The Detroit Lions (3-2) hope to move to 2-0 against NFC North rivals this week as they head to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. The Vikings (2-3) are coming off of the wrong end of a beatdown at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. However, they are getting back Teddy Bridgewater this week after an ankle injury kept him out of last week's Thursday night matchup.
Minnesota has won three out of the last four matchups between these two teams, but both squads are very different with new coaches this year. How does the matchup break down in 2014? Let's break another little piece of my charts now, baby.
Lions pass offense (10th) vs. Vikings pass defense (11th)
This passing offense is very difficult to put a finger on. One week, the Lions pass offense looks unstoppable, then the next it looks like one of the worst in the league. Offensive inconsistencies continue to plague this team, and it is becoming nearly impossible to predict.
The overall statistics don't do much help in figuring this unit out. Detroit ranks 18th in passer rating (89.3), t-sixth in yards per attempt (7.9) and 20th in completion percentage (63.1 percent).
The biggest, clearest issue has been pass protection. Though Matthew Stafford has been rightfully criticized for holding the ball too long, his offensive line has not been doing him any favors, either. The Lions have allowed 17 sacks so far, the second-most in the league.
The Vikings have a pretty solid pass defense. No opponent has reached their passing yards average when facing Minnesota. However, the most telling column is the passer rating one. In the Vikings' three losses, they failed to hold their opponent below their passer rating average, with all three opponents surpassing a 103 passer rating. In their two victories, they held their opponent well below their passer rating average. So far this year: as goes the Vikings pass defense, so goes the team.
Minnesota ranks 22nd in passer rating allowed (96.5), 23rd in yards per attempt allowed (7.7) and 28th in completion percentage allowed (67.7 percent). Those numbers may seem a bit low, but look at the past four quarterbacks they have faced: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings couldn't shut those guys down, but they managed okay.
Player to watch: Harrison Smith. Smith is tied for the lead in the NFL with three interceptions. Additionally, the safety has six passes defended, a team high. Smith sprained his ankle against the Packers last week, but he appears to be on track to play this weekend. If he does play, the Lions may try and test how well that ankle has healed.
Advantage: Draw. I don't know. I just don't know. The Vikings pass defense looks about average to me, maybe a little above average. The Lions passing offense is just too unpredictable. The Lions will likely be without Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, and that will definitely take its toll on the offense, but they showed they can manage without Calvin against the New York Jets. The Lions' success is reliant mostly on Stafford, and Stafford is just too unpredictable right now to give an advantage in this matchup.
Lions run offense (28th) vs. Vikings run defense (19th)
The Lions are creeping toward a run game that deserves even the littlest of respect. Facing two very difficult run defenses in the past two weeks, the Lions managed to meet or surpass averages in yardage and yards per carry. Still, the numbers leave plenty to be desired. They average just 3.1 a carry (t-30th) and gain first downs on just 15.8 percent of rushes (29th).
The Vikings run defense started off well, but it has been particularly awful in the past two weeks, allowing both the Atlanta Falcons and the Packers to rush well beyond their averages. This -- perhaps not coincidentally -- happens to line up directly with Chad Greenway's absence. Greenway has missed the past two games due to broken ribs and a broken hand. Greenway's availability for this game is currently unknown, but he has yet to practice all week.
Minnesota's defense ranks 17th in YPC allowed (4.3) and 16th in percentage of rushes allowed that earned first downs (20.6 percent).
Player to watch: Theo Riddick. ALL ABOARD THE THEO RIDDICK HYPE TRAIN! The preseason all-star is likely to have a much bigger role with Bush likely out this week. Riddick's speed could be very valuable against a weakened linebacking corps.
Advantage: Draw. The Lions haven't inspired a lot of confidence in the running game this season, but this week they finally take a break from playing suffocating defenses. The Vikings aren't terrible at stopping the run, but they are a pretty ordinary defense, which is just what the Lions need. I don't expect the Lions to suddenly burst out for 200 yards, but I do think they'll reach 100 yards for just the second time this season.
Vikings pass offense (27th) vs. Lions pass defense (6th)
It's obvious that the Vikings pass offense hasn't been very good this year. However, it's hard to use any of this data to draw any conclusions for their game against the Lions. The one game that Bridgewater started (the Falcons game) was the only game in which the Vikings surpassed yardage and passer rating averages. Of course, the Falcons have one of the worst defenses in the league, but the fact that Bridgewater outgained those averages in his first career start remains impressive.
The Vikings, overall, rank 31st in passer rating (68.6), t-21st in yards per attempt (6.8) and 30th in completion percentage (57.0 percent). However, take those stats with a grain of salt, because Bridgewater has a higher average in all three of those categories.
