A pair of division rivals who are both coming off losses last week will meet at TCF Bank Stadium this Sunday, as the Vikings will host the Detroit Lions for the first of their two scheduled meetings in 2014. Sunday's game marks the second consecutive division game for the Vikings and it also marks the first time the Lions have played at TCF Bank Stadium.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Lions prepare to battle.
1. All Eyes on Four AnklesIt's Week 6 of the NFL season, and with both the Vikings and Lions having played a full schedule of five games to this point, injuries are beginning to mount. As Sunday's game approaches, all eyes will be on the ankle injuries suffered by Detroit's Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson and the Vikings Teddy Bridgewater and Harrison Smith. Johnson has been dealing with the injury for a couple weeks and aggravated it in the 3rd quarter of last week's loss to Buffalo, while Bush injured his ankle in the Buffalo game but is optimistic about playing Sunday. Bridgewater missed last Thursday's game in Green Bay with the ankle injury but is working his way back and could start on Sunday, while Smith injured his ankle in the Green Bay game. He was able to finish the game but his status for this Sunday's game against Detroit is unknown.
2. Teddy Time, Take 2While the Vikings have yet to release an injury report this week and things are far from official, all indications are that Bridgewater will return to the field this Sunday and make his second career start. Asked on Thursday night following the loss to Green Bay about the quarterback situation, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said: "Bridgewater's gonna go." When asked a follow up question about Bridgewater playing against Detroit, Zimmer reiterated: "I anticipate that, yes." Then on Tuesday following the week's first practice, Zimmer was asked about Bridgewater once again, saying "He's fine. Yeah, he's alright." Bridgewater's return is good news because the Vikings offense totaled 558 yards in his first start, including 317 passing yards and a 13-yard rushing touchdown by the rookie passer.
3. Vikings Pass Rush Looks to get Loose vs. LionsThe Vikings defense ranks 15th in sacks with 10 through five games, but that ranking is inflated by a five-sack output in Week 1 against the Rams. Of more consequence, perhaps, is that the Vikings tallied just one sack in three straight games (Weeks 2-4). This is surprising coming from a rebuilt defensive line that looked dominant during the preseason and got off to such a great start against the Rams. The good news is the pass rush has a great opportunity to get back on track this week because the Lions have allowed more sacks (17) this season than every team except Jacksonville (21), and that includes the six sacks they allowed just last week to Buffalo.
4. Dangerous DT Tandem Poses Challenge for Vikings OLAfter thoroughly dominating the Atlanta Falcons defensive front two weeks ago, the Vikings offensive line took a step back last week in Green Bay and struggled to gain a rhythm. The veteran group looks to bounce back this week at home and with Bridgewater under center. To do so, though, the interior of the line must overcome a significant challenge in the form of a formidable defensive tackle tandem – Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. Both were first-rounders, Fairley the No. 13 pick in 2011 and Suh the No. 2 pick in 2010, and both are disruptive forces who line up primarily inside. This tandem is equally disruptive versus the pass and the run, plus Suh plays approximately 80% of the defensive snaps in a game and Fairley hovers right around 55%.
5. Furious Field Position Battle Will UnfoldThe Vikings were not able to win the field position battle last week in Green Bay and they will have a serious fight on their hands in trying to turn that around this week. While K Blair Walsh is blasting touchbacks nearly automatically and Jeff Locke and Co. are allowing just 8.1 yards per punt return, the Lions are every bit as impressive in their kicking game. P Sam Martin handles kickoffs and is 17 of 21 (81%) on touchbacks this year, including six of seven outdoors, and the Lions rank fourth in net punting plus have nine punts inside the 20 and just two touchbacks. Another aspect to watch is the Lions place kicking, which has been a weakness this season. Detroit signed Matt Prater this week after going through two kickers already this season.