Final Thoughts

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Final Thoughts: Vikings vs. Lions

Posted Sep 29, 2017

Finish!!

That’s the battle cry of many football teams as they prepare all week for a game and then enter the final moments of that game. Finishing well is important, no doubt. The Vikings opponent this week – the Detroit Lions – were living proof in 2016, as they set a NFL record for comeback wins in the 4th quarter with eight; two of them came against the Vikings.

The Lions have been up to their old tricks this season, too, falling down early to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 and then even trailing entering the 4th quarter before pulling out another 4th-quarter comeback win.

So, yes, finishing well is important for the Vikings on Sunday.

Just as important, though, and perhaps more important, is starting well against the Lions. While the Lions and quarterback Matthew Stafford obviously were clutch in the 4th quarter last season, they were even better in the first half. Check out these 2016 numbers as evidence:

1st Half
203 completions, 65.3% completion rate, 2,188 yards, 13-3 TD-INT ratio, 12 sacks, 95.7 passer rating

2nd Half (+ OT):
185 completions, 65.3% completion rate, 2,139 yards, 11-7 TD-INT ratio, 25 sacks, 90.7 passer rating

Both splits are impressive. That’s why Stafford is considered one of the best passers in the game and it’s why the Lions made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. But the point is it’s not just about finishing well against Stafford. If you don’t start well and play well against him throughout the game, he will find a way to beat you.

Let’s get to a few more final thoughts from the week that was.

Key stretch coming up for Vikings

There are only 16 games in the regular season schedule and it typically takes 10 or 11 wins to qualify for the playoffs, so there really are no games that don’t have profound meaning. But it’s hard to deny the three-game stretch coming up for the Vikings isn’t particularly important. In a 14-day span beginning Sunday, the Vikings will play all three of their division opponents and they will have completed half of their home regular season schedule. The Vikings standing following the Packers game on October 15 isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all, but it sets their course for the final 10 games of the season, six of which are on the road and seven of which are against fellow NFC teams.

Punting can be a positive play

Obviously, finishing drives with scores is optimal. But this is the NFL, and it’s unreasonable to expect that kind of efficiency. So on the drives that end in a punt, it’s important to execute well in order to help win the field position game. So far in 2017, the Vikings done this. The Vikings punt coverage unit has held opponents to -1 punt return yard, tied with the 1972 Dallas Cowboys for the third-best mark in the NFL through three weeks to stat a season since 1970. And punter Ryan Quigley and Co. are only heating up. Over the last seven punts, opponents’ average starting field position is their own 19 and this is how those drives have ended: INT, INT, punt, FG, punt, punt, punt. Half of Mike Zimmer’s games against division opponents have been one-score games, which means any advantage you can leverage will make a difference.

Stafford the scrambler

You don’t think of Matthew Stafford as a mobile or running quarterback. That isn’t his identity, but it’s something he can do effectively. He’s averaging 8.0 yards per rushing attempt, which means when he runs it’s not just to avoid sacks and cower to the ground once in the clear. Stafford is able to avoid rushers and buy his receivers time to get open – then throw accurately on the run. And he’s able to tuck the ball and take off to gain yardage with his legs, which can be back-breaking to a defense, especially on 3rd down. The Vikings must be cognizant of Stafford’s ability to move.

Stat of the week: The Vikings offense has produced 19 plays of 20+ yards in 2017

The main reason this is impressive? The Vikings had six plays of 20+ yards through three games last season. As this rate, the Vikings are on pace for 101 plays of 20+ yards when last season they finished with 58 such plays. What a difference a year makes.

Three threats

Glover Quinn – He’s not often talked about in the same breath as Landon Collins, Harrison Smith and Earl Thomas. But he should be. Did you see his interception against Matt Ryan last week? It was a thing of beauty and a play not many safeties in the NFL have the guts to make.

Darius Slay – Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had gone 300-some attempts without an interception heading into last week’s game in Detroit. Then the Lions intercepted him three times, with two of them by Slay. Also, it was Slay who intercepted Sam Bradford late in the 4th quarter on Thanksgiving last year, which set up Matt Prater for the game-winning field goal.

Golden Tate – The Lions have a handful of quality offensive targets, including a pair of running backs – Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick – who are dual threats plus a quality tight end (Eric Ebron), but the best of the bunch is Tate. He leads the Lions in targets (12), receptions (9) and receiving yards (91) on 3rd downs, so the Vikings must be particularly weary of him on football’s “money down.”

Your mail

I noticed we have a challenge dealing with a great pass rush like the Steelers and Eagles. In your opinion, what strategies should we be using to have an answer to a great defensive line?

-- Arvind Gavali

Chesterfield, MO

The simplest, yet most effective, way to combat a great defensive line is to play great along the offensive line. The Vikings have done that in both of their home games this season and it’s fair to expect them to do the same in this home game. Aside from that, though, a couple of things that can help neutralize a fierce pass rush are an effective running game and the use of screens, draws and the short passing game. It’s fair to expect some of all of that from the Vikings on Sunday, with an emphasis on the running game.

I just glanced at NFL.com and saw that both Vikings QBs are top 10 in passer rating. We also have Diggs and Thielen at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in receiving yards. Dalvin Cook is No. 2 overall in rushing yards. Hats off to the offensive line and Pat Shurmur! #SKOL

-- Jason W.

Wisconsin

Exactly. Give credit to Bradford, Keenum, Diggs, Thielen and Cook for their production. But don’t forget to credit the blockers and the play callers. After all, no one has any problem throwing blame at the offensive line or the play caller when things go south, so it’s only fair that they receive their fair share of credit when success is achieved.

Laquon Treadwell had one catch all day last Sunday and rarely looked open. I keep hoping our first-round pick from 2016 will emerge but I am losing confidence in him. Michael Floyd will take over that No. 3 WR spot in a couple of weeks if Treadwell doesn’t start getting open. Your thoughts?

-- Chris Zepponi

Bay Area

Treadwell is doing a good job of getting open. In watching back the Vikings games through the first three weeks, Treadwell has done a nice job of two things – getting open and run blocking. Unfortunately for him from an individual statistical standpoint, Diggs and Thielen are also open all the time and they are the primary targets. But Treadwell needs to keep doing what he’s doing because I can guarantee you that over a 16-game season, his number will be called upon, even with Michael Floyd returning to action as early as next week.

Broadcast Info

National Television: FOX (Ch. 9 Twin Cities)

Play-by-play: Thom Brennaman

Analyst: Chris Spielman

Sideline: Peter Schrager

Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130

Play-by-play: Paul Allen

Analyst: Pete Bercich

Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber