While the Lions swept the Vikings in 2016, it was no easy task.
In the game at Minnesota they needed a last second 58-yard Matt Prater to get to overtime then Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate connected for the winning score.
It won’t be easy on Sunday either as the 2-1 teams meet in a huge division NFC North matchup.
(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)
“I think it’s unique about our division is very competitive. I mean, it’s been that way since I’ve been here. Very good players, very good coaches and it makes for really, really good I think, a contest, week in and week out, home and away,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “Obviously, every division game is hotly contested because of ramifications down the road and that’s the key, so yeah, it’s a lot of fun playing in our division.”
Here are five things to watch:
1. Matthew Stafford is 3-4 in his career on the road at Minnesota. He’s off to a good start this season with seven touchdowns against just one interception and a 64.5 completion percentage. He’ll need good protection from his offensive line especially against defensive end Emerson Griffen who has four of the Vikings five sacks so far this year. Griffen called Lions left tackle Greg Robinson “lazy” which might provide more motivation for Robinson who wouldn’t reply to Griffen. Look for the Lions to add some tight end help on that side. Robinson has struggled while filling in for Taylor Decker.
2. The Lions run defense was dinged last week allowing the Falcons to rush for 151 yards — 106 by Devonta Freeman. That might have been good preparation to face Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook whose 96 yards per game average has helped Vikings’ fans forget Adrian Peterson. Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis, who missed last Sunday with a concussion, could return on Sunday. That should help.
3. On the other side, the Lions have to continue to run the ball even if they come up with too many plays of negative yardage. Eventually it should come around — at least that’s what expectations are . Ameer Abdullah is averaging about 54 yards per game and 3.5 yards per catch. Both numbers need to jump. We might see more carries from Zach Zenner who will be active on Sunday since he’s a special teams captain. Also Dwayne Washington (quad) has been declared out. Theo Riddick has been quiet the first three games with just 19 yards rushing and 82 receiving. Stafford is the second leading rusher with 56 yards.
4. Quarterback Case Keenum will run the offense for the second straight week with Sam Bradford still injured. Last week he completed 75.8 percent of his passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. In 2016, he blew up the Lions while the Rams quarterback. He completed a whopping 84.38 percent of his passes that day for 321 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The Lions pulled out the win, but Keenum put on a show. At one point he completed 19 straight passes. He may be the same quarterback this year just with a new team. The LIons’ secondary is much improved over 2016 but will be tested by Keenum.
5. Look for tight end Eric Ebron to have a better game. He was targeted seven times last week and only made two receptions. And, he had at least two drop. Caldwell said in the previous week, Ebron had not had one drop in practice (they keep an eye on these things). After the loss to the Falcons, Ebron tweeted out that he knew he performed poorly. He’s got to do better or offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford will lose confidence in him. Caldwell still has faith in Ebron. “I do believe this guy works at it, he’s dedicated to it, and I think he’ll be able to have a week like he had last week, last week he had five catches (in win at Giants), no drops, right? So, I anticipate he’ll keep continuing to improve,’’ Caldwell said.
BONUS: Look for wide receiver TJ Jones to possibly get more involved in the offense. “I think obviously he serves a great role for us because he can play almost any position. He’s very smart. He knows I think the assignments of all of the pass eligible individuals and he executes well,’’ Caldwell said. “So, I think depending on the ball game and certain situations, that could happen. But I think we’ve got a pretty good rotation going right now.”
PREDICTION: Lions 27, Vikings 24. It will be a tough win on the road but at this point in the season, Detroit is the better team.