Heading Sunday’s Week 14 game, here are three key matchups for the Detroit Lions against the Minnesota Vikings.
As if more proof was needed that the Detroit Lions have been playing their best football of late, they head into Sunday’s matchup with the Vikings as -2.5 point favorites (as of Tuesday afternoon). It’s not often (if ever) you see a 5-7 team favored over a 10-2 team, but here we are.
Regardless of where the line falls by Sunday, this should be a close game. In all three meetings between these two teams since Dan Campbell became Lions coach, the winning team has won by four points or less. Divisional games are always close for the most part, but the Lions and Vikings take that to a different level.
In Week 3 Detroit was undone by self-inflicted wounds. How can they flip the script this time around in a pivotal matchup in Week 14?
Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings 3 key matchups for Week 14
Matchup 1: Lions CB Jeff Okudah vs. Vikings WR Justin Jefferson
Back in Week 3, the Detroit defense put on an absolute clinic shutting down Justin Jefferson. The Vikings’ star wideout was held to just three catches for 14 yards. While Okudah certainly didn’t accomplish that on his own, he was a major factor. On Sunday he will be tasked with doing the same thing, which may be even more difficult the second time around.
Jefferson currently sits second in the league in receiving yards, trailing only Tyreek Hill. His six receiving touchdowns are also top-10 in the league. The Vikings’ offense is at its best when it runs through Jefferson.
Much like in Week 3, Detroit will need to stop Jefferson to have the best chance at stopping the Vikings. They already have the blueprint they utilized effectively. With some fine-tuning to prepare for the Vikings’ adjustments, the Lions could be able to slow Jefferson down enough to win.
Matchup 2: Lions LB Malcolm Rodriguez vs. Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson
It’s rather ironic that Detroit’s hot streak started the week after trading Hockenson away. Now he gets an opportunity at a revenge game against the Lions.
Hockenson has had at least four receptions in every game he has played for the Vikings, but he’s on a downward trend. In Week 9 he hauled in nine catches for 70 yards, in Week 10 he hauled in seven passes, that number dropped to five in Weeks 11 and 12, before catching four in Week 13. However, you can expect Minnesota to give him a few extra targets as he faces his old squad.
Detroit’s defense defends tight ends with a lot of different players, so highlighting one is rather difficult. In recent weeks Rodriguez has drawn tight end matchups more frequently. He has a severe size disadvantage against Hockenson, and it’s been established that Hockenson can use his physicality to get open against linebackers. It’s going to be interesting to see how Detroit’s group stacks up with a threat they are so familiar with.
Matchup 3: Lions WR DJ Chark vs. Vikings CB Patrick Peterson
Last week, against his former team, Chark was finally able to have a breakout game as a Lion. After weeks of being sidelined due to injury, he was able to deliver a component this offense had been lacking–a true deep threat. Chark provided a legitimate X receiver to Jared Goff, which translated to contested catches attacking different levels of the secondary.
For the Vikings, Patrick Peterson continues to be a good player at an advanced age. He has the size and speed to match up well with Chark on the outside and he has snagged three interceptions this year. Goff has played turnover-free football for a few weeks in a row, but he still throws dangerous passes frequently enough to cause some level of concern.
The one constant in the Lions’ offense is Amon-Ra St. Brown, and that won’t change. However, having another threat for Goff to throw to remains vital. In Week 13 Chark stepped up in a significant way, it’s time to see if that was a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come.