A weekly look at the Minnesota Vikings’ upcoming matchup featuring numbers that shouldn’t give the reader a headache or require an advanced mathematics degree to decipher.
Detroit (4-4) at Minnesota (5-2)
The Vikings’ listless effort against the one-win Bears earned them a 20-10 defeat. After winning three straight games, the Lions fell at Houston, 20-13.
This will be the 110th meeting between the two franchises. The Vikings hold a 71-36-2 advantage. Minnesota won both games in 2015. The most recent matchup occurred last October when the Vikings overcame an early 14-3 hole on the road to beat Detroit, 28-19.
Chicago rookie running back Jordan Howard averaged 4.62 yards a carry AFTER contact with a Vikings defender on Monday night, according to Pro Football Focus. Entering the game, the Minnesota defense was giving up just 4.4 yards per play.
Howard posted 97 yards rushing in the first half versus Minnesota. The Vikings as a team accumulated just 95 yards.
The Lions have 189 more yards rushing than the Vikings on 15 fewer attempts.
The Vikings’ 2.94 yards-per-carry average against the Bears was the team’s third-highest of the season.
Discarding the game’s last play (a 21-yard completion), the Vikings averaged 2.76 yards on first down against the Bears, a slight improvement over Minnesota’s paltry 2.55-yard average the previous week at Philadelphia. Against the Bears, the Vikings opened the game by running on four consecutive first downs and six of the team’s initial seven first downs.
Detroit ranks 16th in the league by averaging 22.9 points a game, yet the Lions are fourth in the NFL in averaging 2.32 points a drive.
For the first time this season, the Vikings didn’t force a turnover versus the Bears. However, Minnesota still leads the league in turnover differential at plus-11. Detroit is eighth at plus-2. Both teams have the same number of giveaways (5).
Despite blitzing only twice, the Bears sacked Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford five times, hit him on 10 occasions and applied pressure on 20 of 42 dropbacks, according to PFF. When pressured, Bradford completed just four passes for 67 yards. On the heels of the previous week’s pounding in Philadelphia, Bradford appeared skittish in the pocket for the first time as a Viking. Also for the second week in a row, Bradford missed an open receiver on a deep ball that would have given Minnesota an early lead. Bradford completed 23 of 37 passes for 228 yards (6.16 yards per attempt) with one touchdown in compiling an 88.6 rating against the Bears’ depleted secondary. One positive was a renewed connection with wideout Stefon Diggs, who caught eight passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
For the year, Bradford sports a 66.5 percent completion rate, 7.1 yards-per-attempt average and a 98.2 rating. Those are fine stats. But entering the Eagles game two weeks ago, those figures were 70.4, 7.9 and 109.7, respectively.
Offensive Offensive Line
Bradford’s drop in production correlates to dreadful offensive line play by the Vikings. In the past two games, he’s been sacked 11 times and hit 29 times. Most of the problems Monday night were on the right side of the line, which was dominated by the Bears. Pro Football Focus tagged right tackle T.J. Clemmings with eight pressures allowed and right guard Brandon Fusco with five. If the offensive line continues to serve as a turnstile, Bradford’s season will come to a premature end.
Purple Power Outage
Of course, the line’s troubles have impacted Minnesota’s overall offensive performance. The Vikings are last in yards-per-carry average (2.7), 31st in total yards per game (293.3), 28th in passing yards (221.4 a game) and red zone touchdown efficiency (44.44 percent), 23rd in points (19.1 a game), and 19th in third-down conversion rate (38.24 percent). New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has nowhere to take the offense but up, right?
According to the statistics, the Vikings should improve those offensive figures against a Detroit defense that is 32nd in third-down conversions against (49.5 percent), 31st in opponent red zone touchdown efficiency (71.43 percent), 30th in points surrendered per drive (2.47), 27th in yards allowed per game (370), 25th in yards allowed per pass attempt (8.0) and 22nd in yards per carry against (4.4). Opposing quarterbacks have a sterling 113.7 rating against the Lions. If the Minnesota offense can’t get in gear versus this defense, when can it?
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has quietly produced a stellar season in year one of the post-Calvin Johnson era. Stafford has completed 191 of 282 passes (67.7 percent) for 2,154 yards (7.6 per attempt), 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His 103.4 rating is fourth in the league, behind only Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. Stafford has authored four game-winning drives in 2016 and has been especially sharp in the red zone with a 115.4 rating. He has been sacked 19 times.
In his career versus the Vikings, Stafford is 5-7. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,083 yards (6.63 per attempt) with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. However, he’s been sacked 39 times in those dozen games.
The Lions are 13th in the league in yards per game (341.1), 12th in red zone touchdown efficiency (62.5 percent), eighth in third-down conversions (42.9 percent) and second in average plays per drive (6.64).
Theo Riddick is the leading rusher with 227 yards on 61 carries (3.7 yards per carry). Four players have over 30 receptions: Golden Tate (38 for 434 yards and one touchdown), Marvin Jones (36 for 656 and four TDs), Riddick (34 for 267 and four TDs), and Anquan Boldin (33 for 276 and four TDs). In five games, Tight end Eric Ebron has contributed 25 catches for 289 yards and a touchdown.
Against the Texans last week, Detroit relied on a short passing attack. Riddick paced the club with eight catches. Stafford was just 5 of 13 for 81 yards on passes of 10-plus yards, according to Pro Football Focus, whose analysts identified left guard Graham Glasgow and right tackle Riley Reiff as weak links on the offensive line. They surrendered a combined nine pressures.
If the Minnesota defense of the season’s first month shows up on Sunday, the Vikings should be able to handle the Lions. But if last week’s unit appears, it could be another long day for Minnesota. Despite starting two rusty guards and a rookie center, the Bears dismantled the Purple People Eaters.
Entering Monday night, the Vikings were allowing just 279.5 yards a game (4.4 yards per play). The Bears had 234 yards at the half on their way to a 403-yard performance and an 8.1 yards-per-play average. They made Howard look like the second coming of Walter Payton, as the rookie powered his way to 153 yards on 26 carries. Even quarterback Jay Cutler, making his first start since hurting his right thumb in Week 2, looked sharp, completing 21 of 31 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Despite the pained performance, Minnesota remains the stingiest defense when it comes to points allowed (14.9 per game and 1.23 per drive). In terms of total defense, the Vikings are now second in the league, surrendering 297.1 yards a game. If they don’t regain their swagger soon, though, the Vikings will tumble down the defensive rankings and the NFC North standings.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Minnesota has a 71 percent chance of beating Detroit.
WhatIfSports.com‘s NFL simulation engine had the Vikings winning 57.8 percent of the 501 simulated matchups versus the Lions. The average score was 24-21.