Key matchup: Mike Wallace, Stefon Diggs vs. Lions CBs

The Minnesota Vikings have yet to find an explosive passing game this year, but if recent history in Lions games is any indication, that may be an option on Sunday.

To date, the Minnesota Vikings haven’t dominated games through the air in any facet. They currently have the 32nd-ranked passing game and have had their share of struggles. However, with the emergence of Stefon Diggs and the return to health of speedy Mike Wallace, their battle with Detroit cornerbacks Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis will be this week’s key matchups.

Wallace has been waiting for the pass offense to blow up. He sees Teddy Bridgewater as a budding superstar. They haven’t put it all together yet, but he’s convinced it is only a matter of time before that happens.

“We have as much speed and athletic ability in that receivers room of any team in the league,” Wallace said. “We all have a ton of confidence in Teddy. You can see the growth that he has shown and we’re close to getting there.”

Wallace leads the Vikings in targets (33), receptions (22) and receiving yards (256), and Bridgewater’s focus on him has been increasing as the year has gone on. In his last two games, Wallace has been targeted 19 times, the two highest single-game targets of his Vikings career. It’s clear that Bridgewater and Wallace are building a rapport and looking to get the big plays into the Vikings offense.

“Teddy and I work well together,” Wallace said. “We haven’t taken a lot of deep shots, but those are going to be there at times during games. It’s just a matter of getting them to connect. When that happens, it will open up things for the entire offense if we have the threat of the deep ball over the top.”

The wild card in the future of the 2015 Vikings pass offense is Diggs. Inactive for the first three games of his rookie season, Diggs had an explosive coming-out party at Denver, catching six passes for 87 yards. He followed that up with seven catches for 129 yards last week against Kansas City, making big plays consistently and being one of the focuses of the Vikings offense.

“I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity,” Diggs said. “I knew I could help contribute to the team and help them win games, but I had to wait for my opportunity. Now I’m focused on making the most of it and getting Teddy’s confidence that I can bring in any pass he throws to me.”

Up against Wallace and Diggs are the Lions’ cover corners, Slay and Mathis. Slay had a breakout season last year in his second season and Mathis has the veteran savvy that 13 years in the league brings with it. But both of them have been lit up by receivers for much of the season – at least those games in which teams weren’t able to control the clock on the ground.

In Week 1, Keenan Allen caught 15 passes for 166 yards. In Week 2, Bridgewater completed 14 of 18 passes for 153 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 120.3. In Week 3, Demaryius Thomas caught nine passes for 92 yards and a touchdowns and Emanuel Sanders caught six passes for 87 yards – all at the expense of Slay and Mathis.

In Week 4, Russell Wilson spread the ball around, completing 20 of 26 passes for 287 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 125.0. In Week 5, Carson Palmer threw just 14 passes, completing 11 of them for 161 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 154.2, throwing touchdowns to Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. Last week against the Bears, the Lions allowed Jay Cutler to throw for 353 yards and a touchdown with most of the damage being done by Alshon Jeffery, who caught eight passes for 147 yards and a TD.

Throughout the season, teams that have been able to run the ball like the Vikings and Seattle did have been able to have high-efficiency passing attacks that threw judiciously but got a lot of positive production from them. When teams have decided to throw a lot, their wide receivers have produced some eye-popping numbers.

That combination is typically poison for a defense. It has been the bane of the Lions all season and it may come down to the Vikings trying to pick their poison. If Peterson can run wild like he did in their first meeting, Bridgewater and his receiver corps will likely have another unspectacular but efficient day. If, however, the Vikings game plan calls for taking deep shots at the Lions cornerbacks, the tag team battle between Wallace and Diggs and Mathis and Slay could turn out to an explosive matchup to watch this week.


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