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Detroit Lions Week 14 scouting report: How are the Minnesota Vikings doing this?

The Minnesota Vikings’ 10-2 record is nothing short of a miracle. How does a team with such mediocre advanced stats win so many close games? We look closer in our Week 14 Detroit Lions scouting report.

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

In our Week 3 scouting report of the Minnesota Vikings, we pondered just how good the team could be in Year 1 under new coach Kevin O’Connell. At the time, the team was 1-1, having won a big opening matchup against the Green Bay Packers but dropping the following week to the Philadelphia Eagles. In short, we knew next to nothing about this team.

But there are far more data points this time around. We know what the Vikings do well, we know what they struggle with (well, kinda). But there remains one huge question about the Minnesota Vikings that remains unanswered: How the hell do they keep getting away with this?

The Vikings are a ridiculous 9-0 in one-score games this season and they’ve won five of their games with a go-ahead drive in the final quarter of the game or overtime.

Whether finishing games is a learned skill or a product of relative luck is a debate to be had, but there’s little doubt that a full 9-0 record in one-score games doesn’t happen without a little luck (see Bills game).

So is this Vikings team a true contender at 10-2, or have they been more a product of luck this season? Let’s take a closer look in our Week 14 scouting report.

2022 Minnesota Vikings

2022 season thus far (10-2)

Week 1: Beat Packers, 23-7
Week 2: Lost to Eagles, 7-24
Week 3: Beat Lions, 28-24
Week 4: Beat Saints, 28-25
Week 5: Beat Bears, 29-22
Week 6: Beat Dolphins, 24-16
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Beat Cardinals, 34-26
Week 9: Beat Commanders, 20-17
Week 10: Beat Bills, 33-30 (OT)
Week 11: Lost to Cowboys, 3-40
Week 12: Beat Patriots, 33-26
Week 13: Beat Jets, 27-22

Stats:

  • 11th in points scored (24.1 PPG), 21st in points allowed (23.3 PPG)
  • 20th in overall DVOA
  • 18th in offensive DVOA (19th in pass DVOA, 16th in run DVOA)
  • 18th in defensive DVOA (24th in pass DVOA, 14th in run DVOA)

By advanced metrics, this team certainly doesn’t seem as impressive as their record suggests. Even if we use EPA instead of DVOA, here’s where the Vikings land:

Pass offense: 16th
Run offense: 20th
Pass defense: 15th
Run defense: 11th

There is, quite simply, nothing remarkable about this team. Yet they somehow currently have the NFL’s second-best record.

That said, for whatever reason, the Vikings really, really turn it on in the fourth quarter. This article by SI.com does a good job of highlighting just how good Minnesota has been in final quarter. The long and short of it: through 12 weeks, the Vikings had the fourth-best passing offense and the second-best defense in the fourth quarter.

However, that’s a pretty small sample size and should be an unreliable way to predict long-term performance, especially when the team is so mediocre in the first three quarters—which is why so many people are labeling them as frauds.

So what do they actually do well? They have a pretty potent passing attack with weapons like Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and now T.J. Hockenson—but their offensive line has allowed the eighth-highest pressure percentage.

Defensively, the Vikings are bad against the pass, allowing the highest yards per attempt in the league (8.0)—yet they also lead the league with 70 pass breakups.

Dalvin Cook is looking like his old self, rushing for 4.7 yards per carry and seven touchdowns, but the team is also second-to-last in terms of percentage of runs that are stopped for negative or zero yardage. Every which way, this team is a paradox, and it’s exhausting to diagnose them.

So, instead of making sweeping generalizations about what they do good and bad, here’s just a list of pretty good players for their team: WR Justin Jefferson, LT Christian Darrisaw (if he plays), C Garrett Bradbury, RT Brian O’Neill, EDGE Danielle Hunter, EDGE Za’Darius Smith, CB Patrick Peterson.

Key injuries:

  • IR/PUP/NFI: TE Irv Smith Jr. (IR), CB Andrew Booth (IR), S Lewis Cine (IR), CB Cameron Dantzler (IR to return)
  • Other injuries: DE Jonathan Bullard (bicep), LT Christian Darrisaw (concussion)

The Vikings secondary has dealt some tough injuries this season, with the most devastating being that to rookie Lewis Cine, who suffered a serious injury early in the season.

They’re getting healthier, though, as Cameron Dantzler—one of their top corners—was designated to return this week, and could play this Sunday.

Last week, unfortunately, defensive end Jonathan Bullard—a stout run defender—suffered a bicep injury that could hold him out for an extended period of time. That said, left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who missed the last two weeks due to a concussion, practiced for the first time on Wednesday in a limited capacity and could play vs. the Lions.

Biggest strength: Wide receivers/Edge rushers

You may remember from the first matchup that the Lions used several resources to take away Justin Jefferson. That strategy only worked for so long, because the Vikings figured out that they could use K.J. Osborn (five catches, 73 yards, 1 TD) and Adam Thielen (six catches, 61 yards, 1 TD) instead. Now, in that game the Lions had to scramble in the secondary, because Tracy Walker went down with an Achilles injury (Detroit used JuJu Hugest to replace him), and they were also starting Amani Oruwariye—who has since been benched. But this should still be a tricky matchup.

The best matchup of the game will undoubtedly be the Vikings’ edge rushers vs. the Lions’ tackles. Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter have combined for 16.5 sacks and 110 pressures. While Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker have collectively allowed just 5.0 sacks on the season.

Biggest weakness: Pass defense

While the Vikings boast some talented players in the secondary like Patrick Peterson, Dantzler (if he plays), and Harrison Smith, it just hasn’t come together to produce much of a potent passing defense. Per Football Outsiders, the Vikings have particularly struggled against No. 1 receivers (29th in pass defense DVOA against WR1s) and running backs (24th).

Again, looking back at the team’s last matchup, Minnesota benefitted from injury in that game. Both DJ Chark and Amon-Ra St. Brown suffered ankle injuries that impacted their effectiveness in the second half. St. Brown had four catches for 56 yards in the first half, but just two catches for 17 in the second. Chark had three for 46 in the first half and was shut out in the second.

With the Lions at full strength—and the growing role of first-round rookie Jameson Williams—this could be a matchup Detroit exploits big time.

Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 2.5

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