The Detroit Lions hit the road for the first time this season to take on the Minnesota Vikings in an early-season NFC North matchup. U.S. Bank Stadium is a tough place to play as the Lions look to start 2-1 on the year and stay atop the division standings before heading back home to face Seattle in Week 4.
Here are five things to watch out for later today in this matchup:
1. HANDLING THE ENVIRONMENT
Minnesota has one of the better football environments in the league with the Skol chants and that darn Viking horn. It's a smart football crowd in Minnesota, and they can get loud when the Vikings give them reasons to be loud.
It's the first time away from Ford Field for the Lions this season, which means the offense will have to operate in silent counts and hand signals. The concentration has to be on point for the guys upfront when it comes to not letting the crowd noise affect them with false starts or missed assignments. It's a great early test.
Head coach Dan Campbell talked about cleaning up some communication issues on the backend of the defense this week. The one positive about playing on the road is the communication is much better for that side of the ball because of the limited crowd noise while the Vikings are on offense.
2. CAN THE RUN GAME KEEP ROLLING?
Detroit's offense has averaged 186 yards on the ground through the first two weeks of the season, which ranks third in the NFL. It's a huge reason why Detroit's offense as a whole ranks among the top units in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is really creative with some of his blocking schemes in the run game and it's been a complete team effort from the backs to the offensive line to the tight ends and receivers in triggering some of these big runs and consistent rushing totals. Detroit has 11 runs of 10-plus yards and three of 50-plus on the year.
The Vikings enter the game ranked 24th in rushing defense, allowing on average 137.0 yards per game on the ground. If the Lions can keep on schedule in the run game it will go a long way in Detroit getting a key road win.
3. CONTAINING THE BIG THREE
Wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, along with running back Dalvin Cook, are probably the top trio of skill-position weapons the Lions have faced so far this season.
Jefferson had just 48 receiving yards on six catches in the loss against Philadelphia Monday night. Cook had just 10 touches for 36 yards. It's hard to keep those two down two weeks in a row, but that's the job defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and his guys are tasked with.
It's definitely going to be a motivated Vikings' offense looking to bounce back after scoring just seven points against the Eagles. Job No. 1 is stopping Cook and the rushing attack. If Cook gets going, it opens everything up for quarterback Kirk Cousins, Jefferson and Thielen in the passing game, and makes it that much harder for the Lions to head home 2-1.
4. HUTCHINSON AVAILABILITY
Rookie pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson is coming off a three-sack performance in last week's win over the Commanders, but he suffered a thigh injury in that contest that prevented him from practicing Wednesday and Thursday. Hutchinson returned to practice Friday as a limited participant, which is a good sign he's trending in the right direction, but he was listed as questionable to play today on Friday's injury report.
My gut tells me Hutchinson plays, but we'll know for sure 90 minutes before kickoff. The defense will already be without defensive lineman John Cominsky (wrist), which is a significant loss. If Hutchinson is unavailable or severely limited, that's a pretty big blow to Detroit's defensive front.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, September 23, 2022.
5. ST. BROWN'S STREAK
Second-year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown can stand alone in NFL record books if he catches at least eight passes today for a ninth straight contest. He's currently tied at eight straight with Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown.
St. Brown has quickly become one of the top receivers in the game and a player Johnson and quarterback Jared Goff view as a matchup advantage in Detroit's favor. Goff said this week it hasn't felt forced trying to get St. Brown the ball. It just works out more often than not because St. Brown is beating his cover with savvy route running and a great understanding of how defenses try to attack him. He's got a great feel for the open spots in coverage and has really improved his run-after-catch totals.