The Lions pass defense took a pretty big step backward last week after allowing Kyle Orton and the Buffalo Bills move down the field fairly consistently, especially in the second half. In fact, overall, the pass defense looks a little less impressive than advertised. They had very good games against the New York Giants and Packers, but besides that, passing offenses have performed pretty close to their averages all season against the Lions.
The Lions rank fifth in passer rating allowed (80.1), sixth in yards per attempt allowed (6.6) and eighth in completion percentage allowed (60.6 percent). Those stats are all fine, but they could be a bit artificially inflated by facing a couple of poor pass offenses in the past two weeks.
Player to watch: Jarius Wright. While Cordarrelle Patterson garners most of the media attention, Wright may be the receiver the Lions have to watch out for. In Bridgewater's first start, he targeted Wright 10 times, resulting in eight catches and 132 yards.
Advantage: Lions +1. If the Lions were facing Christian Ponder, they'd have a bigger advantage, but Bridgewater is the wild card here. The Lions should be able to pressure the rookie quarterback, as the Vikings have issues on the offensive line, but Bridgewater's ability to extend the play could burn the Lions a few times on Sunday.
Vikings run offense (10th) vs. Lions run defense (3rd)
While the Vikings rank high, the chart tells a slightly different story. They have underperformed in three of five games thus far this season. It just so happens that those three games were all losses. Perhaps the reason for the Vikings' high ranking is that they have yet to face a run defense better than the New Orleans Saints, which rank 14th.
Minnesota is averaging an impressive 4.6 a carry (11th) but is only earning first downs on 20.4 percent of carries (t-19th).
With Adrian Peterson gone, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon have taken over rushing duties. Asiata can break a lot of tackles, but he isn't a home-run threat (longest run is 12 yards). McKinnon, a third-round draft pick this year, can break out a big run, but his full potential is still unknown, as he only has 30 carries on the year.
Detroit will be the best run defense the Vikings have faced by a huge margin. Only one team has managed to come near their averages against the Lions, and the rest failed to reach even 80 yards on the ground. The fear that the Lions run defense would suffer after the loss of Stephen Tulloch appears to be unfounded at this point.
The Lions rank fourth in YPC allowed (3.2) and fourth in percentage of first down carries allowed (17.1 percent).
Player to watch: DeAndre Levy. As I pointed out earlier, the Lions' defensive line should have a big day dominating the trenches (especially against backup right guard Vladimir Ducasse). This will leave huge lanes for Levy to burst into the backfield and pick up a few tackles for loss.
Advantage: Lions +2. The emergence of McKinnon is a bit scary for the Lions, but Detroit has done a very good job limiting huge plays on defense. They have only allowed two rushes of 20+ yards and have yet to forfeit a run of 40+ yards. Everything else points to a big advantage for the Lions in this matchup.
Kicker 3.0. In a cruel twist of fate, the Lions -- after 20 years of consistent placekicking -- have found themselves discarding kickers at an unsettling rate. Matt Prater steps in this week, fresh off of his suspension. Will the former Pro Bowl kicker be ready to go? Let's hope so. And for superstition's sake: Please don't let the game come down to Prater. Please don't let the game come down to Prater. Please don't let the game come down to Prater. Please don't let the game come down to Prater.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper suffered its first loss of the season, as the Lions let their 14-point lead slip away against the Bills last week. This column remains a healthy 4-1 on the season, but the 1972 version of me living in Miami is once again popping the champagne.
In the comments section, we barely had anyone pick the Bills at all. One of the few brave *coughtraitorcough* souls that correctly picked Buffalo even had a somewhat accurate score of 23-13. That man *coughtraitorcough* is none other than Lions "fan" ncbur10. Come claim your prize!
*Holds out prize. Drops it right before you grab it.*
Enjoy this laser pointer that DEFINITELY wasn't mine. It's yours now. YOURS. See, it's got your fingerprints all over it. I've never even owned a laser pointer. Wait, is that what those things are? I thought it was just a pen! Anyway, enjoy your prize, and don't tell anyone where you got it from.
This week's prediction:
The Lions again come out with the edge, this time a fairly significant +3 advantage. What I learned from my research is that there are two keys to beating the Vikings: stop their running game and find success passing the ball. The former, I am confident the Lions can and will do, the latter... I just don't know. The play of each quarterback in this game is wildly unpredictable, and therefore I cannot predict as big of a blowout as the matchups suggest. Lions 20*, Vikings 16.
*FIELD GOALS! YAY!