Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: Dave Birkett’s scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1)

The coaches: Lions — Dan Campbell (9-21-1 overall, 4-14-1 with Lions); Vikings — Kevin O’Connell (1-1 overall, 1-1 with Vikings).

Last game: Lions beat Washington Commanders, 36-27. Vikings lost to Philadelphia Eagles, 24-7.

Last meeting: Dec. 5, 2021: Lions won, 29-27.

Key matchups

Lions CB Amani Oruwariye vs. Vikings WR Justin Jefferson: Oruwariye is expected back Sunday after missing last week’s win with back stiffness, and he could draw the tough assignment on Jefferson, arguably the league’s best receiver. The Lions used Oruwariye as a shadow for A.J. Brown most of the opener with mixed results. Brown caught 10 passes for 155 yards in that game, though only two of his receptions (for 69 yards) came against Oruwariye, according to Pro Football Reference. Jefferson has more receiving yards than anyone since he entered the NFL in 2020, but he’s coming off one of the worst games of his career. Look for the Vikings to try and get Jefferson involved early Sunday.

Vikings DE Danielle Hunter vs. Lions RT Penei Sewell: The Lions have gotten steady play from their offensive line in the face of serious injury problems in part because of the dependability of their tackles. Both Sewell and Taylor Decker have played well this season, and the pair will have its hands full with the Vikings’ pass rush Sunday. Hunter played just seven games in 2020-21 because of neck and pectoral injuries, but he is one of the NFL’s best edge defenders when healthy. He has one sack on the season and has benefitted from having ex-Green Bay Packers linebacker Za’Darius Smith as his book end. The Lions have tried working the short passing game early the first two weeks to try to give quarterback Jared Goff a clean pocket. If he’s under duress Sunday, it won’t be good for their chances to win.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Vikings run defense

The Lions have been a force running the football the past two weeks. They rank third in the NFL in rushing at 186 yards per game, lead the league with three 50-plus-yard runs and have one of the league’s most dynamic backs in D’Andre Swift, who has excelled despite playing the past six quarters with an ankle injury.

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Swift had just five carries last week coming off a career-high 144-yard rushing day, but still finished with 87 scrimmage yards and a key touchdown. If he is similarly limited Sunday, the Lions will use more of Jamaal Williams and Craig Reynolds in the backfield. Williams leads the Lions with two rushing touchdowns, but is averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry.

The Vikings rank in the bottom third of the NFL against the run, but their struggles were exaggerated playing against a mobile quarterback Jalen Hurts (57 yards, 2 TDs) last week. Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips give Minnesota a solid run-stopping tandem in the middle of its defensive line, while the Lions will be playing backups at both guard spots for the second straight week. Edge: Lions

Lions pass offense vs. Vikings pass defense

The Lions have the league’s second-highest scoring offense through two weeks, but coordinator Ben Johnson said Thursday the passing game “needs to catch up where our running game’s at so that we have a good complement to it.”

Jared Goff has done a good job taking care of the football. He has six touchdowns and one interception through two games, but he’s struggled to find a rhythm with DJ Chark and T.J. Hockenson. Both Chark and Hockenson have some uncharacteristic drops as the Lions have leaned heavily on Amon-Ra St. Brown early in the season. St. Brown can set a new NFL record for consecutive games with eight catches if he tops that mark for the ninth straight game Sunday.

Hurts completed 84% of his passes last week (26 of 31) against Minnesota’s mediocre secondary, and the Packers had deep-ball opportunities they could not capitalize on Week 1 so there should be opportunities for big plays. The Vikings play a lot of Cover 2 defense under new coordinator Ed Donatell and they rotate their personnel along the defensive line in an effort to create mismatches. Hunter and Smith give Minnesota a formidable pass rush, but the Vikings will be without safety Harrison Smith in the secondary. Edge: Lions

Vikings run offense vs. Lions run defense

Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said he believes Minnesota’s gameplan will be to feed Dalvin Cook the ball this week to “try to get him going.” Cook is off to a slow start with 107 yards rushing through two weeks, including a six-carry, 17-yard day against the Eagles.

Cook is one of best, most dangerous running backs in the NFL. He’s got great vision and deadly jump cut, and Wash said the Lions must stay disciplined with their gap accountability longer than normal to prevent the cut back.

The Lions, like the Vikings, struggled to defend Hurts but have been solid against the traditional running game this season. Isaiah Buggs and Alim McNeill don’t have many counting stats to show for their strong play in the middle of the defensive line, but they’ve helped Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez have productive games at linebacker. Edge: Vikings

Vikings pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

The Vikings have a balanced offensive attack with Cook spearheading the running game and the NFC North’s best tandem of receivers, Jefferson and Adam Thielen, catching passes from Kirk Cousins.

In his 11th NFL season, Cousins remains a bit of a mixed bag as a passer. His completion percentage has gone done every season since 2018 and he falls into serious turnover ruts, but he and Jefferson have dynamite big-play capability. Jefferson is one of the best around at getting off the line of scrimmage, while Thielen remains a capable weapon in the slot.

The Lions got their pass rush going with five sacks last week, three of them by rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. The No. 2 pick is expected to play Sunday through a thigh bruise, but the Lions will be down one of their top sub-package rushers, John Cominsky. One of Oruwariye or Jeff Okudah should draw the primary assignment on Jefferson, and if the pass rush does not get home it could be a long day for the secondary. Edge: Vikings

Special teams

The Lions have had one of the league’s best special teams units since Campbell took over as coach. Jack Fox is ultra reliable as a punter, Kalif Raymond showed last week he can be a weapon in the return game, and the Lions typically win the field position battle because of their kick coverage. Austin Seibert is 2-for-2 on field goals this season with makes of 35 and 48 yards, and Charles Harris blocked an extra point last week. Campbell has resorted to trickeration on special teams against some of the best teams he’s played the past two years, so it will be interesting to see what he has up his sleeve Sunday.

The Vikings have the No. 2 kick return unit in the NFL led by the dangerous Kene Nwangwu, who had two kick return touchdowns last season. Rookie punter Ryan Wright is off to a good start, netting 45.2 yards per punt on 10 kicks, and Patrick Peterson had his fourth career blocked field goal last week. The kicking game has been problematic for the Vikings in the past. Greg Joseph missed four extra points last season, but he did make a career-long 56-yard field goal in Week 1. Edge: Vikings

Prediction

The Lions and Vikings played two games decided by a total of four points last season and they are evenly matched enough to think another close game is in the works Sunday. The Lions will need a big day from their rushing attack to keep Minnesota’s pass rush at bay. That won’t be easy with Swift’s injury and given the state of the interior offensive line, but Johnson has shown enough creativity in two games as coordinator that points should not be an issue.

The bigger challenge for the Lions is stopping Jefferson and Cook, and doing so in their first road game of the season against a team reeling after a big loss to the Eagles. If this game were at Ford Field the outcome might be different, but even on a short week, the Vikings seem to have more of a sense of desperation to them. Pick: Vikings 27, Lions 23.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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