Vikings: 3 keys to defeating the Lions

In this Nov. 4, 2018, file photo, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander celebrates after sacking Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the second half of an NFL football game, in Minneapolis. Photo: AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File
In this Nov. 4, 2018, file photo, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander celebrates after sacking Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the second half of an NFL football game, in Minneapolis.

December 23, 2018 03:12 PM

The Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) are on the road Sunday, facing an NFC North opponent in the Detroit Lions (5-9). Kickoff is slated for noon at Ford Field.

Today's matchup is a crucial one for playoff implications. If the Vikings win and the Philadelphia Eagles lose or tie, they will clinch a playoff birth. 

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Here are three keys to victory in Detroit.

Keep Kenny Golladay Contained

The Lions have even fewer offensive weapons than they did in their 24-9 loss to the Vikings in week nine. Wide receiver Marvin Jones (35 catches, 508 yards) was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 26 and leading rusher Kerryon Johnson was placed on IR on Wednesday.

That leaves second-year wide receiver Kenny Golladay as their main playmaker. Golladay has 64 catches for 1,005 yards on five touchdowns this season.

"They've done a great job of moving him around," Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said on Thursday. "You've seen his statistics have really jumped up, and he's got a very good catch radius. I think they trust him in the passing game and going to him quite a bit."

Golladay was held to five yards receiving on two catches two weeks ago against Arizona, but rebounding with seven catches for 146 yards last week. Look for Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes to shadow him on Sunday.

With many big-play threats unavailable, the Lions have relied on a more grind-it-out style offense. Running back Zach Zenner, an Eagan native, has scored rushing touchdowns in each of the last two weeks.

Win the Battle in the Trenches

The Lions offensive line is much improved compared to last season, but that wasn't evident when the Vikings played them earlier in the year. Minnesota finished with a franchise record 10 sacks in that game, so the Lions o-line will be motivated on Sunday.

The Lions are able to put pressure on the quarterback. They have 38 sacks this season, which is 12th-best in the NFL.

"They are big people up there and we are going to have to win some one-on-one battles," Vikings interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. "Across the board, they are just big space-eating, two-gap, attack-you type-defense. That is a challenge for the offensive line. The nice part is we've played them one time so we kind of have a feel for how they play."

Detroit's run defense is quite a bit better than Miami's, which the Vikings thrashed for 220 yards last week. The Dolphins are giving up 115.4 yards per game on the ground.

Keep the Foot on the Throttle

If the Vikings are able to get out to a big lead like they did last week against Miami they can't let up. Since 2009, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has 26 fourth-quarter comebacks.

The Vikings don't have a great history of playing well on the road against Detroit either, going only 3-5 in road games against Detroit since 2010.

Keeping the offense up-tempo throughout the game will be key. They've operated well in no-huddle situations and used the play-action pass extremely well like last week against the Dolphins.

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