Five things to watch as Lions close out season vs. Vikings

You can call it a meaningless game with the Lions hosting the Vikings on Sunday. After all it’s Week 16 and neither team is heading to the playoffs. But that is not how the players and coaches view it. 

“This is what we do. This is what we love. This is why we’re in this business is to play the game of football and play the game we love. We signed up for 16 games,’’ Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “They’re giving us the 16th game, another opportunity, regardless of scenario situations. This is what we do, so we want to go play.

“We want to put our best foot forward. We want to play the way that we’re capable of playing and look for a win and be able to go out the way that we would like to go out,’’ he added.

Fans may want the Lions lose to get a better draft pick but that is not how the guys on the field look at it.

Five things to watch:

1. Matthew Stafford, who injured his ankle last week in the loss to the Packers, is officially questionable to play. Or, in other words, expect him to start. “With Matthew, I think the best thing for him is that he’s got the best feel and read for his body. So, we’ll continue to progress like we normally do with him. Some of the other injuries are resolving, so we’ll see how this injury on his ankle resolves as well by the end of the week,’’ Bevell said.

2. When the Vikings beat the Lions, 34-20, on Nov. 8, running back Dalvin Cook was on fire with 22 carries for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cook won’t play Sunday due to his father’s death. His absence obviously plays in the Lions’ favor but that does not mean it will be an automatic win for  Detroit. 

3. Detroit’s defense must play better than against the Packers. It was an embarrassment. It’d be nice to see them close the season on a more positive note but not counting on it.

4. D’Andre Swift will get the start again at running back with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson picking up the slack. Johnson is the third-down back like he’s been most of the season. Swift averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the first meeting with the Vikings.

5. Bevell said his message didn’t change for this week. “It’s the same thing I’ve kind of talked about almost every day that I’ve been up here. I basically talked to the players today about the love of this game, and basically, respect for this game and what that means and what that looks like,’’ Bevell said. “I think for all of us we have a great love for this game. To echo (Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer) ‘Zim’, yes, this is the last game that you’ll play, and it will stick with you for a long time. It’s one that you’ll remember the most, but there’s still other things that we’ll remember. As far as going out – it’s what we signed up for, it’s what we love to do.’’

PREDICTION: Vikings 34, Lions 17

Five reasons Lions lost to Vikings, 34-20

The first quarter set the tone for the Lions’ 34-20 loss at the Minnesota Vikings on Monday.

The Lions’ offense got the ball first and went three-and-out. With the Vikings first possession they moved downfield like the Detroit defense wasn’t even there. Five plays, 67 yards and boom, touchdown run by Dalvin Cook.

At the end of that first quarter, Detroit was down 13-0. It wasn’t like the game was out of reach, but sure seemed like it.

It was the second straight loss for the Lions (3-5) while the Vikings (3-5) notched their second straight NFC North win after beating the Packers a week ago. The teams own matching records, but seem to be headed in opposite directions.

Five reasons the Lions lost:

1. The defense could not stop running back Dalvin Cook (22 carries, 206 yards, 2 touchdowns). In the fourth quarter Cook scored his second touchdown on a 70-yard scamper. Stopping the run was one of the keys in this matchup and the Detroit defense failed miserably. Cook ran up 163 yards on the Packers the previous week. 

2. By letting the Vikings’ run game flourish, it opened up the field for Kirk Cousins who threw for 220 yards and three touchdown passes.

3. Matthew Stafford, who didn’t practice all week because he was quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19, looked sharp in the first half, going 16 of 18 for 123 yards and a touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr. After missing on a deep ball to Marvin Hall on the first play from scrimmage, he completed 16 straight passes. Then he threw two interceptions in the third quarter and after a sack early in the fourth, he was examined for a concussion and didn’t return. However good news after the game is that he passed the concussion protocol. Chase Daniel filled in with a touchdown and an interception.

4. The consistency of the offense again an issue. Some of it is on Stafford, but he had a hot first half and they only managed 10 points. The run game was 100 yards better than last week when they accumulated just 29 yards (10 from Stafford). D’Andre Swift carried 13 times for 64 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. A big difference from loss to Colts when he had six carries for 1 yard. Still, not enough.

5. Matt Patricia’s coaching once again an issue. The Lions defense was clearly not ready to play, allowing 487 total yards, the second-most they’ve given up this season. Patricia is now 12-27-1 as head coach in Detroit. Can’t see how he keeps his job, just not sure if they’ll let this season play out.

