5 things to watch: Lions vs. Vikings

Detroit had to turn the page rather quickly this week after a tough loss Monday night in Green Bay. Playing on Monday Night Football means they had a short week to prepare for a second consecutive division game as they host Minnesota at Ford Field later today.

The Lions have lost two straight close games to Kansas City and Green Bay, and are looking to right the ship and get their first division win of the season.

Minnesota comes in playing good football, having beaten the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles by a combined 36 points the last two weeks.

It should be a good one in Detroit today between the Lions and Vikings. Here are five things to watch out for in this contest:

VIKINGS' RUSHING ATTACK

One of the key matchups today will be Minnesota’s potent rushing attack against a Detroit rush defense that’s been inconsistent at best.

The Vikings enter the game with the league’s third best rushing attack, averaging 159.0 yards per game. Minnesota is No. 1 in the NFL with 16.5 percent of their rushes going for 10-plus yards, and they have 31 such runs on the year.

Among all running backs with 50 or more carries, Dalvin Cook’s 5.4 average per carry is second in the NFL to only Matt Breida (5.78). Cook’s 796 scrimmage yards are the second most in the NFL.

Detroit’s allowed at least 112 rushing yards in every game this year, and opponents are averaging 133.8 yards per game on the ground.

Minnesota wants to run the football and utilize a potent play-action pass game off of it. It will be crucial for the Lions to contain their ground game.

PROTECTING STAFFORD

In 18 games played against the Vikings in his career, quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked 63 times, more than any other team he’s played. That includes a 10-sack, 17-hit performance against the Vikings in a game last season. Minnesota has 17 sacks on the year, which ranks in the top 10 in the NFL.

The Lions have allowed only 10 sacks so far this season, which are the seventh fewest in the league. Minnesota defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen are a terrific duo, and the Vikings generate pressure from a lot of different angles with their pressure scheme.

Detroit will have to be able to run the football, protect upfront and get the ball out of Stafford’s hands today.

FINISHING DRIVES

Detroit was just 3-of-13 on third down in Green Bay and 1-for-3 in the red zone. They settled for five field goals. A repeat performance against Minnesota, who is playing some really good football on both sides of the ball coming in, isn’t a recipe for success.

Detroit has to find a way today to be better in the red zone and take advantage of scoring opportunities. Minnesota’s defense ranks 11th on third down (34.6 percent) and eighth in red-zone efficiency (50.0).

The buzzword for Detroit’s offense this week has been “finish.” Detroit failed to score a touchdown in either game against the Vikings last season. They’ll need to score points and finish drives today.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

KERRYON JOHNSON WATCH

It’s been an up-and-down start for Lions second-year running back Kerryon Johnson. He had the big game vs. Kansas City with 125 rushing yards, but his fumble on the 1-yard line in that game was returned 99 yards for a touchdown that was essentially a 14-point swing in an eventual 34-30 loss.

He couldn’t hang on to a critical third down pass Monday in Green Bay that could have extended a drive late in Packers territory with the Lions holding a lead and looking to extend it.

Johnson has failed to rush for at least 50 yards in four of Detroit’s first five games. He and the Jets’ Le’Veon Bell are still the only two backs in the NFL with at least 60 carries that haven’t rushed for a 15-plus-yard gain on the year.

This is the type of game and type of opponent where Johnson can make a statement. Green Bay’s Aaron Jones rushed for 110 yards in a victory over the Vikings Week 2. No other individual rusher has gained more than 53 yards vs. Minnesota this season.

BIG PLAYS

There’s the potential for some explosive plays for both of these offenses today. Minnesota has 30 plays on the year of 20-plus yards. Nine of those are runs (leads the NFL) and 21 are passes. Of those 20 plays, six have been touchdown plays.

The Lions have 25 20-plus-yard plays and have played one fewer game. Most of that is through the air, with Stafford pushing the ball down the field more than he ever has in his career.

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