Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host Minnesota Vikings; plus prediction

Vikings still in wild-card hunt

ALLEN PARK — While the Detroit Lions have eliminated themselves from the playoffs, the Minnesota Vikings have control of their playoff destiny.

If the Vikings beat the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field and the Eagles tie or lose to the Texans, Minnesota will earn a wild-card playoff berth.

This game does mean something, just not to the Lions.

Technically, coach Matt Patricia says the LIons are still trying to improve over the final two games. So the game means something moving forward.

“(The Vikings are) a team that formed extremely well last week against the Dolphins and in all the changes that they had up there. They obviously played the game exactly how they wanted to and they’re in a great position and trying to come down here and keep working towards the rest of their season,’’ Patricia said. “So, we have a big challenge in front of us and we have to do a great job of going out and trying to give ourselves a chance to win. It’ll be a good week for us to go out and try to get better.”

Five things to watch:

1. Protect Matthew Stafford. In the Vikings 24-9 win on Nov. 4, he was sacked 10 times. That came at the hands of the starting five — Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner. Lang and Wagner are out, likely to be replaced again by Kenny Wiggins and Tyrell Crosby. Stafford’s sacks are not all on the offensive line but the percentage is high. “Plenty of really good rushers, good cover guys, kind of a really unique defensive scheme that creates problems with their blitzes. The challenge level is very high for us, that’s a big part of the game,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “Obviously, last time I did not do a good enough job of putting our guys in a good position to sort of play these guys.’’ He said the Lions won’t win every matchup against the Vikings but they have to scratch and claw to win each one.

2. Keep feeding the ball to Kenny Golladay. Seems like a no-brainer but it doesn’t always happen. Stafford has to trust the big guy, Golladay has to keep coming down with the ball and Cooter and Matt Patricia must get him involved in the game from the get-go. Golladay had a career high 146 receiving yards in the win at Buffalo on Sunday. Since he’s had more targets with Marvin Jones Jr., out, the defenses have focused in on him. “That could be coverage type, that could be two defenders finding their way near you a little more often than other times, or maybe a certain corner that’s a really good player finding his way to cover you more often,’’ Cooter said. “Kenny’s been competing and battling, and stats are stats, but at the end of the day Kenny is competing really hard to improve and get better. We’re seeing those strides.’’

3. Stop Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and the run game. In the previous match-up, the defense did a good job containing Cook except for one breakout run of 70 yards. Other than that he had nine carries for 19 yards. They’ve improved their run stopping and much of it started with that game with the addition of Damon “Snacks” Harrison who has made his presence known on the defensive line.

4.  Along with stopping the run game, they have to control quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing game. They were semi-successful in the first game holding Cousins to 164 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. The Lions were successful in holding wide receiver Adam Thielen to four catches for 22 yards in the first match-up. “Since then and really, almost every week now, Adam’s drawn an awful lot of attention with some double coverages and things like that. So, we’re going to have to figure out a way to help him out,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on a conference call.

5. Don’t look for players to sit just because the Lions are out of the playoffs. “I think the thing is the NFL is a violent sport and when you step in between those white lines, it’s something that every player that’s out on the field has to deal with and they understand that there’s a risk of injury,’’ Patricia said. “But, we’re certainly never going to put somebody out there and put them in an injury situation where they can’t perform and put themselves in a situation where they can’t protect themselves if that was an issue. So, for us, if a guy is ready to go and they’re healthy and they can go out and perform and help us win then that’s what we’re going to go try to do.’’

Prediction: Vikings 28, Lions 17

Five reasons the Detroit Lions wasted a perfect chance to defeat Chicago Bears

Another Thanksgiving Day game to forget

DETROIT — It was the perfect time to get a win over the NFC North leading Chicago Bears who were without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and coming off a shorter week than the Lions.

Perfect.

Except the Lions did not get the job done. They lost 23-16 and fell to 4-7 in Matt Patricia’s first season. That matches the total number of losses from 2017.

No one has the answer on how to get the season back on track. They all take blame and say they have to work harder but they now have lost four of their last five games.

“Obviously, not the way we wanted that thing to end. It’s a good team over there, Chicago. They’ve done a good job all year. Played us tough all the way to the end and made some plays when they needed to at the end, which were critical for their football team, and we didn’t,’’ Patricia said. “So, we have to get back at it and go back to work. So, we have a lot to do, a lot to improve on, and things that we’re continually trying to get better at. There’s not a lot of time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.’’

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. Matthew Stafford had a lousy day. He’s missing Marvin Jones Jr.,  and Kerryon Johnson who both have knee injuries; and Golden Tate who was shipped to the Eagles. It is not all on the quarterback. Some of it rests squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford’s teammates who have to be in the right position. Stafford was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter. The second one was on a pass intended for tight end Mike Roberts. “I was thinking Mike was going to be in a different spot, but you know, that’s cutting the ball loose and hoping sometimes that you’re on the same page,’’ Stafford said. “And obviously it didn’t work out in our favor tonight.” When pressed he said Roberts was not supposed to be deeper. “He’s not supposed to be anything, it’s a feel thing,’’ Stafford said.

