It was less than two months ago when the Detroit Lions suffocated the Minnesota Vikings offense on their way to a huge road victory in the division. The Lions pushed themselves to a 3-1 record that day, while the loss sent the Vikings down to 2-2.
Since that Sunday, the Vikings have not lost another game. Not only have they gone a six-game winning streak, but they’ve taken down some decent teams along the way. The Ravens, Rams and Washington all fell victim to Minnesota’s streaky play.
So what has changed since then? Are the Vikings a completely different team now? Will the Lions face new challenges on Thursday?
Let’s take a closer look at the Vikings.
Notable free agent additions: RB Latavius Murray, OT Riley Reiff, OT Mike Remmers
Notable free agent departures: TE Rhett Ellison, OT Matt Kalil, CB Captain Munnerlyn, WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, RB Adrian Peterson
Key draft picks:
- RB Dalvin Cook (Round 2)
- C Pat Elflein (Round 3)
- LB Ben Gedeon (Round 4)
2017 season results (8-2)
Week 1 - vs. Saints - Won, 29-19
Week 2 - at Steelers - Lost, 9-26
Week 3 - vs. Buccaneers - Won, 34-17
Week 4 - vs. Lions - Lost, 7-14
Week 5 - at Bears - Won, 20-17
Week 6 - vs. Packers - Won, 23-10
Week 7 - vs. Ravens - Won, 24-16
Week 8 - vs. Browns - Won, 33-16
Week 10 - at Washington - Won, 38-30
Week 11 - vs. Rams - Won, 24-7
Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:
First and foremost, this is a team the Lions beat on the road in Week 4. There honestly hasn’t been that much of a change in anything the Vikings are doing. Even the argument that Case Keenum has settled in doesn’t really pass the stats test.
Keenum before Week 4 (2 games): 64.3% completions, 7.7 Y/A, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 101.8 passer rating
Keenum after Week 4 (6 games): 68.0% completions, 7.2 Y/A, 9 TDs, 5 INTs, 93.3 passer rating
This is the same passing offense that the Lions essentially shut down in Week 4, when Keenum completed a season-low 53.3 percent of his passes for just 219 yards. Despite Teddy Bridgewater returning to the roster, head coach Mike Zimmer has declared Keenum the starter. Considering the Lions’ relative health on defense, there’s no reason to think they can’t shut down Keenum again on Thursday.
Additionally, the Lions’ offense is seriously starting to ramp up. Check out the split before and after the bye week.
Maybe it’s because Greg Robinson is no longer playing left tackle. Maybe it’s because Kenny Golladay is back. Maybe it’s just a statistical anomaly based more on strength of opponent than anything, but whatever the reason, the Lions offense is rolling right now.
Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic:
While the Lions’ offense is heading in the right direction, the defense is not. The Lions have notoriously given up 423 rushing yards in the past two weeks combined. They’ve made the Bears and Browns, two of the worst offenses in the league, look like highly competent threats.
The Vikings running game isn’t stellar, but it’s certainly good enough to give this defense trouble right now. Minnesota is averaging 4.0 yards per carry on the year, but those numbers are a little inflated due to Dalvin Cook, who averaged 4.8 YPC before suffering a season-ending injury against the Lions earlier in the year.
Latavius Murray (3.7 YPC) and Jerick McKinnon (3.9) have really just played adequately this season. Having said that, the Vikings are coming off a performance in which they ran the ball 35 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns (4.9 YPC), and that was against a very respectable Rams defense. They’re not great, but they’re capable.
And there’s that pesky Minnesota defense. For several years now, the Lions have struggled to put up points against the Vikings defense. You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find a game in which the Lions put up over 20 points on the Vikings in regulation.
The Vikings defense is currently allowing just 17.2 points per game (fourth), 4.7 yards per play (third) and a passer rating of just 80.7 (eighth). They are incredibly tough every single year.
If the Lions are going to win this game, their defense needs to rebound. The way to beat Minnesota is to outlast them in a defensive battle. While the Lions offense will give the Vikings defense one of their toughest tests of the year, there’s still a very, very small chance this turns into a shootout.
In other words, this is the same old Vikings team that presents the same old challenges. The question is whether the Lions’ downward-trending defense can right the ship and whether their upward-trending offense can finally topple this swarming Vikings defense. We know what the Vikings offer, but which Lions team will show up on Thanksgiving?