The Detroit Lions have the chance to do something on Sunday that they have quite literally never done in history: win the NFC North. It doesn’t have to happen Sunday, but it sure can and it would be sweet. The Lions are heading to a Minnesota Vikings team that has lost three of their last four games, has a big question mark at quarterback, and is sitting on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
However, it’s going to be anything but smooth sailing for the Lions as they try to lock up the division. They’re heading on the road against a team that doesn’t have much to lose. Jared Goff will face one of the league’s brightest and most creative defensive minds in Brian Flores. He expertly uses and disguises pressure, and he does it with one of the league’s best pass rushers in Danielle Hunter.
On the flip side, Goff has struggled against the blitz this year. To be clear, this stat was before Goff’s performance against the Denver Broncos, but noteworthy nonetheless:
"Since the bye, however, Goff's QBR under pressure is 0.6. That's less than one out of 100. It's the worst mark in football."— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) December 11, 2023
And of all the defensive structures Goff can face, he struggles mightily against those like what Brian Flores runs:
Awesome stuff by Arjun— Restore the Roar (@DETROlTLions313) December 22, 2023
Goff vs cover 2 is an atrocity. Bottom 5 in the NFL
Brian Flores runs heavy Cover 2 and blitzes >50%. Goff is bottom of the league against the blitz
He also struggles vs the Bears who are heavy Cover 2
Vikings will be a tough out. https://t.co/dRiorvh8rL pic.twitter.com/m4o3DqSVaC
The cherry on top is that this game comes on the road. Goff always looks comfortable at home, but the road can be hit or miss. This year, just nine of his 26 passing touchdowns have come on the road.
This all paints a pretty bleak picture, but that’s not all she wrote. There’s just as much reason to believe Goff can carry this team to triumph in Minnesota on Sunday. Let’s talk about it:
Bold prediction of the week: Jared Goff throws 2+ TDs, 0 INTs against Vikings defense
The key to this game really is simple: Goff has to play clean football. His rough games since the bye were all tainted with ugly turnovers, and playing clean ball against the Broncos was huge to keeping the Lions in front.
Also, remember how I mentioned the stat about Goff against the blitz was before the Broncos game? Week 15 certainly gave us reason for hope. The Denver Broncos are one of the most blitz-heavy teams in the league, and Goff looked sharp against them. I don’t think I need to spell out just how well he played if you watched the Saturday night game, but the stat that stood out to me was that Goff threw for five touchdowns for just the second time in his career.
Another key is that Goff is playing indoors with a healthy offensive line. Frank Ragnow being back was a huge key to success in the passing game in Week 15, and playing indoors means none of the gloves that were a clear hinderance to Goff against Chicago in Week 14. When healthy, the Lions boast one of the strongest offenses in the league.
Best of all is that there is something at stake here. While Goff, like any quarterback, has his good days and bad days, he seems to rise to the occasion while in the spotlight in Detroit. Goff and the Lions are 4-1 on the national stage this season (including Thanksgiving), and three of those four wins have come by double digit margins. While it’s technically not a nationally-televised game, most of America will have this as the local game. Dan Campbell keeps his team locked and loaded when America watches, and with a division title to play for on Sunday, I’m sure he will see to it again.
That’s not to say any of this will be easy. Flores has his defense playing elite ball, and they’ve nabbed interceptions in six of their last seven wins.
Ultimately, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Goff rediscovered what works for them on Saturday night against the Broncos. In good conditions and with a lot to play for, Goff will be locked and loaded to deliver the city of Detroit what is long overdue.