What will it take for the Minnesota Vikings to defeat the Detroit Lions in week 12? Here are the keys to success for the important Thanksgiving matchup.
Short weeks are always tough in the NFL. Not being able to have a lot of time to gameplan for an opponent or practice those techniques can lead to being severely unprepared for the specifics of a tough opponent, much like the Minnesota Vikings will have on Thursday night.
After fans stuff themselves on turkey with all the fixings for Thanksgiving, they can tune in to watch the Vikings take on the Detroit Lions. First place in the NFL North will be at stake in this game, making it very important Minnesota walks out with a win.
However, it won’t be an easy game at all for the Vikings. Minnesota already lost once at home to Detroit already this season, and being on the road after a short week is less than ideal conditions for the matchup between division contenders.
So what will the Vikings need to do in order to get a win on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions? Let’s dive right into the keys to victory starting with the part that should be absolutely obvious to fans by now…
Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (21) catches a pass against the Houston Texans in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
#1. RUN THE FOOTBALL
Every single week, this is a theme in these pieces and each week, the Vikings disappoint. Sure, the team seemed more successful than usual on the ground against the Cardinals last week, but they only ended up gaining 72 yards on the ground while averaging 3 yards per carry.
Sadly, 3 yards per carry is better than the team average, but Minnesota will need to get themselves organized on the offensive line and get that mean streak back in order to not be the at the bottom of the statistical category in the NFL.
It is hard to get excited thinking about the Vikings rushing attack, especially since the team recently released running back Ronnie Hillman and will now focus primarily on Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, who have both been struggling to pick up yards on the ground this season.
There is a chance this could be the week the Vikings get back on track though. Detroit gives up an average of 4.2 yards per carry and Minnesota has been opening up many of the quick passing options, so it is possible…however the Lions have only allowed 4 rushing touchdowns this season, so punching it in might be a challenge.
Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) celebrates his interception during the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Cardinals 30-24. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
#2. Take advantage of opportunities
For the most part, NFL teams rely on their offense to put points on the scoreboard. Whether it is through the air or on the ground, the easiest opportunities to get a touchdown comes with quarterbacks, running backs, and pass catchers.
But the Vikings aren’t your standard NFL team. They have been able to take advantage of several different ways of scoring this season, including big plays on special teams as well as defense.
Cordarrelle Patterson is one of only 5 players to return a kickoff for a score and has the best kick off return yardage per opportunity in the league. Marcus Sherels has scored twice on punt returns, and the only other player to do that this season is Detroit’s Andre Roberts. Their 3 return touchdowns this season put them at the top of the league in that category.
Sprinkle in three defensive touchdowns, and the Vikings have 6 touchdowns in 11 weeks from defense and special teams to help out an offense that tends to struggle at times. They may need that help against a Lions team they couldn’t put away earlier in the year.
Nov 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
#3 Be efficient on offense
Fans love to see big plays in today’s NFL. It is fun to watch the ball sail for what feels like miles in the air before landing in a receiver’s hands or seeing a huge run broken off with missed tackles everywhere.
While the big plays may appear for the Vikings on Thursday, the team shouldn’t be building around them in hopes for offensive success. Instead, the Vikings should look to quick passes and picking up first downs to establish their offense.
This can be achieved by opening up some run plays with screens, slants, curls, and other short passes. With Bradford having little time under center, these kinds of plays help out the offensive line as well.
That doesn’t mean a home run play won’t happen. Considering the elusiveness, speed, and acceleration of many members of the Vikings, these routine plays can become big yardage situations without risking a turnover or wasting a play.
Nov 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick (25) is tackled by Jacksonville Jaguars strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (37) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
#4. Make Detroit run the ball
While the Vikings run game this year has been atrocious, the Lions haven’t exactly been tearing things up on the ground either.
Detroit averages less than 80 yards per game on the ground, and have scored only 4 rushing touchdowns this year. If the Vikings can force the Lions to run the football instead of pass, the team could have a much better chance at shutting down the potent Lions offense.
Matt Stafford not having Calvin Johnson this season has opened up a whole new world for him. He’s been spreading the ball around in a big way and finding success getting into the end zone by forcing single coverage and not allowing defenses to cheat.
This will by far be the most difficult task for the Minnesota defense in week 12, but it should be a top priority with the Vikings coming off a big performance against the Arizona Cardinals in week 11.
Oct 2, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) signals against the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
#5. Get to Matt Stafford
Recently, the Vikings pass rush has struggled to get to quarterbacks. This is a bit of a surprise considering how they opened the season as an absolute wrecking crew, making games miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
Last time they faced off against the Lions, the pass rush struggled in a big way. They were only able to bring Stafford down once and get 4 hits on the quarterback. That will need to change if they hope to disrupt the Lions passing offense.
Sadly, the Lions won’t make it easy on Minnesota. Not only 23 sacks on the season, but they have the ability to dump the ball off to the running back or plan for other quick throws to ensure Stafford has options.
With some solid run defense and a hand in Matthew Stafford’s face all game, this is a game where the Vikings could bring home a win on Thursday night. Of course, the Lions will have a lot to say about that.
Do you agree or disagree with these keys to victory? Have any that you’d like to add to the list? Be sure to discuss them in the comments below. Also, be sure not to miss the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions on Thursday Night Football!