Saturday, September 19, 2015

Vikings vs. Lions Preview

Image Courtesy of Bleacher Report

After dropping their season opener to the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings are looking to bounce back as they open their 2015 home campaign against Detroit. Daniel House previews the matchup and gets you ready for game day. 

Updated: September 19th, 2015 10:40pm

By: Daniel House

After dropping their season opener to the San Francisco 49ers, the Vikings are looking to bounce back as they open their 2015 home campaign. Getting back on track is critical, but it's even more crucial to win a game against a divisional opponent. In 2014, the Vikings went 1-5 against the NFC North. They need to improve this mark if they want to contend for a playoff berth. Detroit enters the game 0-1 after dropping their opening contest to San Diego 33-28. Minnesota needs to improve in many areas as they try to keep pace with a Lions squad that has several weapons on both sides of the ball.

Here are several areas to keep on eye on during tomorrow's game:

Defending against the run and Calvin Johnson

Last week, the Vikings made Carlos Hyde look like an all-pro running back. The defense allowed a combined 230 yards on the ground against San Francisco. They can't get gashed like that again. You won't win many games in this league when you allow this type of yardage. The defense line was losing contain on the outside and Hyde was making a living off of backside cut-back runs. Again this week, the Vikings defensive line will be tested by Detroit's set of running backs. Lions rookie Ameer Abdullah rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown in his debut last week. In addition, Theo Riddick caught several passes out of the backfield and added a score.

The Lions heavily involve their running backs in their offensive scheme. They keep defense's off balance by using them on the ground and through the air. Abdullah is an elusive running back who has the ability to cut back like Hyde did last week. If the coaches and players didn't find the fix to this issue, Detroit will control the ball and put up a massive amount of yardage. Not to mention, the secondary needs to contain Calvin Johnson in the passing game. Mike Zimmer indicated Xavier Rhodes wouldn't be shadowing him as much and that means the other defensive backs will need to shoulder the load. Detroit has weapons through the air and on the ground. If they can't keep those players in check or pressure quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Vikings defense will have a tough time.

Getting it going on offense

The Vikings offense couldn't get anything going against San Francisco last week. Teddy Bridgewater was missing open wide receivers, the offensive line wasn't blocking, and the running game couldn't get going. This week, the offense needs to focus on completing short and intermediate routes to get into a rhythm. That will set up the play action to open the running game and vertical routes up the field. The offensive line needs to protect Teddy Bridgewater and keep the pocket cleaner. Last week, the interior blitzing caused some issues and it left free lanes to the quarterback. The running backs and lineman need to better read these assignments and prevent it from happening. Ezekiel Ansah is a threat as a pass rusher and Haloti Ngata will be plugging up the interior of the defensive line. Both of those players will be a challenge for the offensive line.

The Vikings passing game should be effective against a Lions secondary that was shredded last week. Philip Rivers went 35 for 42 with 402 yards passing and Keenan Allen hauled in a whopping 15 catches for 166 yards. I expect to see the Vikings spread the field often because Detroit really struggled with that. Their cornerbacks aren't as talented at handling man matchups and that could be a weakness the offense exploits early and often.

In closing, just get Adrian Peterson the ball a few times in a singleback set. He isn't as effective out of the shotgun and needs to have that head of steam. He must be involved in the gameplan more as the Vikings set up the pass game to open lanes for him.

Protection up front

Ezekiel Ansah is a big time pass rusher for the Lions and consistently ripped the Vikings defense apart last year. Detroit will be blitzing very hard to see how the running backs and offensive lineman can handle pressure coming through the interior gaps. Not to mention, Joe Berger will be tested as he squares off with Haloti Ngata. The Lions pass rush wasn't as effective last week, but it's a new group that needs some time to gain continuity. Teams will be dialing up stunts and various packages to test a young and inexperienced Vikings offensive line. If the protection is poor tomorrow, the offense will have a very difficult time moving the ball and getting into a rhythm.

Special teams consistency

Blair Walsh made one of his two field goal tries last week and you can still see the lack of confidence in his demeanor. He missed from 47 yards out on the first offensive possession. The Vikings need all the points they can have and Walsh can't continue to miss kicks, while giving the opposing team great field position. Jeff Locke only averaged 37.5 yards per punt and I still think there is room for improvement from him as well. People need to realize how critical special teams plays into the game. If the other team has optimal field position and you lose points, the pendulum can shift in the direction of the opposing squad very quickly.

Winning in the division

The Vikings went 1-5 in the NFC North and managed to pick up their lone divisional win during the final game of the season against Chicago. This team needs to get off to a good start in their division. In order to make the playoffs, you have to play at least .500 football against these opponents. Starting off in an 0-2 hole and with a home loss to Detroit would leave the Vikings with more work. This is an extremely winnable game if the team plays up to their maximum potential. However, if Detroit hits the gas on the ground and can establish the pass game, it could be a long day at TCF Bank Stadium.

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