The Detroit Lions are riding high after their home victory over the Washington Commanders in week 2. It was a complete performance with all three phases coming up big in the win. This week, they have a tougher task as they will have to go on the road to face the Minnesota Vikings. The league isn't sure who the real Vikings are. Are they the team in Week 1 who drubbed the Packers or are they the team who looked hapless against the Eagles? The true answer is likely somewhere in the middle, but here are the keys for the Detroit Lions to upset the Vikings in week 3.
The Lions need to start connecting on deep pass plays
Key Players: Jared Goff, DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Amon-Ra St Brown, TJ Hockenson, Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum
Last week, the Lions missed a few opportunities on deep passes in the first. Luckily, it did not come back to bite them, but the Lions need to connect on them when opportunities present themselves. This week, the Lions should have a few of those opportunities and they will be key to upsetting the Vikings. The Vikings have struggled in the run game giving up 111 yards and 163 yards in weeks 1 and 2 respectively, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Going up against the Lions' elite rushing attack, expect the Vikings' game plan to revolve around stopping the run. They probably will load the box and have the entire team keyed on stopping D'Andre Swift and the Lions' rushing attack.
This should open up things nicely for Jared Goff. Despite some of his struggles, Goff excels in play action and can take advantage of overaggressive defenses. After getting the run going, the Lions should look to hit DJ Chark or Josh Reynolds on a deep pass. This recipe worked for the Eagles who took advantage of struggling Vikings safety, Camryn Bynum, to score a 53-yard touchdown on play action. If the Lions are able to connect on one or two passes over the top, it will lead to easy points and help the run game continue to dominate.
A secondary pass rusher must emerge for the Lions
Key Players: Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Alim McNeil, Austin Bryant
The Lions took a big hit this week when John Cominsky went down with a hand injury requiring surgery. Cominsky has been a revelation so far this season grabbing a sack last week and generating consistent pressure. With him, the Lions' defensive line was a force last week against the Commanders. They destroyed the entire Commanders' game plan in the first half leading to the first-half shutout. This week, they will look to do the same against Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings' offense fails or succeeds based on Cousins' play, so the Lions will need to make him uncomfortable. Aidan Hutchinson already showed he can do that at a high level in the league. Unfortunately, he is already facing the 2nd most double teams in the NFL, and after a 3 sack performance, that trend should continue. Without Cominsky, the Lions will need another pass rusher to step up. The most obvious guess is Charles Harris who lead the team last year with 7.5 sacks. Last week, he had one huge strip sack leading to a safety. Another player to look out for is Julian Okwara. The younger Okwara returned in week 2 and had a sneaky good game. He did not record a sack but did a good job generating pressure and set up Hutchinson for at least one sack. If a second pass rusher can emerge, the Lions defense can harass Cousins and disrupt the Vikings offense.
First win rate chart of the season!
Double team rate at edge (x) by pass rush win rate at edge (y).
Traffic jam at the bottom courtesy of Micah Parsons at the top! pic.twitter.com/WXWhvjf443
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 21, 2022
Slowing down the Viking's Justin Jefferson
Key Players: Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Tracy Walker, DeShon Elliot
Justin Jefferson is a bona fide star and one of the top 5 receivers in the league. It is no coincidence that in the week 1 victory he starred and in week 2, he was shut down leading to the Vikings' loss. However, shutting down Justin Jefferson is much easier said than done especially since the Lions don't have a shutdown corner like Darius Slay. Jeff Okudah will likely have the task of trying to slow down Jefferson. He has performed well against Terry McClaurin and DeVonta Smith, but Jefferson is a different animal, especially with how the Vikings use him.
The Vikings love to move Jefferson around either outside or in the slot and to throw him in motion. This helps get Jefferson matched up with different players and in single coverage. The Lions will need to be ready for this. No matter where he is lined up, the defense will have to be ready to provide help for Okudah or Mike Hughes in the slot. Safeties Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliot will be crucial in this. They will have to identify where Jefferson is on every play and be ready to provide support over the top to the corners. If they can slow him down, the Vikings offense and Cousins will struggle, but if they can't crack the code, the Vikings offense can put up big numbers. Stopping Jefferson is the #1 key for the Lions to upset the Vikings.
After Hard Knocks and the season opener, optimism for the Lions is at an all-time high. A win on the road over the Vikings would take that to a whole new level. It would prove that the Lions are ready to compete for the playoffs and even potentially a division crown. In order to do that, there are couple of keys. The Lions should be able to run the ball. They've shown they can in the first two week and the Vikings have been susceptible to the run. The Lions must be ready to pounce when the defense sells out to stop the run and connect on a few deep plays over the top. This will lead to some quick scores for the offense and more space later in the game for Swift.
On defense, it comes down to making Kirk Cousins as uncomfortable as possible. The first way to do that is to get pressure in his face throughout the game. Aidan Hutchinson should produce, but when he gets double-teamed, the Lions will need other players up front to step up and help him disrupt Cousins. Additionally, they have to take away Cousins' favorite target, Justin Jefferson. It's definitely not a one-man job, so the Lions' corners and safeties will have to work in tandem to stop the superstar receiver. If they can do that, the Vikings offense should stall out and lead to a Lions victory.
All stats via Football Reference.