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The Cheat Sheet: Mike Zimmer’s defense offers tough test for Lions

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Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions game preview and prediction.

Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

ZERO.

That’s the number of touchdowns the Lions scored against the Vikings last season.

A team can’t expect to win very many games when they can’t score touchdowns. It’s one of the key reasons the Lions lost their Week 6 matchup against the Green Bay Packers.

To succeed in the NFL, you need to score touchdowns, not field goals.

The problem for the Lions and Matthew Stafford is that they haven’t fared too well against Mike Zimmer since he showed up in Minnesota. The Lions are just 3-5 since 2015 against the Vikings.

Whether it’s Stafford, his offensive coordinators, protection schemes or a combination, The Lions haven’t seemed to find an answer for Mike Zimmer’s attacking defense in recent years.

Here are just a few lowlights from last season against the Vikings defense:

  • 3.25 yards per rush attempt
  • 4.63 yards per pass attempt
  • 12 sacks

That sack number includes a Week 9 game where the Lions gave up 10 sacks.

The most important thing the Lions can do this week is keep Matthew Stafford protected and upright.

Zimmer the inventor of the “Double-A Gap Blitz” concept. In this concept, he’ll spread out the defensive line and then insert the linebackers into the A gaps on both sides of the center.

This puts a lot of stress on the opposing offensive line because you have to try and figure out where the pressure is coming from. And if pressure comes up the middle in those A gaps, it puts a particular amount of stress on the quarterback to either get the ball out quick or find an escape route outside of the pocket.

One thing the Vikings do a great job of is disguising their defensive looks as well, especially late in the play to try get good matchups against opposing offensive lines.

The Lions have a big challenge on their hands. The Vikings are by far their toughest defensive opponent of the season so far, and the Lions need to figure out how to score some touchdowns this week to come out on top.

The Minnesota Vikings beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-20 Photo by Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Opponent snapshot

The Minnesota Vikings have had a bit of an up-and-down year through six games. Their only losses have been within the division, and after scoring just six points in a Week 4 loss to the Bears, the Vikings have rallied to back-to-back wins against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Vikings want to be balanced on offense and attack on defense. Look for the Vikings to try and establish the run early and often on Sunday against the Lions disappointing run defense (133.8 yards per game).

Oakland Raiders v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Vikings’ biggest threat

Dalvin Cook

While the Vikings offense is capable of throwing the ball all over the field with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but make no mistake, Mike Zimmer wants to run the entire offense through Dalvin Cook.

Last week the Packers ran the ball 29 times for 170 yards at 5.9 yards per carry against the Lions. And if that stat line carries over to this week, the Lions won’t have much of a chance against a stout Vikings team.

Philadelphia Eagles v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Vikings’ weak link

Offensive line

Despite being called the Vikings’ weakest link last week, Kirk Cousins is far from it. The guys in front of him, however, might be.

The Vikings struggled to piece together a cohesive offensive line last year and have struggled a bit this year as well even after drafting center Garrett Bradbury in the first round of this year’s draft.

They’re also dealing with a few injuries right now to starting tackle Riley Reiff and guard Josh Klein.

One clear strength of the Vikings’ defense is the ability to create holes in the run game. The Vikings are tied for third in the NFL in running back yards per carry at 5.1.

Bottom line

This game is going to come down the Lions’ ability to stop the run and protect Matthew Stafford. Unfortunately for the Lions, I think that will be tough for them to do on a short week after a highly emotional game against the Packers.

Prediction

Lions 17 Vikings 20