BY THE NUMBERS:  Austin Bryant blocked a punt in the third quarter and Romeo Okwara blacked another in the fourth quarter. It marked the first time since 1977 that the Lions had blocked punts in back-to-back games. Miles Killebrew blocked one last week. … The Lions were 2-5 (40 percent) in red zone efficiency while the Vikings were 3-4 (75 percent). Matt Prater went 2-of-3 missing a 46-yard field goal attempt. … Time of possession went to Detroit: 32:49 to 27:11. … Detroit only had 3 penalties (37 yards) while the Vikings had 9 (69 yards).

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five things to watch as Lions face Vikings

Every NFL team has to deal with the limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic. This week it was the Lions that took a hit with Matthew Stafford and Jarrad Davis being exposed and forced into quarantine.

Still the Lions (3-4) had to keep an eye on the goal for this week — beating the Vikings (2-5) at Minnesota on Sunday.

I think for us it’s really important that we’re trying to do everything we can protocol-wise to stay in front of it and stay safe,’’ coach Matt Patricia said. “We knew that probably getting towards the month of November and December as flu season kicked up – we certainly understood that situations might change, and things might change from that aspect of it.’’

Luckily many of the team and individual group meetings are virtual. So Stafford and Davis have been able to keep up that way.

“Obviously trying to stay ahead as far as what’s going on out in the communities and knowing that will definitely affect us as we go. Doing the best we can to stay in front of it from that standpoint and trying to always go more extreme than we need to, just to make sure that we’re staying safe, but understand that everything can change, you know, day-by-day,’’ Patricia said.

Five things to look for against the Vikings:

1. Stafford has not been able to practice but that shouldn’t be a huge factor. “I think if you called Matt Stafford on an April day and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go play a 60-minute football game,’ he’d be able to go out there and rip it. He’d be fine. He’d see defenses; he’d see coverage. He’d be doing all the right things. He’s a great vet. He knows how to play the game,’’ Patricia said. “… I trust Matt Stafford to always do the right things, be ready to go and that’s where we are right now. I think just in general – I think that the game of 11 guys working together at the same time, that’s why some of that stuff is important. It’s not necessary, but it’s definitely important.”

2. Defensive end Everson Griffen will be playing his first game for the Lions and it’s against his former team. After the trade from Dallas, Griffen could not join the team immediately due to coronavirus stipulations. His first practice was Wednesday. “I thought his communication was really good on the field, and he’s got a high motor. He practices at a high level, so that was really good. It was good for us to be out there in pads and to be able to see some of that and just get him used to some of the communication out on the field. I thought it was a good first step,’’ Patricia said.

3. After losing five of their first six games, the Vikings upset the Green Bay Packers last week. Minnesota’s ground game averages 144 yards per game while the Lions defense has had some trouble stopping the run. Last week the Colts ran for 119 yards. Running back Dalvin Cook is the workhorse with 10 rushing touchdowns. Three of those were against the Packers last week.

4. The Vikings defense is young but strong through the middle. “Certainly, to me, it starts with (Eric) Kendricks in the middle (with) his ability to communicate, especially with the front. I think the front’s improving every single week. Those guys are long, they get off the ball, they knock the line of scrimmage back,’’ Patricia said.  So, I think he’s done an outstanding job in the middle (of) kind of settling all that down, and certainly (Eric) Wilson, he’s played a lot of football for them and he’s a good player. I feel that the strength at the linebackers, plus the strength of the safety position – Harrison Smith, obviously, and Anthony Harris – those guys are phenomenal. A lot of what they do out of their pressure packages is because of the disguise that those two can come up with. They’re very in sync with all that, and you see them communicating out to the corners. I feel that their defense is getting better each week. I think that those guys are out there and they’re getting more familiar with each other and the communication looks like it’s getting better. Those guys are playing at a high level. The strength through the middle of the defense, I think, is important. They have that.”

5. No excuses for the Lions who are coming off the 41-21 loss to the Colts at home.  They will be missing three key players — Kenny Golladay, Jamal Agnew and Tracy Walker are out with injuries. Also, Joe Dahl, Christian Jones, Darryl Roberts and Halapoulivaati Vaitai are questionable.

PREDICTION: Vikings 28, Lions 24