Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings: Complete Week 6 Preview for Detroit
The Vikings have their own problems.
But while they have caused plenty of grief for their faithful, nobody snatches losses from a gift horse's mouth better than the Lions.
Did that make sense? Because it's exactly how most people came away from last week's loss to the Buffalo Bills.
The Lions still have a share of first place of the NFC North, and getting a second win in the division would keep the pressure on the Green Bay Packers.
Are these Lions in trouble of being labeled elderly and similar? Can they find a way back to winning games they should?
Click through to find out.
Lions' Week 5 Game Recap
Other teams have lost because a kicker missed three field goals. The Lions, however, are the only team to do it with a kicker they specifically picked to replace the first one that lost a game.
Detroit's defense did everything it could to get a win over the Bills. Unfortunately, Alex Henery acted as if the mafia had gotten to him and threatened his life if he won the game.
But there's more blame to pass around. The offensive line did little to slow down Buffalo's quarterback-torturing front seven, and Matthew Stafford was sacked six times.
As a result, Stafford lowered his eyes to the pass rush, missing opportunities to put points on the board. That's peculiar for a quarterback who isn't afraid of a 50-yard pass into double coverage.
The inept offense, despite starting four drives from Detroit's 40 or closer, couldn't help out a defense that only gave up 14 points until Dan Carpenter's 58-yard field goal with six seconds left.
News and Notes
Adios Alex, Mahalo Matt
It was a foregone conclusion that the team was going to cut Alex Henery after he missed three field goals against the Bills. The only question was whom the team would sign.
That question was answered this week. The Lions brought in former All-Pro Matt Prater, who brings his own baggage, as Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press and Prater himself discussed:
Suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse after he tested positive for alcohol this off-season, Prater spent most of the past month away from football "trying just to work on myself as a person" in a 12-step recovery program for alcohol addiction at the Hazelden treatment center in Naples, Fla.
'Just trying to take it a day at a time,' Prater said. 'Sometimes you got to get knocked down and learn the hard way. I'm thankful that I have a second chance here and learn from all the mistakes I've made in the past and will not repeat them.'
I'm not going to make any conjectures about a player's personal life. I will say that Detroit is on the cusp of a steal—and a possible season-changer considering the nature of its losses—if Prater is sincere, because he only missed one field-goal attempt in 2013 and knocked in seven from 50 yards or further.
How Long Is Too Long?
Normally, these types of discussions are limited to the injury report, but this is a special situation.
All-Everything wide receiver Calvin Johnson is dealing with a high ankle sprain, and the conversation has turned from him missing a week to possibly sitting out until after the bye. Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com gives his take here:
At this point, this must be a short-term/long-term decision for the Lions. If they continue to play Johnson in the short term every week, at some point the high ankle sprain he is suffering from won’t heal very well, and that could take him out of games in the second half of the season when his presence could mean the difference between a win and a loss, a playoff berth and watching the postseason from home once again.
I tend to agree with him. Fellow Bleacher Reporter Jeff Risdon dove deep into this topic last Sunday and made the case that the Lions aren't playing world-beating defenses over the next three weeks, so there isn't a better opportunity to give Megatron a rest.
The Lions can lean on their No. 1 defense while still putting up points with Golden Tate as the top option. If they can figure out how to integrate Eric Ebron, it shouldn't be a problem to put up at least the 24 points they did on the road against a decent Jets defense.
Stay current on Johnson's health status here.
Sims Staying Put
Nobody has personified the descent of the Lions' offensive line more than Rob Sims. He was once considered an above-average-to-good guard. That's no longer the case.
But Caldwell isn't going to make a move just yet, as Justin Rogers of Mlive.com explains:
I wouldn't agree with you, in that regard,' Caldwell said. 'Rob does a good job in there for us. No one up front has been perfect, there hasn't been anyone on the field that's been perfect.'
But the blanket statement is underselling Sims' struggles. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed quarterback pressure 16 times, the second most in the NFL. That puts him on pace to allow pressure on 51 plays this season.
To put that in perspective, former Lions guard Stephen Peterman ranked last at the position in 2012 when he allowed the pass rush to influence quarterback Matthew Stafford 46 times.
Rogers goes on to point out the level of competition faced by Sims—and the offensive line as a whole—has faced. And it's true that the Bills and Jets are tied for first in team sacks with 17.
