Five things to watch as the Lions face Vikings, looking for 1st win

Each week brings a possibility that the Lions will pick up their first win of the season.

On Sunday the Lions (0-10-1) face the Minnesota Vikings (5-6) at Ford Field. The Vikings are coming off a 34-26 loss at San Francisco but had won the two previous games against the Packers and Chargers.

Somehow coach Dan Campbell has managed to keep the team’s energy up throughout the season.

“I think that it starts with the staff. I think the staff has done a good job of keeping the energy alive and keeping hope there and just continuing to coach up the details of the game,’’ Campbell said on Friday. “All of these players, they want to know that you care about them and that you’ve got some tools for them that are going to help them be better. And, that’s what our guys do.’’

Campbell, in his first year as head coach, also gives credits to the players. 

“Look, we’ve got – the vets we’ve got on this team –  they’re good vets. They understand it’s about – at some point, when you don’t get the wins, it’s still about pride and it’s about the way you want your play to look on tape and ultimately what we want to look like as a team,’’ Campbell said. “And then, we’ve got a lot of young, hungry players that want an opportunity to play. And, a lot of them are getting that opportunity, so that helps, too.”

Five things to watch on Sunday:

1. The Vikings will be without running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) however Detroit’s defense will have its hands full with Alexander Mattison. In the first meeting — a 19-17 Vikings win on Oct. 10 — Mattison carried 25 times for 113 yards. “He’s steady, he’s solid, he’s one of those guys you can’t sleep on. They’ve been running that scheme for a while. He understands that he’s a good back in that system. As he proved game one, it only takes one to kick out of there and change a game and he’s got that ability,’’ Campbell said, calling him a workhorse.

 2. The Lions will be without running back D’Andre Swift (shoulder). “It’s not easy to replace a guy like him, as dynamic as he’s been. … I think it really becomes that production is by committee now,’’ Campbell said. “Where does Swift’s production go now to get it back? And, I would say we’re trying to find ways to spread it throughout this roster of skill players that we do have. Swift is going to take – I mean, Jamaal (Williams) is going to take a lot of that. So are the other two backs, (Jermar) Jefferson, Godwin (Igwebuike), and then some of the other just pass production is going to have to come from our receivers and tight ends.”

3. The Lions’ defense has to bounce back after allowing the Bears to stay on the field for 8 and a half minutes in their final game-winning drive on Thanksgiving. “To me, I look at playing this game in general just like you play the position of corner. You can have 59 great plays and that one bad play and you ultimately looked at that bad play, and that’s just what it is,’’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “That’s just defensive football. So, I looked at that last drive, as good as we played, after the game I looked at that last drive as a black eye for us because we looked at it together as a defensive staff and there were like three plays we could’ve gotten off the field.’’

4.  Injuries again play a role. Along with Swift, sitting this one out for the Lions are OLB Trey Flowers (knee), CB Bobby Price (shoulder) and LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder). Questionable are RT Penei Sewell (illness/shoulder), T Matt Nelson (ankle) and DE Michael Brockers (knee). 

5. A few of the Lions know Oxford football coach Zach Line who was a linebacker with the Vikings and Saints. Tate Myre, a standout player for Line, was one of four students killed in the Oxford High School shooting on Tuesday. The Lions will have decals on the back of their helmets to show support for Oxford. They also had T-shirts and hats made.  “We’ll have a moment of silence before the game certainly, but those guys are on our minds. We want to represent them on Sunday,’’ Campbell said. “I know there will be a group of those students and kids and people that have been affected that will be watching this game. Right now, that’s the best way to help them.”

PREDICTION: Vikings 21, Lions 14

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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