The Vikings did not play Adrian Peterson in either of their first two preseason games. Add to that the fact that Teddy Bridgewater did not play in their second preseason game. Shaun Hill is a very similar style of QB to Bridgewater, relying on accuracy and the ability to read defenses rather than arm strength and moxie, so the style of offense went without change, but without Peterson in the game, this was not the offense of the Minnesota Vikings. Seattle of course brought one of the best defenses in the NFL and a solid time-of-possession style offense, giving the Viking starters a stiff test for as long as they were on the field. In case this is your first of these articles, I am not giving you a play by play review of the game, but a bird’s eye view of where the position groups of the division opponent have looked in preseason, and how the Lions match up with them.
Jerick McKinnon is clearly not a starter in the NFL. He will make a reasonable change of pace back, with packages that get him the ball in space, but up the middle he is nearly as bad as Theo Riddick has been for the Lions. Matt Astasia is very similar to a lot of the Lions’ other backs, not being the quickest guy, but will reliably get 0.5 yards more than the blocking gets him by carrying the guy who tackles him that far on his way down.
The Vikings have a deep but not exactly great receiver corps. Charles Johnson and Stefon Diggs are likely to see the majority of snaps until Laquon Treadwell figures out how to use his body at the NFL level, but those two are a reasonable set of targets in this short passing offense. Cordarrelle Patterson will likely see a few packages, and will definitely be on the field when the Vikings need to go deep as their only speedster. This week the Vikings’ starters, with their back up quarterback, against the best secondary in the NFL, looked predictably unproductive.
Kyle Rudolph and MyCole Pruitt are the locks for the one and two spots, with my personal favorite tight end of the 2016 draft David Morgan III as the likely third blocking specialist. The tight end is all but an afterthought in this offense, with Rudolph likely having Pro Bowl talent, but no opportunity to put up flashy stats. When the wide receivers are all catching short passes, there isn’t a lot of room for a tight end to work. He is a dangerous weapon, but is primarily a blocker for this team.
A lot of offensive lines have looked bad against the Seattle defense, and the Vikings had their moments as well. I am not racist, and will thus not tell you that a mobile Teddy Bridgewater (which is not a thing) will help cover their deficiency, as you may read elsewhere. Running the ball, the Vikings’ offensive line had trouble getting any push in straight up man blocking plays, having a lot more success in traps and outside runs. Some of that is on McKinnon not being willing to explode in to the holes that were there, but most of it was that their line did not match up well.
So How Does the Lions Defense Match Up Against the Vikings Offense?
The entire key to stopping the Vikings revolves around stopping the greatest child abus… I mean running back in Vikings franchise history, Adrian Peterson. The Vikings’ offense just does not have a good enough quarterback or receivers to take advantage of the stacked boxes that Adrian Peterson gives them to work with. If anything that just puts more bodies in the same areas they are trying to throw the ball in to. DeAndre Levy’s health is the key to this match up. If the Lions are able to stay in base defense against Minnesota’s three wide sets with Levy covering the slow footed Treadwell, they can keep a third linebacker on the field, and be more effective against Peterson. This is a tactic the Lions often used in 2014, and tried but failed to use without Levy in 2015 in the opening weeks of the season. I seems really obvious, on a running play I would rather have Kyle Van Noy on the field than Quandre Diggs. I like the Lions’ defense against the Vikings’ offense.
Anthony Barr is a very good player. Chad Greenway is a very good player. Eric Kendricks looked pretty good as a rookie playing something other than his natural fit in the Vikings defense. These guys are going to be very good against screens, with Greenway and Kendricks both being more skilled coverage than run stopping linebackers.
The Vikings have a pretty good secondary going in to the 2015 season. their corner situation improved greatly, with the addition of Terence Newman in 2015. While he’s old he still has the closing speed that has been his trademark as a pro, and he showed it off early against the Seahawks. The Vikings have a pretty solid group of corners, and it runs four deep with Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and Trae Waynes all legitimate NFL players, and second round rookie Mackensie Alexander likely to work his way up that chain as the season runs along.
The Vikings’ defensive line is very dangerous but Seattle was fairly successful in straight up run blocking their starters. That’s not a great sign, as the Seattle line is not very good. The Vikings had to blitz against the run to get players in to the backfield, which is not ideal. their pass rush however looked as good as it should, with SLB Anthony Barr dropping down to the line of scrimmage on pass plays and providing a flamethrower off the edge across from Griffin on numerous occasions.
How Does the Lions Defense Match Up With the Vikings Defense?
The Lions’ offensive line has been having trouble run blocking, and has had trouble protecting the quarterback, and that’s a problem. Early in the preseason it looks like running the ball to set up play action against their aggressive defensive backs and linebackers is the way to beat this Vikings defense. Ameer Abdullah is going to be the key to the Lions’ offense against the Vikings. He is the only running back on the Lions roster that can get to the second level of a defense with poor blocking in front of him. Theo Riddick was less than productive against the Vikings last season, and the duo of Greenway and Kendricks were the reason why. Basically unless the Lions figure out their blocking issues, this is going to be a case of strength vs strength, and weakness vs weakness. the Vikings can be run on, but not with impunity, they need to be overpowered. The Lions’ receivers against the Vikings’ defense looks like an interesting match up, but if Stafford is under duress, as he was continuously last season vs. the Vikings, the Lions’ receivers don’t matter as much. In short, at this point I don’t love way the Lions’ offense matches up against the Vikings’ defense.
Lions vs. Vikings
The Vikings are the best team in the division, and I have trouble picking the Lions to beat them on the road. Both of these games happen in November, making an August prediction completely worthless, but I think that the Lions best hope against this team is a split, with a loss on the road, and a victory at home on thanksgiving.