1. Exploit a weak secondary.
Minnesota’s pass defense is…not great. They give up massive amounts of yardage – they allow the most YPA in the NFL. However, they manage several flashy plays each game – they’re tied for fourth-most interceptions and each of their edge rushers has seven or more sacks. Cameron Dantzler is planned to come back this week from injury, but even with him back, this is still a subpar unit – one of the few weaknesses Minnesota has. Let’s contrast that with Detroit’s receivers – a newly healthy group that just did whatever they wanted to Jacksonville. DJ Chark is breaking out, Jameson Williams and Josh Reynolds are finally healthy, and Amon-Ra St. Brown is…himself. This is the biggest advantage the Lions have, and they shouldn’t be afraid to press it. OC Ben Johnson should find a way to use Chark and Williams to stretch the field. The further out Detroit can draw the secondary, the easier it will be to get the ball into the hands of St. Brown or D’Andre Swift.
2. Hit the patchwork offensive line hard.
In my 3 Keys for Week 3, I talked about how Kirk Cousins is, historically, quite bad against the blitz. The Lions knew this, and sent a few after him. Trouble is, Cousins was ready for it, and every time they sent one, he’d find a receiver for a massive gain. Cousins is still bad against a blitz he doesn’t know is coming – they just knew when Detroit would send them. So what is there to do? While the blitz may not be as effective as previously thought, the Lions still have a few versatile defenders who are capable of bringing pressure. James Houston is breaking out, while Aidan Hutchinson and John Cominsky are plenty dangerous in their own right. With Christian Darrisaw potentially out, the Minnesota offensive line is weaker than usual. Exploit that.
3. Find ways to bracket Justin Jefferson, but don’t give the farm away.
Last time these two teams played, the Lions almost shut Justin Jefferson out of the boxscore. That is a massive accomplishment in itself, however, the Vikings knew how to adapt. Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn had fantastic days back in Week Three. It’s important to know that Kevin O’Connell and Co. will see this tactic coming again, so Aaron Glenn has got to get creative. Jeff Okudah will once again be stuck to Jefferson, and it’s important to lock him down as best as possible without overly relying on pulling a safety off assignment to help.
This is it. This is the game where we see how much this Lions team has grown. I’m currently oscillating between optimism and realism. Last time, the Vikings won off the backs of a Lions coaching error. Provided that doesn’t happen again, I think this is a nail-biter that could go either way, I’m leaning into my optimism. Lions win 33-31.