Will this be the week the Vikings get their first blowout of the season? Are the Detroit Lions going to hang around and ruin an already difficult year? Will Kirk finally Cook?
Here are two possible Purple dreams and one Lions nightmare for the NFC showdown.
Kirk Cousins goes back to airing out the ball
Kirk Cousins needs to return to form. I’m not a Cousins apologist, but he’s been great this year — until he isn’t. The Vikings should have beaten the San Francisco 49ers last week, but Cousins didn’t play well enough to earn it. Yes, I know, he’s not the only player at fault, but he’s probably the most important one.
The biggest reason his performance was so different from previous games is because of his unwillingness to throw the ball deep. Zimmer was quoted as saying he’s okay if Cousins throws a pick, but I don’t think he expected an interception on a routine five-yard pass toward the sticks.
Cousins tends to get gun shy when he makes a mistake like that, but I think it’s essential for him to keep a level head and go back to what works. It worked exceptionally well against the Los Angeles Chargers and was enough to beat the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago.
Cousins’ tendency to play conservatively and his poor pocket presence are my chief criticisms of him. But overall, he’s been exceptional this season. He needs to go back to throwing deep as long as he has Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen on the field.
And the stakes rise this week. According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions are THE worst team in coverage in the NFL, with a 34.1 grade. For context, the Vikings own a 67.4 PFF coverage grade, 16th in the league. Cousins better bounce back here is all I’m saying.
The Vikings’ defense stops the run
It’s imperative that the defense shows up this week and stops the *checks notes* 23rd-ranked run offense. While that’s not impressive, the Lions are hanging in games thanks to their stable of running backs.
Fortunately for the Vikings, D’Andre Swift is out, leaving Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, and Godwin Igwebuike. Jefferson and Igwebuike are two backs that I haven’t heard a peep about. The Vikings can and should stop them and force Jared Goff to throw the ball. But Minnesota has been dreadful against the run all year.
Look at their last game. The Lions had over 100 yards between the two backs and forced the Vikings to kick a field goal to win as time expired. If you didn’t know, the Vikings have missed some crucial kicks in the past. On top of that, Detroit’s yards per carry were great, averaging out at 4.5.
It’s good news that Swift is out, but Williams is still a decent pass-catching back, and who knows what their depth can do at this point in the season? They could easily have just as good a game on the ground if the Vikings’ defense doesn’t improve.
If the Vikings allow the Lions’ runners to pick up yardage like they did in the last game, Goff will be able to keep them in contention. They have to step it up, and this is the easiest game to set the tone going forward.
The Vikings play down to Detroit’s level
I think this is the story of the Vikings this year. They have played to the level of every opponent except the Seattle Seahawks. They don’t blow anyone out, and they don’t get blown out. It’s a result of the conservative, old-school game script Mike Zimmer and the offense seem to like.
The best examples of this are the Lions and the Packers. It took a 54-yard Greg Joseph field goal as time expired to beat the winless Lions, and the Vikings managed to edge out the Packers thanks to a game-winning Cousins drive after Green Bay left time on the clock.
They are stooping and rising to the level of their opponents. That’s a cause for concern, even if it allows them to hang around with the best teams. I mean, they almost beat the Arizona Cardinals. But I’d rather have a team with identity than a power ranking that shifts week to week because of who they play. The Vikings can’t get to the playoffs if they can’t start blowing out bad teams.