The bigger issue is none of the backups present very intriguing alternatives. Rookie Travis Swanson wasn't impressive this preseason, and Garrett Reynolds is probably on par with what you'll get from Sims.
Still, fans are restless and want to see the coaching staff make a move.
A lot of people were upset that the Lions didn't elevate Kellen Moore over Dan Orlovsky, saying Caldwell was too loyal to his veterans. Now, you have to wonder if his loyalty to Sims might end up resurrecting the backup quarterback debate due to the constant barrage Stafford is forced to endure.
While the Lions have an ankle problem, it's still the slimmest injury report they've had in weeks.
Much like last game, it's likely the offense will be missing a trio of playmakers, although this time it will be Bush, Fauria and Johnson.
Bell and Riddick appear good to go, so Bush's absence won't be a devastating blow. None of his replacements can replicate his explosion, but Detroit's backfield has enough depth to get the job done.
No team wants to play without its star attraction. However, Detroit hasn't had the real Megatron since mid-Week 2, and Golden Tate has emerged as the most underrated signing of the offseason. He's put up the fifth-most receiving yards in the league, including 237 yards after the catch.
The real problem is losing both Johnson and Fauria at the same time. Stafford will be missing two tall red-zone targets that can go up and get the ball when things get hairy.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
DT Ndamukong Suh vs. OG Vlad Ducasse
Suh has been the best player on the best statistical defense. On seemingly every play, he either occupies two blockers or drives whatever poor sap is locked up one-on-one straight into his quarterback.
And he gets backup guard Ducasse on Sunday. Rest assured that the Vikings will have to devote plenty of attention to the free-agent-to-be, leaving room for the rest of the defensive line to operate. Otherwise, Ducasse will be prohibitively overmatched.
DC Teryl Austin vs. QB Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater's problem extends further than who's penetrating his pocket. If he is able to get a clean look, he'll discover a defense that is as creative as it is dominant.
Austin has quickly established himself as an excellent tactician. He's just as likely to run a three-safety look as he is to have Suh stand up on the edge.
If he can shut down Aaron Rodgers and company, he can give a rookie a headache.
And Austin will need to because Bridgewater has a composite passer rating of 92.7 thus far. Austin's troops are up to the challenge, but they can't fall asleep.
TE Eric Ebron vs. S Harrison Smith
Detroit's offense hasn't performed very well since the opening Monday nighter. It ranks 19th in points but has mostly been able to make plays when it absolutely had to, thus the 3-2 record.
This week, that will require Ebron to play a major role with Calvin Johnson on the sideline. He must attack the seams that will be roamed by emerging stud safety Harrison Smith, who is on track to play.
Smith currently ranks as the best safety in the game, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but he isn't invulnerable (two touchdowns against him). The athletic rookie tight end needs to attack his seam aggressively and steal Smith's focus for the rest of the offense to operate.
Lions' X-Factor of the Week: QB Matthew Stafford
I hate to be so obvious with the X-factor, but there's no way around it. Stafford holds the keys to the offense and the victory this week.
Stafford has been incredibly up and down, with a passer rating as high as 125.3 and as low as 61.6. Without Johnson and Bush, he'll have to be smart with the ball, but he can't be overly conservative. There were at least two occasions against the Bills where Stafford didn't look downfield when he had Tate or Ebron wide open for long touchdowns.
For the Lions to win, they need to avoid turnovers while putting up points. That's a tough order. But it's one you would expect a former top overall pick to deliver.
The Vikings' average margin of defeat or victory is 21 points. That's the sign of an erratic team that doesn't have an identity.
Detroit does have an identity, and for the first time in a long time, it's all about defense.
Teddy Bridgewater is an exciting player who will be a vexing issue for the NFC North for years to come. However, the team surrounding him isn't ready to win consistently.
The Detroit defense will put the clamps on the Vikings to give the offense great field position as it did against the Bills. The difference will be that the Bills' top pass-rushing unit isn't lined up across from Matthew Stafford this week.
Head coach Jim Caldwell didn't overreact to the offense's poor performance last week. Instead, he kept the faith that his offensive coordinator and quarterback would find the missed opportunities on film that the media has pounded on all week.
And more importantly, that they won't be missed this week.
Score: Lions 27, Vikings 16
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.
All advanced stats, grades and positional rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.