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Five things to watch: Lions at Vikings

The Detroit Lions hit the road for their first NFC North matchup of the season in Minnesota Sunday.

First place in the division is up for grabs, and Sunday's contest will also conclude the first quarter of Detroit's season. Will they finish it 3-1 or 2-2?

Here are five things to watch out for in today's contest:


Sam Bradford has missed the last two games with a bone bruise in his knee, and will miss his third straight game Sunday vs. the Lions.

That means backup Case Keenum gets a third straight start. His first two starts were a mixed bag.

He couldn't navigate the Vikings into the end zone in a Week 2 loss to Pittsburgh. He was 20-for-37 passing for 167 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

But last week, Keenum was on fire. He completed 25 of his 33 passes for 369 yards and three scores in Minnesota's win over Tampa Bay.

Those are two very different performances for Keenum.

Which Keenum shows up later today? The one who struggled against Pittsburgh or the one who lit Tampa Bay's defense up?


The Lions allowed Devonta Freeman and the Atlanta Falcons offense to run up and down the field to the tune of 151 total rushing yards last week. That opened up play-action passes, and Detroit's defense was on its heels most of the day. If not for three Matt Ryan interceptions, that game last week could have been very different.

Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook is very much in the same mold as Freeman. He's fast and elusive, and stays on the field for all three downs because of his ability to make plays in the passing game. Cook was second in the NFL in rushing (288) and third in total yards (370) after the first three weeks of the season.

Minnesota has done a good job running the football to then set up play action and favorable matchups on the outside for receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Stopping Cook and making Minnesota's offense one dimensional favors Detroit's defense in this one.

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said some of his defense's issues against the run last week were of their own doing, and he expects them to be much better in that department this week.



In last week's loss to the Falcons, the Lions converted on just three of their 13 third-down attempts (23 percent). That was a far cry from the 50- and 47-percent conversion rate the prior two weeks in wins over Arizona and New York. Detroit has to keep themselves out of third-and-long situations against Minnesota's attacking, blitzing defense.

One way to do that is to be better on first down. Only 40 percent of Detroit's first-down plays this year have resulted in at least four yards. Detroit's had 80 first-down plays with only 21 accounting for 4-10 yards. They've had eight plays go for 11-20 yards, two for 21-30 yards and one for 31-40 yards. They are averaging 4.05 yards per first-down play, which is the fifth lowest in the league.  


Jarrad Davis may be a rookie, but the Lions did miss his speed and presence in the middle of their defense last week. Davis, who sat out last week's game due to a concussion, was back at practice this week and is listed as questionable to play Sunday in Minnesota.

Davis has been very good against the run early on this season. He's ranked in the top 11 in that category among linebackers by Pro Football Focus.

The Lions will need all hands on deck at the linebacker position against Cook and veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph.


Last week's loss to Atlanta was a gut punch for the Lions. There's really no other way to say it. They thought they had won the game and gone to 3-0, only to see a review and subsequent 10-second clock runoff cost them the game.

Lions players and coaches said all the right things this week in terms of how they've put the loss behind them and moved quickly on to Minnesota, knowing how tough of a game they were facing this week on the road.

The Lions let one slip away last week, but there's no time for hangovers in the NFL. This is a division game on the road. Those come with a little more importance, especially if the Lions want to win the NFC North and host a playoff game.

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