The Detroit Lions will face a familiar foe when they travel to US Bank Stadium to take on the Minnesota Vikings. While this is a much different Lions team with new head coach Dan Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff, the Vikings present a different challenge than the Vikings teams of the past.
With Mike Zimmer potentially on the hot seat, you can bet that the Vikings are willing to do anything to get their season back on track after three close losses in four games.
While both Campbell and Goff search for their first win as members of the Lions organization, here are some things that they should know that this Vikings team does well.
Rushing the passer
After a season where the Vikings were unable to get any pressure, they have managed to turn that around. Danielle Hunter has returned from a herniated disk injury that kept him out last season, and they are also able to penetrate the interior offensive line with the additions of Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Shaldon Richardson, who are all good interior pass rushers.
The Lions are going to be without Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker, and potentially Penei Sewell on Sunday, which could make for a long day for Goff. While they have struggled in coverage, if Minnesota’s front 4 can muster up enough pressure on their own, they can allow for the linebackers to drop into coverage and crowd the middle of the field. This would neutralize DeAndre Swift in the screen game and TJ Hockenson over the middle.
Screens and the run game
This offense employed a run-first strategy under former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. It used the run to set up the pass later in the game with play-action passes that were designed to give quarterback Kirk Cousins more time.
It looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak has shown some similarities to his father’s schemes. While he employs different tactics like pre-snap motions, Kubiak sets up the run very well.
He also uses screens as an extension of the run game, allowing for his offensive lineman to get in space and block downfield for either Dalvin Cook or Alexander Mattison. The Vikings’ offensive linemen are quick and love to move in space, and can get to the second level and neutralize linebackers.
The Vikings are a dangerous team when it comes to running the ball, and even more so if they can get a successful play-action game going.
Kirk Cousins has been excellent when given a clean pocket and the ability to go through his reads and find the open man. If the Lions’ defensive line bites on the fake early, they could be leaving their secondary out to dry. Both Thielen and Jefferson have a reputation of finding space and creating problems for opposing corners.
If the Lions want to make things difficult for Cousins, they will have to shut down the run game and get home on the play-action and bootleg plays that the offense is so successful at.
Spreading the ball around
We all know just how good Jefferson and Thielen are, but the Vikings have seemingly found their third wideout in second-year player K.J. Osborn.
Osborn has been one of the biggest positive developments for the Vikings this season, and they can rely on him in important situations like third downs. But Osborn is not the only one who has taken a step up. Tight end Tyler Conklin has taken advantage of the void left by Irv Smith‘s injury and Kyle Rudolph‘s departure. He has proven to be a safe target for Cousins when needed.
Though it is natural to focus on Thielen and Jefferson’s ability to single-handedly win games, the Lions should not ignore these other players too.