Happy Thanksgiving and happy game day. The latest biggest game of the season has arrived for the Vikings, as they're set to take on the Detroit Lions in a majorly significant NFC North collision at Ford Field.
Here are a few final thoughts from the week that was.
On the run…
Don't look now, but the Vikings have the NFL's No. 8 rushing offense (123.8 rushing yards per game). Last week, the running game generated 171 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries and two weeks ago in Washington it generated 102 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. This is important for several factors, with one of them being it makes life easier for quarterback Case Keenum because it lends legitimacy to the play action passing game. Keenum is taking advantage of that. Over the last two weeks, Keenum has dropped back to pass 28 times after using a play action fake, and he's completed 17 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown. That comes out to 8.5 yards per passing attempt, which if extrapolated out for an entire season on all passing attempts would rank No. 1 in the NFL.
A point of emphasis for the Vikings today will be to eliminate two things. On defense, it's explosive plays. The Vikings did a great job of this last week, allowing the Los Angeles Rams to register just two plays of 20 yards, and they also did a nice job of this in Week 4 against the Lions when they allowed just two such plays to them. Detroit scored just 14 points in that matchup and the Rams scored just seven a week ago – not a coincidence. On offense, it's negative plays (negative yardage plays, penalties and turnovers). The Vikings were guilty of only three such plays on offense in Week 4, but they had nine of them last week against the Rams. If the Vikings eliminate these errors on defense and offense, they will greatly increase their chances of winning.
Looking to flip the script
Remember when the Vikings used to never lose to the Lions? From 1998-2009, the Vikings were 21-3 against the Lions. But the current winning streak in this series belongs to the Lions, who've won three straight and five of the last seven matchups. The three-game winning streak has generated a cumulative winning margin of 16 points, which includes a win of the three-point variety on Thanksgiving Day last year when Matt Prater hit a field goal as time expired to win the game. Today, the Vikings can create a clean break from the Lions pocket of success in this series. A win today would give the Vikings a three-game lead over Detroit in the NFC North standings and it would more than likely also give them the tie breaker over Detroit, meaning the Lions would have to make up four games in the final five weeks
Pro Bowl voting
Fan voting for the 2018 Pro Bowl in Orland, Florida is now open. For the first time, a new voting window will run for four weeks, beginning last week and concluding on Thursday, December 14. To vote, click here.
This year's Pro Bowl will be played on January 28, 2018 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Stat of the week
Case Keenum consecutive passing attempts without being sacked: 102
That impressive streak is now the longest in team history, surpassing Fran Tarkenton's streak of 98 passes without taking a sack in 1972. Without question the biggest improvement the Vikings made from 2016 to 2017 was with their offensive line and, specifically, the pass protection. The signings of free agents Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers along with the selection of center Pat Elflein in the draft have paced the change, but credit should also go to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and offensive line coach Tony Sparano for A) making adjustments to the blocking scheme and strategy and B) getting the brand new group of starters to play with such great synergy.
Quote of the week
*"A lot of it is about mentality. (We) Brought in a couple guys with the mentality that we're looking for. Smart guys, tough guys." – Mike Zimmer on the impact Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers have made. *
They say good teams can take on the personality of their head coach, and it's been readily apparent since 2014 that the Vikings defense has done that. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is known for being a no-nonsense, get-down-to-business type of personality who values grit, physicality and toughness. In 2017, though, the Vikings offense has also done this, and the offensive line has taken on this personality as much as any other part of the team. The performance of the offensive line in the running game and in pass protection is perhaps the biggest improvement from 2016 to 2017, and the addition of Reiff and Remmers along with the selection of Pat Elflein in the draft and the ability of Rashod Hill to step in while Remmers recovers from a concussion is why the offensive line has improved as much as it has.
Jamal Agnew – The last Vikings-Lions games have been decided by a total of 16 points, so any advantage one side can gain is material. One area of strength for the Lions is the punt return game, where Agnew is averaging 16.8 yards per return, No. in the NFL by over two yards. He also has two punt return touchdowns. When Agnew is on the field, look out!
Matt Prater – Big leg. Accurate. Clutch. Prater is all of that and more for the Lions. He's been key in the Lions three-game winning streak over the Vikings, hitting a game-tying 58-yard field goal at U.S. Bank Stadium last season and then a 40-yard game-winning field goal at Ford Field several weeks later.
Anthony Zettel – Capable of lining up on either side of the line, the 6-4, 270-pound defensive end gave the Vikings fits in Week 4 with 2.0 sacks. He has 6.0 sacks on the season, plus he's added a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
With Adam Thielen being in the spotlight recently, do you think Stefon Diggs will get to 1,000 yards receiving this year and will he again make a big impact this Thursday against the Detroit Lions?
-- Jerry B.
With six games to play, including this week's game in Detroit, Diggs has 532 receiving yards and would need to average 78.0 yards per game to reach 1,000. Although that pace would represent a significant increase over what he's done through the first 10 games, I would actually bet on him getting to the mark. I expect the 10-day rest after Thursday's game will have Diggs firing on all cylinders for the final five games and I expect he'll step up big-time down the stretch. He may even have a big game this week against the Lions, if history is any indicator. In three games against Detroit, Diggs has 24 receptions on 30 targets for 286 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 catches for 80 yards in a game against Detroit last season and earlier this season at home against the Lions Diggs had five grabs for 98 yards.
How many times in one season does Mike Wobschall have to defend Andrew Sendejo to the fans?
-- Arvind Gavali
Several, and it happens even more in the offseason. Every offseason, fans are looking for someone to start at safety instead of Sendejo. The Vikings do their due diligence and address the position in free agency and the draft, but Sendejo just goes out there and wins the position battle time and again. With all of that said, though, kudos to Anthony Harris, who started for Sendejo last week against the Rams and had a heck of a day with seven tackles, a key forced fumble plus fumble recovery and then a pass breakup late in the 4th quarter. I'd expect the Vikings to add talent to the safety position once again this offseason, but I also like what's already there with Harrison Smith leading the way and guys like Sendejo, Harris and Jayron Kearse filling in behind him.
I traveled from Washington State to see my first Vikings home game against the Rams. I booked the trip months ago and couldn't have gotten to see a better matchup had I tried. It was a playoff atmosphere, and the "House of Pain" was incredibly loud, and absolutely stunning to see in person. Bucket List✔ Skøl Vikings!
I love hearing stories about fans going through so much effort to get to a game and then having a good experience once they arrive. It's almost unanimous – U.S. Bank Stadium offers a first-class, fun experience every time. I hope you make it back soon, Garey, and I hope everyone who wants to see a game in our building has the chance to get there some time.
National Television: FOX
Play-by-play: Joe Buck
Analyst: Troy Aikman
Sideline: Erin Andrews
Play-by-play: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Ross Tucker
Sideline: Hub Arkush
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber