I had to look back at last year's box scores and highlight videos to see how the Lions and Vikings competed and then I tried to consider what the biggest changes have been that might affect this year's games. Here are some summary observations, with some stats too.
Last October the Lions lost 19-17. YouTube provides video highlights at
The Vikings won this game in the closing 4 seconds on a 45 plus yard field goal. The Lions had pulled ahead prior to this series by converting a two-point attempt, so to lose was a pretty soul crushing defeat.
What stood out for the Vikings were Justin Jefferson hauling in 124 yards on 7 receptions, and Alexander Mattison piling up 113 yards and the lone touchdown scored by the Vikings. Of course, kicking 4 field goals was the big difference maker too on offense based on the Vikings consistently stringing up long drives to hold a 32 to 28 minute time of possession advantage, as well as 5 of 13 3rd down conversion rate versus the Lions' 3 of 11 rate.
On defense the Vikings biggest advantage in play was getting to Goff for 4 sacks. The Lions however also managed 2. It really seemed that what mired the Lions play was the inability to convert on third down, as well as taking one fourth down chance and failing. Yet, they had 22 total first downs to just 18 for the Vikings. A disparity in total yards also provided an indication of the offensive differences between the two teams as the Lions totaled just 288 yards to the Vikings 384 yards.
The Lions seemed to have a decent running game plan - gaining over 100 yards on split duty from Swift (who also scored the Lions lone touchdown) and Williams. St Brown began to show his effectiveness as a receiver with 7 receptions for 63 yards, as did Cephus who had 3 for 38 yards. Swift chipped in 6 catches for 53 yards to give him 104 yards total offense.
The Lions beat the Vikings in December 29-27 by scoring on a 4th down and 2 yards to go, with 4 seconds left, by a Goff to St Brown TD! See the highlights here
Although Goff was sacked 3 times, he upped his total passing yardage to 296 yards, which improved the total offensive yardage to 372. St Brown seemed to be coming into his own as a dominant receiving option, while being aided by the addition of Josh Reynolds and stepped up TE production accounting for 7 receptions and 77 yards plus 2 TDs. The running game also chipped in an even 100 yards although Swift did not play, so Williams led the charge with 71 yards on 17 carries.
The Lions defense again gave up a ton of passing yards to Justin Jefferson. He compiled 182 yards and a score. Mattison also gained 90 yards on the ground and a score. They did manage to get 3 sacks in this game though to match the Vikings performance in this stat.
Detroit's special teams deserve recognition with Jack Fox averaging 55.3 yards per punt, and Riley Patterson kicking three field goals, with a long of 49 yards.
What's the big take away? After watching both game highlight videos the emotions of both games were so high. The Lions and Vikings seemed quite evenly matched with the strengths of each team mirrored. What I think can be a difference maker is putting more pressure on Kirk Cousins. It has been mentioned that last week he performed abysmally when faced with five man rushing situations.
If the Lions can consistently apply really good pressure I like their chances of disrupting the Vikings' passing game and perhaps reducing the effectiveness of Justin Jefferson. Again the importance of the defensive line's play is emphasized in containing Delvin Cook - who did not play last season.
The Lions' offense this year has had a lot of big play performances and I hope that this can be repeated. Converting more first downs on third down also seems to be vital. Simply staying on the field for more than 3 plays consistently seems to be reflected in this season's scoring statistics.
It would seem that this may be a high scoring affair, as the Lions past two games have been. Yet, I think that there is an opportunity to change that script a bit if the DL gets the pressure on Cousins I've mentioned. Blitzing with either Anzalone, Rodriguez, and, or Walker or Elliott may also prove highly effective. Turnovers haven't been a big part of the defense as of yet, but if I were to say the team is due for some, this could be an important factor in the outcome too.
My summary or prediction of the outcome is hopeful. Many NFL analysts identify this game as the most likely upset on this week's schedule. The spread has fallen from 6.5 to about 3.5, with the Vikings still favored. However, there has been a huge outcry to support the Lions.
I think St Brown needs to get more help, but again continues to demonstrate just how good he is. Ideally the TEs start to produce more as they did last December. I would like Reynolds and Chark to be more involved too.
Swift is supposedly going to take the field and I'd like him to post better rushing totals too. Williams is also a power option as well in short yardage situations and goal line attempts. Seeing St Brown garner more rushing yards I wouldn't be too surprised to see as well.
If the DL can deliver 3 or more sacks, perhaps induce a fumble and recovery, or even induce one or more interceptions from their rushing pressure this game may swing from being an evenly matched high scoring event to one that is dominated by the Lions.
Ok, maybe it's the Honolulu Blue Kool Aid talking, but I can envision the Lions winning 41 - 23. That's representing 5 TDs and 2 FGs by the Lions, and 2 TDs and 3 FGs by the Vikings. Ideally, one of the Lions' TDs come from the defense too.
The biggest changes I see are Goff's passing, a great OL providing more protection and more running room, and a far more consistent DL applying pressure and reducing the opponent's ability to run for long gains. Maybe the LB play and even DB play is improved too, but I want to see more evidence of it. In my opinion, it all starts with the DL and they have to be their best to make the other units look good.