Sunday, December 14, 2014

Five Things To Watch for Against the Lions

Photo Courtesy of MLive News
The Vikings will look to place a dent in Detroit's playoff hopes during a divisional contest at Ford Field in Detroit. Daniel House provides five areas of emphasis to watch for during the game. 

Updated: December 14th, 2014 11:35am

By: Daniel House

The Vikings are looking to get back into the divisional winning column during an NFC North showdown with the Detroit Lions. Minnesota may be eliminated from the playoffs, but they can work to put a dent in the playoff hopes of a divisional opponent. With four starters missing this contest and significant holes up front on the offensive line, the Vikings will have their hands full against an athletic Lions squad. Detroit has won two consecutive contests and they are looking to keep pace with the Packers in the playoff race. In their previous meeting in October, the Lions knocked off the Vikings 17-14 in a defensive showdown. The Vikings were beaten up front on a consistent basis with their starters in tact.

Today, they will be without three starters among their offensive line. Teddy just needs to survive this contests and at this point, it seems like this could be challenging. The Lions offense hasn't been exploding by any means, but they have weapons like Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate that you must keep an eye on. Detroit is a motivated squad that is playing at home to keep their playoff hopes alive. The variables don't align well for the Vikings, but the goal for the squad is to gain strength to finish the season strong. It doesn't feel like the team needs to sell everything away during the last three games and it certainly has been a refreshing feeling for Vikings fans.

Keep Teddy on his feet

The Lions front-four has been dominating the line of scrimmage at every point this season. They notched a season-high eight sacks against a moderately healthy Vikings offensive line earlier in the season. Last week, they registered six sacks, en route to accumulating the sixth-most sacks in the league this season. Vlad Ducasse will be squaring off with Ndamukong Suh and we will see if Matt Kalil can handle Ziggy Ansah the second time around. The variables don't align for a very successful day on offense and if Teddy doesn't have time to make decisions, it will be a very long day. More importantly, the hope is that Teddy survives this game without any major injuries. If Bridgewater has time, he has proven he can be successful. He has the NFL's 12th best QB rating over the last four weeks, which is better than Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger. Give him time and anything can happen.

Run the ball better

Last week, the Vikings running game really struggled to run the ball effectively and Matt Asiata's yards per carry average has been slowly decreasing. Mike Zimmer indicated Ben Tate could see some more touches and the hope is that he can be more explosive. It will be difficult to run the ball against the Lions effective run defense that has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game average (62.3) in the league. If the Vikings can't run the ball well, the Lions defense will be able to pin their ears back and blitz hard on third-and-long. That will put even more pressure on a Vikings offensive line that already is going to have their hands full.

Stop Calvin and the playmakers

Xavier Rhodes could be shadowing Calvin Johnson across the field, but at times, Josh Robinson and Captain Munnerlyn will need to stop him up the field. They run plenty of rubs and picks that will open Golden Tate and other receivers. Later, these plays turn into shots down the field that feature Calvin Johnson. Munnerlyn and Rhodes haven't handled receivers who are of bigger stature that are willing stretch the field. Rhodes will keep part of the playing field in check, but with the struggles Munnerlyn and Robinson have had, if they are matched up with Johnson, it could be a big day for the Lions offense. The only way these issues can be prevented are if the Vikings can pressure Stafford and not provide him with time to shift his eyes up the field.

Pressure Stafford and avoid giving him space

The Vikings have recorded three or more sacks in two consecutive games and they continue to win the battles up front. They will be without Sharrif Floyd, but Mike Zimmer made some hints that Everson Griffen may shift to the middle of the defense in pass rushing situations. Detroit has allowed two or more sacks in five consecutive games and the Vikings need to run stunts to keep them off balance. The pressure needs to get to Matthew Stafford in order to force him into poor decisions. If he can't get his eyes up the field and connect vertically, the Lions offense isn't as powerful. However, the Vikings have struggled when quarterbacks have gained time by moving outside the pocket. Stafford is great at making the difficult throws outside of the pocket and this is where big plays are derived from.

Control the clock 

The Vikings need to keep the ball in the hands of their offense by running the ball and converting on third-and-short situations. If they are forced into third-and-long, the barometric pressure will cause Teddy Bridgewater's head to explode. The Vikings defense can't be on the field for long portions of the game, or Matthew Stafford will rip them apart. The time of possession needs to angle towards Minnesota and if they can do that, they will be more productive on both sides of the ball.

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