Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Vikings vs. Lions: A Thanksgiving Day Preview

Photo: Rant Sports

The Minnesota Vikings will play on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2000 and the NFC North division lead will be on the line in Detroit. Daniel House sets the table for Thanksgiving Day.

Updated: November 21st, 2016 4:30pm

By: Daniel House

The Minnesota Vikings will play on Thanksgiving for the first time since 2000 and the NFC North division lead will be on the line in Detroit. After snapping their four-game losing streak last week, the Vikings are still in position to re-claim their division lead. Minnesota will square off with a Lions team that has won five of their last six games, including an overtime victory over the Vikings three weeks ago. In the last matchup, the Vikings allowed too many big plays and didn’t rush the passer well. Not to mention, they couldn’t finish drives and allowed the Lions to stay close in the fourth quarter. Letting the Lions hang around isn’t a good idea. They have trailed in the final quarter in all six of their wins this season. After giving everything they had to knock off the Cardinals, the Vikings will need to will need to put together a fantastic performance on a short week. How can they make this happen on Turkey Day?

Take a look inside my game preview to see the keys to a victory:

Limiting big plays 
The Vikings allowed Theo Riddick to burst for a 42-yard run in the last game and tackled poorly as Golden Tate scored a 28-yard touchdown to win the game in overtime. They need to limit these big plays and tackle better. Detroit quietly has plenty of offensive weapons at their disposal. Marvin Jones is a top-ten receiver in terms of yardage and Golden Tate can create so many yards after contract. Not to mention, the Lions have a dynamic runner and pass catcher with Theo Riddick in their backfield. Tight end Eric Ebron has been a threat in their offense and his target ratio has been increasing over the last few weeks. Minnesota has experienced problems with their tackling over the last few games and need to solidify this. Allowing extra yards after contact gives the Lions opportunities to pick up first downs and sustain drives. Detroit was 7-for-14 on third down in the last matchup and the Vikings need to clamp down their third down defense. It all starts with sound tackling and rushing the passer.

Pressure Matthew Stafford
Not many people are talking about it, but one could argue this is the best season of Matthew Stafford’s career. He has led six fourth quarter comebacks and has remained poised on pressure. He has been fantastic at extending plays and finding his receivers up the field. The Vikings had just one sack in their last matchup against the Lions and it allowed Stafford to become comfortable in the pocket. When he has time to throw, he can sling the ball all over the field. For the first time in four weeks, the Vikings pass rush came to life against Arizona and it needs to continue into this game. The more rush you can bring, the less time your defensive backs have to cover up the field. What’s more, it can lead to additional takeaway opportunities as an overall unit. The Lions have surrendered a respectable 23 sacks to opposing defensive line units and the Vikings must take advantage.

Finishing drives
It’s still worth being skeptical about the Vikings offense, especially considering they were aided with a kickoff return and an interception touchdown last week. The offense still was predictable on too many occasions. They ran the ball and got conservative late in the game, which kept the Cardinals close. The quick passing offense has benefited the team, but they need to find a better balance by running the ball. Last week, the Vikings got the ground game going, but it still is nowhere close to sufficient. The Lions have allowed 104.5 yards per game on the ground, but the Vikings had just 78 yards in their last matchup against Detroit. Minnesota hasn’t proven they can run the ball effectively, and until they can, their offense will struggle to reach its maximum potential. If they can run the ball in this game, it will open up more opportunities to gash Detroit through the air. The Lions are allowing 259 passing yards per game and their defensive backs are worth attacking. However, the running game needs to be the difference in this one.

Finish the game
The Lions have won four of their last five games at Ford Field and have forced eight turnovers in their last four home games. More importantly, the Vikings need to get off to a fast start in this game. They aren’t built to play from behind and have to finish against a Lions team that became the first in league history to have six comeback wins after trailing in the fourth quarter. Minnesota hasn’t been finishing games strong this season and can’t take their foot off the gas or Detroit will pull off another fourth quarterback comeback. The division lead is on the line and this is definitely a huge game for both teams. The Vikings can’t afford to drop another divisional game if they want a chance to win the NFC North.

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