Momentum is swinging in the right direction after the Detroit Lions Week 2 victory against the Washington Commanders. Detroit has another statement opportunity on its schedule this Sunday. Week 3 features their first road matchup as well as their first division action of the season against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings will have more than enough motivation against the Lions after suffering an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football. That defeat brought them to a 1-1 record which ties them with the other NFC North teams. Both teams have a chance to get one game ahead of at least one division rival with this upcoming matchup.
The Lions statistically have an edge over the Vikings in most offensive categories. The Lions are establishing themselves offensively with a creative and aggressive offensive line complimented with weapons that can put points on the board. Minnesota's offense has been hit or miss so far this season, even with the explosive weapons around them.
Both teams still have a lot to prove on the defensive side of the ball. Detroit and Minnesota each present a budding pass rush that can wreck an opponent's game plan.
Odds makers have the Vikings as 6-point favorites but the Lions are more than capable of pulling off this road upset.
Three players who need a standout performance for a Lions' victory:
1) DT Alim McNeill
The biggest way to keep a high-power offensive under control is with a disruptive defensive line. The Lions' defensive line has been the strongest of the defensive unit so far and they need to be on their A-game to have a chance against the Vikings. Considering the potential of Minnesota's run game and pass attack, a lot relies on the production of the Lions' front-four.
McNeill is a big reason for a lot of the success Detroit has seen so far. He has shown great gap discipline against the run and has taken on double teams creating solo matchups for the edge rushers. With edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris breaking out each week, that could mean more double teams for them and more one-on-one battles for McNeill to face.
Minnesota has made a focal point of their offense to target their All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson as much as possible. Jefferson is top-1o in targets and will look to rebound after struggling a bit against the Eagles.
Limiting Jefferson doesn't fall strictly on how the secondary covers him. A relentless pass rush only enhances the coverage of the secondary. McNeill and the Lions' defense have to put as much pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins as possible to keep him out of rhythm. The 22-year-old defensive tackle will also be needed heavily in run support against running back Dalvin Cook who has had some big performances against Detroit throughout his career.
2) RB Jamaal Williams
One of the Vikings' biggest deficiencies is stopping the run. Taking advantage of that weakness should be at the top of Detroit's game plan. Last week, the Lions kept running back D'Andre Swift on a pitch count due to injury. He could be on the same plan against the Vikings as he recovers, which means an increased workload could be on the way for Jamaal Williams.
Swift is proving to be the offense's big play threat. Williams' running style is more physical which should wear down opposing defenses and help control time of possession. The best way to keep Minnesota's offensive firepower off the field is with a dominating performance by your run game.
Williams saw 12 carries last week for 53 yards. He also was able to find the end zone twice against the Eagles in Week 1. If Swift is hobbled again on Sunday with limited snaps, it's more than possible that Williams could be the lead back for the day while seeing over 15 rush attempts. Detroit can get a huge boost offensively if Williams is able to move the chains consistently and keep Minnesota on their heels defensively.
3) S DeShon Elliott
Minnesota has one of the biggest enigmas in the NFL under center in quarterback Kirk Cousins. When Cousins is comfortable and in rhythm, he can pick a defense apart with the weapons around he has him. However, when he is pressured or confused by coverage, he is more likely to put the ball in harm's way.
If the Lions can put pressure on Cousins, expect their safeties to have plenty of chances to create turnovers. Free safety DeShon Elliott and strong safety Tracy Walker will also provide bracketed coverage on Jefferson to slow him down. Cornerback Jeff Okudah has been fantastic in one-on-one coverage so far this season, but he'll likely have help behind him when facing one of the biggest playmakers in the NFL.
Detroit's secondary isn't an elite unit but they complement the other defensive groups perfectly. They've been disciplined avoiding penalties and have a tremendous opportunity to put a stamp on the game by ball-hawking Cousins.