Pat Elflein vs. Damon Harrison
The Vikings’ interior offensive line has struggled all season, but last week was a step in the right direction. They ran all over the weak front of the Dolphins to the tune of 200-plus yards. Detroit’s big man in the middle, Damon Harrison, will likely make repeating that feat a tall order. Pro Football Focus has Harrison with a league-high 40 run stops on the year. The odds of Pat Elflein getting a lot of one-on-one chances at Harrison are slim, but he will get more shots than anyone else on the line. And when he does match up with him, he will have a tough task on his hands. That is, of course, if Harrison plays, as he is listed as questionable.
Adam Thielen vs. Nevin Lawson
Opposing defenses are keying in on Adam Thielen lately. As a result, he has only one 100-yard game since his 100-yard streak ended in week nine, against the Lions. Detroit was the first team to shut him down, but Minnesota still came out on top that go-around. In this one, expect again a fair amount of bracket coverage and double teams on Thielen. Nevin Lawson will likely handle most of the man coverage when Thielen drifts into the slot, allowing Darius Slay to stay outside on Stefon Diggs.
Dalvin Cook vs. Jarrad Davis
That’s right, all three key matchups to watch involve Vikings’ offense against Lions’ defense. The reason for this is simple. Given the way Minnesota’s defense has played of late, plus the number of injuries the Lions have on offense, as well as the general ineffectiveness of said offense, there is reason to believe the Vikings will hold their own defensively. How the game ends up will depend far more on the offense showing up.
Dalvin Cook has clearly taken over as focal point of the Minnesota offense. Kevin Stefanski put a lot on his plate last week, both in the run and the pass. Detroit has a middle-of-the-road run defense made better by their stout nose in Harrison. But Jarrad Davis has struggled year-round both in maintaining run discipline and defending backs out of the backfield. Expect a lot of looks to Cook early and often on Sunday.
Last week was a godsend of health for the Vikings, as all 53 players practiced. This week has not quite had the same good fortune, though Minnesota still enters relatively healthy. Eric Kendricks has already been ruled out, leaving Eric Wilson to get his third start of the season. Linval Joseph did not practice Thursday and David Morgan and Mike Remmers were limited. However, none have injury designations and will play.
Detroit is dealing with a host of injuries, and frankly does not have the motivation to risk further injury from key players. Rookie Kerryon Johnson has already been shut down for the season, and some are suggesting that the Lions should shut Matthew Stafford down, as well to let him heal his back injury. For now, he is listed as questionable. Beyond him, the aforementioned Harrison, receiver Kenny Golladay, running back LeGarrette Blount and linebacker Devon Kennard are also questionable.
The Lions are not in a good place. Even with the game at Ford Field, a locale that has not served the Vikings well in the past, I have little faith in the Lions’ offense to put up much of a fight against a surging Minnesota defense. Injuries and general mediocrity have hit the Lions hard in the second half of the season. Even if the Vikings’ on-again, off-again offense has its off week, I have full confidence in the defense to carry the load. Vikings should win handily.
Final Score: Minnesota 26, Detroit 13
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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