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Minnesota Vikings scouting report: Will the Lions slow the Vikings’ aerial attack?

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The Vikings have a new weapon: A passing game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Last year the Detroit Lions buttflipped their way to a season series sweep of the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams are off to a great start in 2017, and both teams look extremely improved on their biggest weakness from last year.

For the Vikings, they’ve retooled their offensive line and, thus far, it has really paid off. For Detroit, their historically bad pass defense has somehow morphed into one of the best through three weeks.

As a result, this matchup has the potential to look a lot different than it did just a year ago. Here’s a look at the remodeled 2017 Minnesota Vikings.

Offseason recap:

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 (2-1)

Week 1 - vs. Saints - Won, 29-19
Week 2 - at Steelers - Lost, 9-26
Week 3 - vs. Buccaneers - Won, 34-17

Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:

The Vikings have shockingly gotten by this year with their passing game. Whether it has been Case Keenum or Sam Bradford, Minnesota has been able to air it out. As a team, they currently rank fourth in passer rating (115.4), fifth in yards per attempt (8.6) and fifth in completion percentage (69.9).

So why is this in the optimistic section? Because defending the pass has been Detroit’s biggest strength this year. They’ve picked off both Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer three times each. They’re tied for the lead with 29 pass breakups, according to SB Nation.

The Lions are fifth in passer rating allowed (70.2), second in interceptions (7) and 14th in yards per attempt allowed (7.0).

The Vikings’ only loss of the season came when the Steelers absolutely shut down Case Keenum. That day, Keenum only completed 54 percent of his passes for a paltry 4.5 yards per attempt. If there is a team poised to do it again to the Vikings, regardless of who’s behind center, it may just be the Detroit Lions.

Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic:

Last week, the Falcons ran all over the Lions defense. Without Jarrad Davis in the lineup, Devonta Freeman racked up 106 yards on 21 carries (5.1 YPC). Though it looks like Davis will be back this week to help out, the Lions should still be weary of Dalvin Cook.

Minnesota’s offensive line is still a work in progress, but Cook has been productive in spite of them. Detroit struggled to tackle on Sunday, and if they bring the same effort to Minnesota, Cook will run right over them.

Then there’s the Vikings’ extremely talented defense. The Lions have struggled to show consistency on the offensive side of the ball—granted they’ve faced some excellent defenses over the first three weeks.

But Minnesota’s defense may be the best of the bunch. They’re giving up just 62.7 rushing yards per game and just 3.0 YPC. They have been oddly vulnerable in the passing game, however, allowing a passer rating of 95.9 through three games (19th). Still Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes represent a pretty stout secondary and could potentially give Matthew Stafford fits... when he’s not running away from Everson Griffen (4.0 sacks in 2017).

Overall

This matchup turns 2016 on its head. Last year, the Lions were completely vulnerable in the passing game, while Sam Bradford was nothing more than a game manager. Now those two units are strengths for both teams. Maybe it’s just too early and both of these are mirages, but I’m very intrigued to see what happens when Minnesota tries to air it out. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are a talented duo, but Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs and Glover Quin round out a pretty talented secondary.

As for when Detroit has the ball, it’ll be all about Stafford. Can he navigate through the pass rush? Can he exploit the small windows he’ll have? Is the Vikings pass defense really as bad as the statistics show (27th in DVOA)?

These teams look evenly matched, so it may come down to which team simply makes a few big plays.