust well to Philip Rivers’ quick passing. If Bridgewater can make quicker decisions than he did against the 49ers, that could be a key to passing well and finding open receivers and—hopefully—the red zone.
The rushing game is another large question mark heading into the Vikings’ home opener. After all of the hype surrounding Adrian Peterson‘s return to the field, No. 28 ran for only 31 yards off 10 carries in San Francisco.
“It felt good to get out there, play some football, take some hits,” Peterson said. “But [it was] definitely embarrassing to perform the way we did.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said only that Peterson “didn’t have many holes.”
That blame partially falls on the offensive line, as talked about earlier. If Minnesota’s line cannot protect and block better for Peterson to find a route, he won’t get the numbers that Vikings fans are used to. The team also utilized backup running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata on a few series, however, and it will be interesting to see if Norv Turner keeps Peterson in for a majority of the action Sunday.
The last time Peterson met the Lions was over two years ago (9/8/13). During that game, he rushed for 93 yards and 2 TDs on 18 carries.
Against Detroit all-time, Peterson has rushed for 1,258 yards on 235 carries over 12 games.
The Lions struggled in a way uncharacteristic for them last week. Defenders across the board missed tackles against the Chargers, and another spotty performance would certainly offer Peterson more confidence in finding those routes. If you think Detroit hasn’t been planning all week for AP, though, think again.
“He changes the dynamic,” said Lions safety Glover Quin. “He’s going to make you tackle him every play and he’ll go 100 yards every time if you don’t tackle him. He’s running to score every single time.”
Hopefully for Minnesota, the Vikings will see Peterson look a little closer to this than he did a week ago.
To add one more interesting statistic before the game, Peterson is currently only 26 yards away from passing former Vikings receiver Cris Carter for the most combined net yards in team history. Carter ended his Minnesota career with 12,410 yards.
Minnesota finished Monday’s game with only one true receiver having more than two catches. Mike Wallace and tight end Kyle Rudolph led the team with six and five receptions, respectively. All one needs to look at to see how the receiving game went is Minnesota’s final three-point total.
Wallace did have a decent performance, grabbing 63 yards off those six catches, and it’s tough to ignore the near-touchdown pass hindered by a San Francisco defender who got away with pass interference. I expect Wallace to be Bridgewater’s main target again Sunday, and hopefully quicker decisions by Bridgewater will translate to more success downfield.
It would also be nice to see the Vikings stretch the field a bit more and get passes to Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright. In Week 1, the Lions found themselves repeatedly beat on short throws that turned into substantial gains thanks to missed tackles. If Detroit struggles again in this area, it’s certainly something Minnesota can capitalize on.
The main threat to receiving yards could be Ihedigbo, who notched four interceptions and 59 tackles in 2014.
At the end of the day, both NFC North teams are desperate to not start the season 0-2. Each had a rough start in Week 1, although the Lions were definitely more competitive in their game. With a week of reality under their belts and improved focus, however, I think the Vikings are the stronger of the two squads and will come out on top.
My final score prediction: Vikings 21, Lions 17