Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings have squared off against Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford enough times over the years to know exactly what to expect. Stafford started the first contest between the two division teams Week 7 and threw four touchdown passes in the defeat.
But Stafford's been battling a back injury the last month, and isn't expected to play Sunday when these two square off in Minnesota. Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel's been put on IR after starting three games in place of Stafford. The Lions are down to third-string quarterback David Blough, and that had Zimmer and the Vikings scrambling a bit early this week with just the one game tape of Blough playing a regular-season NFL game (Detroit's 24-20 loss on Thanksgiving against the Bears last week).
"I thought he did well against Chicago," Zimmer said of Blough in a conference call this week. "He threw the ball well, he scrambled to make plays.
"One of the guys on our staff coached him at the East-West (Shrine) Game and talked about how smart he is, talked about his arm, talked about a lot of those things. We're trying to do as much homework on him as we can, but we have a lot of respect for him just like we do every other NFL quarterback. They've all won a lot of games in their career."
It may be a little extra work for Zimmer and Co. this week preparing for Blough, but make no mistake, Zimmer is one of the best defensive minds in football, and the Vikings will have a good plan in place for Blough come Sunday.
Blough knows that, too, and says that's one of the fun things about being a starter in this league now, the cat and mouse game that goes on preparing and scheming each week.
"I think people will see what you do well and what you don't well, and they try to play to your weakness," Blough said. "It's critical of myself to evaluate myself and see how I've done and know what to expect going forward.
"I think that's in every level of football, and now it's fun that it's going to be up against some great coaches on the other side. I look forward to improving every week and giving my best and helping the team win."
The Vikings' defense comes into this one after having some recent struggles we're not used to seeing from that group. They allowed 37 points and over 200 rushing yards to Seattle in a loss on Monday night.
Minnesota ranks 11th in points allowed (20.2), 16th in total defense (347.4), 15th against the run (104.5) and 20th against the pass (242.9). Those numbers are typically in the top 10 across the board. It's really been the Vikings' offense that's carried them to an 8-4 record to this point in the season.
But Blough knows it's a good defense he'll face Sunday, just like the one he faced in Chicago in his debut, and he'll have to play well for the Lions to have a shot at snapping their five-game losing streak.
"Those guys are some of the best around and getting to play against them already once definitely helps, but they'll have something in for us," Blough said.
STAFFORD AMONG ART ROONEY SPORTSMANSHIP AWARD FINALISTS
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been named one of eight finalists for the 2019 Art Rooney Sportsmanship award.
The winner of the NFL Sportsmanship Award is determined by a vote of current NFL players. From the eight finalists, each team's players will submit a consensus vote of their choice for the winner. As in Pro Bowl voting, a team cannot vote for its own player.
The award is presented each year to an NFL player who best demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition.
SIMILAR PROTECTION PLAN
Blough was sacked just two times by Chicago's defense on Thanksgiving, and hit just three times total all game.
Blough said he kind of knew at the time the guys upfront were playing well last week, but it wasn't until they broke down and graded the tape afterward that he saw exactly how well the offensive line played.
"I mean, the pocket was incredible," Blough said. "I remember sitting back there thinking – it had to have been a couple minutes left in the first half and I don't think I had even been touched yet. I remember sitting there thinking – 'Man, Khalil Mack?' I'm thinking how great (Taylor) Decker and Rick (Wagner) and those guys were playing, and that was cool.
"Those guys – going back and watching the tape how they graded it out, it was fun to be able to stand back there behind those guys and know they had my back."
Blough will be looking for a similar pocket to stand behind Sunday. The Lions have allowed 31 sacks on the year, which is middle of the pack (17th) league wide. The Vikings have recorded 33 sacks this season, which ranks 13th.