Quarterback Matthew Stafford has spent his week studying familiar – and decidedly unfriendly – faces on the Minnesota Vikings’ defense that he’ll lead the the Detroit Lions’ offense against at Ford Field Sunday.
Stafford knows them by name (Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith to name three), by number (97, 55 and 22), and by the havoc they’ve often wrought at his expense in recent seasons.
Dealing with that defense, and not looking back at Monday night’s loss to the Packers or going on a public rant about officiating errors, has occupied Stafford’s attention this week.
From front to back – linemen, linebackers and secondary – the Vikings have built a veteran defense with staying power in head coach Mike Zimmer’s aggressive schemes.
“Obviously, those guys communicate really well,” Stafford said. “They play well off of each other. They have on all three levels of the defense – both up front, in the linebacking corps and the secondary.
“I turn the tape on, and it’s almost like the same thing every year. I’m watching the same guys playing at an extremely high level. It doesn’t seem like anybody is dropping off. If anything, they’re getting better. They’re a really talented defense.
“They’re a really tough challenge for us.”
The Lions are in a tough spot, with a two-game losing streak that has dropped them into last place in the NFC North with a 2-2-1 record. They’re playing a tough Vikings team on an upswing with a two-game winning streak that’s made their won-loss record 4-2.
The offense has put up 66 points, 937 yards and 48 first downs in wins over the Giants and Eagles the last two weeks.
They’ve punished Stafford with their pass rush, with 27 quarterback hits and 15 sacks in a three-game winning streak dating back to Thanksgiving Day of 2017.
“Obviously, they have a unique pressure system that is pretty good,” Stafford said. “But at the same time, if they just want to rush four, they’re pretty good at that, too.
“They’ve got talent and scheme, which makes them difficult.”
Series history: The Vikings have a 74-39 lead, with two ties. They’ve won the last three games and three of the last four at Ford Field.
2018 Vikings sweep: They held the Lions without a touchdown, winning 24-9 at home and 27-9 at Ford Field.
Livin’ on a Prater: Matt Prater scored all of the Lions’ points in last year’s games, making three field goals in each game.
Sack time: Stafford took a beating in the first meeting with the Vikings last year. The Vikings had 17 quarterback hits and 10 sacks in their Week 9 win at home. Stafford also was credited with running five times for six yards. (Actually, he was fleeing a collapsing pocket.) The Vikings were limited to three hits and two sacks in winning the rematch at Ford Field in Week 16.
View photos of Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. surprising the Detroit Youth Choir at their Ford Field rehearsal Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019.
Vikings focus, Stefon Diggs: The Vikings have a high-powered receiving tandem in Adam Thielen and Diggs, and it was Diggs who shredded the Eagles with his hands and legs in last week’s 38-20 win. He wanted to do it with his arm, too.
Diggs had seven catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran twice for 18 yards. His second run ended up as a 10-yard gain late in the third quarter, but it was an option play, and Diggs was looking to throw the ball as he cut around right end.
He pumped his arm two or three times before tucking the ball away and heading upfield.
“It was a pass,” Diggs told reporters after the game. “I was looking to throw the ball. I just took the ball and ran.”
Diggs liked the trick play – “spice it up a bit,” he said – but he did most of his damage with his hands.
He had TD catches of 62 and 51 yards in a span of 1:59 in the second quarter to give the Vikings a 24-3 lead. He caught an 11-yard pass for his third TD in the third quarter to extend the lead to 31-20 after the Eagles had closed the gap to four points.
It had been a relatively quiet start to the season for Diggs for the first five games. He had only one TD catch, and one game with more than 100 receiving yards before last week. With Thielen catching passes on the other side and Dalvin Cook running the ball, the Vikings can be patient in letting Diggs wait his turn.
Prediction: It’s the matchup, not the Lions’ desire or whether they’ll bounce back after losses to the Chiefs and Packers. The Vikings have guarded the end zone in beating the Lions three straight. Prater scored all their points with six field goals in last season’s two losses, and he kicked three in a loss in 2017 when the offense scored two TDs. The Lions are 1-for-7 in the red zone in that losing streak, and that’s still been a problem this year.
Prediction: Vikings 23, Lions 20.