Lions vs. Vikings: Breaking Down Minnesota's Game Plan

Tim ArcandCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2013

With nothing to lose, the Minnesota Vikings should turn rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson loose against the Detroit Lions to close out the Metrodome.
With nothing to lose, the Minnesota Vikings should turn rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson loose against the Detroit Lions to close out the Metrodome.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On one hand, the Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings showdown is exactly the game to close out the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. On the other hand, the site that has hosted an NCAA Final Four, a Super Bowl, two World Series and an NFC Championship Game deserves better.

This is the place that has seen Adrian Peterson set the single-game rushing record and Kirby Puckett lead the Minnesota Twins to two World Series championships. There have been weird bounces from every corner of the building and a ball lost in the roof.

That same roof came crashing down in 2010, forcing the Vikings to move a home game to Detroit's Ford Field. If only there were a massive snow storm in the forecast that might force the Lions-Vikings game to move to a more fitting location. 

The Vikings started the season on a sour note—going 1-7 in the first half. The Lions have ended their season almost as sourly—they are 2-5 since opening the season 5-3, tied for the NFC North lead. 

Since 2006, either the Vikings or Lions have finished last in the NFC North: the Lions five times and the Vikings twice, with the teams tied for the basement in 2010.  


When the Lions Have the Ball

Lions Offense vs. Vikings Defense
Total YardsRankRush YardsRankPass YardsRankScoringRank
Detroit Offense401.73rd115.317th286.53rd25.511th
Vikings Defense408.031st113.718th294.332nd31.132nd
Stat Milk

This game has the look of a colossal mismatch.

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is second in the league with 1,492 receiving yards. He is only 72 yards behind Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon. If he is healthy enough to play, it would be very feasible for Johnson to win the receiving title playing against the last-ranked passing defense.

The Browns play in Pittsburgh against the eighth-ranked pass defense, and the Steelers still have something to play for as they are still in the hunt for a playoff berth.     

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 11: Harrison Smith #22 of the Minnesota Vikings tackles Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter of the game on November 11, 2012 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapol
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

In Week 1 against the Vikings, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was 28-of-43 passing for 357 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The Lions, who were trailing 14-13 at halftime, turned it up in the second half and beat the Vikings 34-24.

Stafford is the key for the Lions. When he performs well, Detroit ends up winning. The following table shows the dichotomy of Stafford's season this year.


Matthew Stafford: The Good and the Bad of 2013
Time FrameRecordCompAttYdsTDIntRating
Weeks 1-106-32293732,83619794.1
Weeks 11-161-51202281,59791266.4

The key to stopping the Lions passing game is not in sacking Stafford. The Lions have given up only 18 sacks this season—the second fewest in the NFL. This does not bode well for defensive end Jared Allen. Heading into the game, Allen needs 5.5 sacks to match his average of 15 sacks per season since joining the Vikings in 2008. If he can record 1.5 sacks, it will match his lowest season total as a Viking.

The Vikings defense will need to find a way to keep the Detroit offense from scoring touchdowns. Johnson leads the Lions with 12 touchdown receptions this season. 

What a great matchup it would be if rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who according to Pro-Football-Reference is listed as questionable, is healthy enough to play. In Week 13, Rhodes limited Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall to four receptions for 45 yards and broke up a pass in the end zone.       

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Xavier Rhodes #29 of the Minnesota Vikings tips a pass intended for Brandon Marshall #15 of the Chicago Bears during the first quarter of the game on December 1, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodo
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The contingency plan would be to have cornerback Marcus Sherels match up against Johnson on every play, with safety Harrison Smith helping out. If that's the case, then the Vikings' best defense would be their offense. 

If Johnson doesn't play, then this game hinges on the pass-catching ability of running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Bush and Bell are tied for second with 49 receptions for the Lions. The Vikings will also be able to key on tight end Joseph Fauria, who is second with seven touchdown receptions.     


When the Vikings Have the Ball

With the 32nd-ranked scoring defense, the Vikings should pull out all the stops and turn this into a good, old-fashioned shootout—give the paying customers a fantastic memory to close out the Metrodome.

The Lions have the fourth-ranked rush defense and 27th-ranked passing defense—so open up the offense. Go with a no-huddle approach, with four wide receivers and Adrian Peterson on the field. Take advantage of rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson's ability to line up anywhere on the field and keep the Lions guessing.

Vikings Offense vs. Lions Defense
Total YardsRankRush YardsRankPass YardsRankScoringRank
Detroit Defense346.715th99.84th251.927th24.117th
Minnesota Offense344.213th127.110th217.122nd25.112th
Stat Milk

The Vikings should take advantage of wide receiver Jarius Wright, who leads the team with 16.8 yards per reception and is second with three touchdown receptions—despite being seventh on the team with only 24 catches. 

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 22:  Jarius Wright #17 of the Minnesota Vikings  scores a touchdown during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Two weeks ago when the Vikings faced a poor pass defense, quarterback Matt Cassel passed for 382 yards and two touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles at home in the Metrodome. The Vikings won that game 48-30. 

The matchup against Detroit suggests that Cassel should have a very good game on Sunday. 

Matt Cassel vs. Good and Not-So-Good Defenses
DefensesAvg Rank vs. PassCompAttYdsTDIntRating
CAR, SEA, BAL, CIN6.2671226985661.4
PIT, WAS, CHI, PHI18.5669992052104.8

The Lions are a tough team to figure out. Even though they are 1-4 over the last five games, they have limited opposing quarterbacks to an average of 188.2 yards per game. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Quarterback Matt Cassel #16 of the Minnesota Vikings throws the ball during the NFL International Series game between Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium on September 29, 2013 in London, England.
Michael Steele/Getty Images

By establishing the passing game, perhaps that will open up the running game for Adrian Peterson. After missing the game against the Eagles, and with only 11 carries for 54 yards last week, Peterson has dropped to third in the NFL in rushing with 1,266 yards. He is 21 yards behind Jamaal Charles for the Kansas City Chiefs and 210 yards behind Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for the rushing title.  

While it would be great to see Peterson win the rushing title in the Metrodome's last game, the odds of Peterson out-rushing McCoy by 210 yards is very slim. Still, it might be nice to see the Vikings' franchise leader in rushing yards and touchdowns have a great game.

With nothing on the line for the Lions or Vikings, the only winner in this game can be the Metrodome—it would be great to let it go out on a high note, giving the fans a game they will remember for a long time.

The Lions and Vikings might as well shoot for breaking the record for the most combined points in an NFL game. That mark was set in 1966 when the Washington Redskins edged the New York Giants 72-41 in Washington. The Redskins finished 7-7 that season and the Giants 1-12-1—there's a bit of symmetry with the Lions hoping to finish .500 and the Vikings owning a rare tie.