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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Detroit Lions?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings (2-1) will play their third home game in four weeks as they match up with the Detroit Lions (2-1) at US Bank Stadium on Sunday.

The Vikings are coming off an explosive offensive performance against the Bucs, while the Lions won their first two and played tight with the Atlanta Falcons. How do the Vikings and Lions’ rosters match up? Let’s have a look…

Quarterback

How good is Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford?

Matthew Stafford is off to a solid start with seven touchdowns, one interception and a 100.1 quarterback rating. As the Vikings saw last year, Stafford has a tendency to play his best when the game matters most. He led the NFL in game-winning drives last year and in 2014. Part of Stafford’s resurgence as a top QB can be traced to a switch in offensive philosophy. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Lions averages just 9.8 yards per completion this year as they routinely throw short passes to Golden Tate and running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. But opponents always have to beware of the deep shot as Stafford has one of the league’s top arms.

For the Vikings, Case Keenum went off last week against Tampa Bay, throwing for 369 yards and three touchdowns. It would be a huge surprise if the veteran backup was able to repeat his career-best performance again. But with the right protection up front, Keenum can get the ball into the hands of his playmakers and have success on offense.

Advantage: Lions

Running back

Lions RB tandem offers another tough test for Vikings

Detroit’s duo of Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah are finally healthy at the same time and have been one of the centerpieces of the Lions’ offense. Riddick is second on the team with 13 receptions while Abdullah has added six more catches and 163 yards on the ground. Both backs are quick, shifty and have the ability to break off explosive plays. Individually they are not on par with Dalvin Cook, but together they are very dangerous.

Cook has had a dream start to his rookie season, ranking second in the NFL in Yards with 288. He also had a breakout receiving game against the Bucs, catching five passes for 72 yards. The Vikings’ second-round pick is quickly establishing himself as one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Wide receivers/tight end

Matthew Stafford’s career rejuvenation also has been fueled by the improvement in weapons around him. Golden Tate has 21 receptions in three games while Stafford’s two favorite deep targets Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay have four touchdowns combined. At tight end, Eric Ebron hasn’t become the dynamic receiving threat the Lions once hoped, but he still can present matchup issues with his size and speed.

The Vikings have the No. 2 and No. 3 leading receivers in the NFL heading into Week 4 in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Both players have exceptional all-around skill sets, built around smarts, route running and the ability to bring down 50-50 balls. They are a nightmare for opponents because they work off each other and can’t be guarded 1-on-1. Kyle Rudolph has not yet been a big part of the Vikings’ offense. With the focus on Thielen and Diggs, he may be in for a big day.

Advantage: Vikings

Offensive line

Don’t overlook Riley Reiff’s role in Vikings’ offensive turnaround

If the Lions were at full strength, they would have the more impressive group up front, but with left tackle Taylor Decker out, Detroit has been forced to turn to Greg Robinson, a former top pick of the Rams who has had major struggles in the NFL. Guard TJ Lang has also been dinged up. At right tack, Rick Wagner has lived up to the Lions’ expectations when they signe him this offseason.

For the Vikings, they have protected the quarterback far better this year than at any point last season. Tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers have been the biggest difference makers, as the former Lion has not allowed a sack or QB hit and Remmers has given up just one sack. Rookie center Pat Elflein has stepped into a difficult role and performed well. The only question mark has been Nick Easton at left guard, but the Vikings like his mobility in the run game, even if there are times where he’s beaten 1-on-1.

Advantage: Vikings

Defensive line

Through the first three games, the Lions’ defensive line was more effective than last season, starting with Ziggy Ansah, who has three sacks (beating last year’s total already). But Ansah has been hampered by a knee injury and missed practice this week. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report. One player to watch is former Penn State pass rusher Anthony Zettel, who has played 60% of snaps and has two sacks.

Everson Griffen has been at the top of his game through three weeks, picking up four sacks and causing havoc for opponents’ quarterbacks. Griffen stirred the pot a bit by calling Greg Robinson “lazy,” but it’s a matchup that the Vikings should be thrilled about. On the other side, there’s no reason to panic about Danielle Hunter’s lack of sacks. He’s still pressured the quarterback and is drawing more attention now after a big 2016 season. The Linval Joseph Effect might be mitigated to some extent the by the fact that the Lions have their most successful runs outside, but Joseph has been as good as ever through three games, shutting down opponents’ running games.

Advantage: Vikings

Linebackers

The first two games for Detroit’s first-round draft pick Jerrad Davis were strong, but he suffered a concussion and did not play against the Falcons. He is questionable to play against the Vikings. If Detroit is without their rangy rookie, it could be a big day for Dalvin Cook. Tahir Whitehead, a strong cover linebacker, will be in for a challenge between Cook and Kyle Rudolph.

The Vikings have to be encouraged by the start to the season from Anthony Barr. He struggled last season, but has been solid, especially in pass coverage and when rushing the passer. And Eric Kendricks has slowed down opposing running backs’ ability to play a role in the passing game. Both linebackers will be in for a major challenge considering how often Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah are targeted.

Advantage: Vikings

Defensive backs

It will be a treat for fans to watch Darius Slay and Xavier Rhodes at work. Both have had terrific starts to the season and have emerged as top shutdown corners in the NFL. Rhodes might have a leg up considering he’s slowed down Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans to start the season.

Another injury could play a role in whether Detroit’s secondary is solid or not. Tavon Wilson is questionable for the game, which could mean Miles Killebrew will carry the load.

The Vikings added another layer of depth to their secondary with veteran Tramaine Brock, who mixed in toward the end of last week’s game. It appears Mike Zimmer is going to keep his DBs fresh by rotating them.

Advantage: Vikings

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the Detroit Lions? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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