2. Cooter called a conservative game of quick routes. He didn’t open it up until later in the third quarter. With a quarterback like Stafford, it didn’t seem to make much sense. Although Stafford was sacked six times in the loss to the Bears on Nov. 11 and didn’t want a repeat of that. :They played a lot of two high safeties, some off corner. You know, these guys are good, good defense. To get guys down the field you got to hold the ball and holding the ball against these guys is not a good recipe for success,’’ Stafford said. “So we tried to get the ball out as quickly as we could.”

3. Quarterback Chase Daniel was starting just his third career game, yet he played just fine going 27 of 37 for 230 yards, and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times but had enough composure to get the job done when needed. His touchdown passes to Taquan MIzzell and Tarik Cohen were right on the money. Never a doubt.

4. The Lions got the ball back with six minutes left and down 23-16. Stafford leads a hurry-up offense as well as anyone. But there was nothing hurry-up about the slow pace of the drive that ended with the Lions at the Bears’ 11 and Stafford being intercepted by Kyle Fuller in the end zone. “”So, it wasn’t a situation where I felt like we had to score quick and try to get the ball back. It’s an explosive offense, they have great players, too. So, definitely a strategy there, as far as — we felt like we were doing things well to move the ball and not be in a panic situation, just go down and try to score,’’ Patricia said. “Use all the clock if we have to, and if we needed extra clock, use extra clock. So, that’s really about it.”

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

5. Ziggy Ansah got the start and looked like his old self with a sack, two quarterback hits and three tackles. He wasn’t the only solid player on defense. Glover Quin got a rare sack and DeShawn Shead forced a fumble that was recovered by Jarrad Davis in the second quarter. Detroit’s defense held the Bears to 38 rushing yards, well below their average of 122.9 rushing yards per game. “We didn’t do enough. Their defense scored a touchdown and we didn’t. They’re defense scored a touchdown and we didn’t, so we didn’t do enough,’’ Quin said. All three units have to play well for these Lions to win. They need to play complementary football and it didn’t happen on Thursday.

NEXT UP: The Lions (4-7) host the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) on Sunday, Dec. 2.

Five reasons the Lions lost to the Vikings

Stafford sacked career-high 10 times

In a crucial NFC North game, the Lions were no match for the Vikings who won 24-6 in Minnesota on Sunday.

It was a particularly ugly game for Detroit because, once again, they were ineffective in all three phases. Right off the bat, Sam Martin slipped and fell on the opening kickoff. It was an omen for another wretched loss.

The Vikings are now 5-3-1 and the Lions fall to 3-5.

It was their first game without leading wide receiver Golden Tate who was traded to the Eagles on Tuesday. The Vikings defense typically would have to account for Tate on every play. Now they don’t. Think about it. Yes, Theo Riddick can line up in the slot and catch the ball, but he is no Tate who was usually Stafford’s best option especially on third down. This is what would happen to most NFL teams if they all of a sudden lost their top wide receiver.

Hey, this loss was not all because Tate is gone, but that is a part of it.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The offensive line had no answer for the Vikings’ bull rush.

The Lions defense had another bad day at the office even though coach Matt Patricia is a defensive specialist and he has some decent talent on the roster. They did hold the Vikings to 283 yards and 24 points and Darius Slay came up with a big interception. But it wasn’t enough.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The Vikings defense came out fired up and the Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had no answers. If he made adjustments, they were not apparent. The Lions had their lowest offensive output (in yards) for a game this season with just 209 and their lowest points with 9. The lowest had been 264 in the win over the Packers in Week 5.

2. Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times, a career high for him and a Vikings’ franchise record. Ouch. The offensive line was responsible for not providing protection on most of the sacks, although Stafford could have thrown it away a few times. One time he was ground so far into the turf, the Lions had to call a timeout to dig pellets (from the field turf) out of Stafford’s left eye. Entering the game, he had just been sacked 13 times in the first 7 games. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 199 yards for a rating of 83.0. It was the first game this season he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.

3. The Lions also couldn’t get the run game established, finishing with 66 rushing yards. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who was averaging 6.2 yards per carry, rushed 12 times for 37 yards (3.1 yards per carry).

4. Teez Tabor. Enough said.

5. Coaching. It just looked like the Lions weren’t prepared for the Vikings. It wasn’t just Patricia or Cooter or defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni — it was all of them. Patricia is kind of new to the NFC North and it showed. Watching, it was hard to imagine the Lions had won their last two games there at U.S. Bank Stadium. Wait, that was when they had Golden Tate and a mostly different coaching staff.

ALSO: Interestingly enough, the Lions had a big edge in time of possession: 36:45 to 23:15. … Vikings wide receiver had at least 100 receiving yards in each of the opening eight games but was held to four catches for 22 yards. …. The Lions play at the Chicago Bears (5-3) next Sunday. The Bears smacked Buffalo, 41-9 on Sunday.