To help preview the Detroit Lions' game against the Minnesota Vikings, we sent five questions to Daily Norseman's Christopher Gates to see what's different about this Vikings team.
1) How has team changed since the Lions last saw them in Week 2?
I don't think the Vikings have really changed that much since the last time these two teams got together. They're still attempting to run the offense through Adrian Peterson, and the defense is still limiting their opponents. They've only allowed one team to score more than 20 points so far this season, and after the defense was such a liability in previous seasons, it's strange to see the Vikings winning with defense. The biggest change so far is the emergence of wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who went for over 120 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. He's giving Teddy Bridgewater a reliable target to look for, and the two of them seem to have developed some pretty good chemistry. He was inactive for the first meeting between these two teams, and he's someone that the Lions are definitely going to have to keep an eye on.
2) The Vikings are averaging less than 20 points per game so far, what is the biggest reason for Minnesota's offensive struggles?
A lot of it has to do with the Vikings' struggles along the offensive line. Everyone was worried about left tackle Matt Kalil coming into this season, but he's been very solid thus far, as has center Joe Berger. The other three spots along the offensive line, however, have been subpar. Most of the pressure that Bridgewater has faced on passing downs has been allowed by guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris, and right tackle T.J. Clemmings is still getting used to playing at the NFL level. Clemmings was expected to be a backup this season, but when Phil Loadholt went down with a torn Achilles in the preseason, Clemmings was thrown into the fire. He hasn't been awful, I guess, but he isn't nearly at Loadholt's level yet. Hopefully things will change with the return of center John Sullivan, who will be back in a couple of weeks.
The Vikings also aren't executing in the red zone the way they need to be, which has been disappointing. They've only reached the red zone 17 times thus far, which is one of the lower figures in the league. In those 17 red zone opportunities, they've only put the ball into the end zone seven times, with seven field goals and three non-scoring drives. For a team with a great running back like Adrian Peterson and a big red zone target like Kyle Rudolph at their disposal, that's a pretty disappointing figure, and one that the Vikings are going to need to improve on this season.
3) Stefon Diggs has broke out in his first two career games. Is he someone who you see as a major contributor going forward or will Diggs' production regress to the mean?
Diggs may already be Minnesota's best receiver. Granted, the Vikings aren't exactly the Greatest Show on Turf Rams at the receiver position or anything, but for a guy that's only been active for two NFL games to have made that sort of leap is pretty impressive in any context. I don't think he's going to regress too terribly, because he does things well. He runs very good routes, he's explosive out of his cuts, and he's very good with the ball in his hands. Barring some sort of an injury, I'd expect Diggs to continue to be a major contributor for this football team going forward. I don't know if it's realistic for him to continue to average over 100 yards/game as he's done through his first two games, but he should continue putting up decent numbers over the rest of the season.
4) Where do you think this team stands through five games? Can they contend for the NFC North title? Have expectations changed since the beginning of the year?
I don't know if they're going to contend for the NFC North title... I think they're going to be the main competition for the Packers going forward, but at least some of that has to do with the Bears and Lions putting themselves so far behind the 8-ball already. I do think, however, that they're going to wind up in the playoffs as a wild card team, which would be a pretty significant jump for a team that went 5-10-1 a couple of years ago and has turned over a significant part of the roster since that time. I think that a lot of folks expected the Vikings to make a leap this season and contend for a playoff berth, and I don't think the expectations have changed a great deal since then.
5) What is your prediction for Sunday's game against the Lions?
I think that things are going to play out in a fairly similar manner to the previous game between these two teams. The Lions will again have trouble slowing down Peterson, and the Minnesota defense will continue to get after Stafford and limit the number of big plays he's going to be able to make to his receivers. I've got it as a 24-14 Vikings' victory.