Five things to watch: Lions at Vikings

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

What a difference a week makes.

Before last week’s matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, the Lions were in position to turn their season around and potentially throw their hats in the ring to contend in the NFC North division race.

Following a lopsided loss, they’re at 3-4 and looking to get a win over the Minnesota Vikings, likely just to keep their hats in the playoff race at the midway point of the season. Another loss would drop them to 3-5 with little time to turn things around before a daunting final few games to their schedule.

It’s go time now — or likely not at all.

The Vikings enter at 2-5 and after an offensive explosion in an eye-opening victory over the Green Bay Packers last week, they’re poised to carry the momentum and surpass the Lions, who have lost to both the Packers and Chicago Bears already this season. Another loss to a divisional foe wouldn’t be a good look at all.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been very mediocre this season and the Lions defense, which showed some improvement in the previous few weeks, needs to show up big to offset the injury issues with the offense, which will be without its top weapon.

The Vikings have won five straight in the head-to-head series, so getting back on the winning track is doubly important.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions face the Vikings on Sunday (1:00 p.m., CBS/760):

1. Ready to go, almost: Quarterback Matthew Stafford missed the week of practice, giving way to backup Chase Daniel to take all the first-team reps. The Lions, though, activated Stafford from the COVID/Reserve list on Saturday and he will need another negative test before he’s allowed to play Sunday. Despite not practicing, Stafford should be able to adjust and be ready for the game plan, as he was able to participate in team meetings virtually.

2. Trying to get Cook-ing: Vikings running back Dalvin Cook will be the focal point for the Lions defense to try to short-circuit their ground game. He had a breakout game last week against the Packers and although the Lions had been making strides, they showed some weaknesses in the short-pass game against Colts last week. If the Vikings can control the ball and the clock, the Lions will be pressed to try to change the tempo and get their defense off the field. Cook isn’t the same type of pass-catcher out of the backfield as the Colts’ Nyheim Hines, but he has shown that he can run effectively.

3. Passing fancy: With Stafford back in the fold, the Lions can breathe a little easier, but they’ll be without top receiver Kenny Golladay. That’ll likely put more focus on Marvin Jones and tight end T.J. Hockenson, but teams have been able to contain those two when Golladay has missed time this season. The Vikings cornerbacks aren’t as formidable, but their safeties make up for the lack of experience.

4. Back to Minny: Everson Griffen and Adrian Peterson are making their returns to Minnesota, where they had played a chunk of their careers. Griffin was acquired in a trade and will make his Lions debut and Peterson is the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher. Griffen took offense to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer calling him “good” instead of “great” this week. Whatever motivation either Peterson or Griffin needs is fine, but getting it done on the field instead of in the lead-up week is critical.

5. Taking precaution: It’s been a tough week for the Lions and suspected COVID cases, as Stafford and linebacker Jarrad Davis, along with safety Jalen Elliott, who is on the practice squad, were placed on the COVID list. The Lions also were subjected to the NFL’s intensive COVID protocols to try to reduce further exposure to COVID by restricting in-person contacts. It’s worth watching to see whether there are additional cases reported or other players placed on the reserve list or whether the Lions have the situation under control.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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