Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is having one of his best seasons by several statistical measures, including passer rating (99.1), yards per attempt (8.0), air yards per attempt (8.5) and interceptions percentage (1.2).
Add in the fact that Detroit has accumulated a crew of talented pass catchers to put around him, and it's clear that the veteran quarterback is playing with confidence.
"He's very tough, very competitive, has the arm to make all the throws," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said on Thursday. "He's competitive in the pocket, can stay alive to get the ball down field. They're exceptional outside to the receivers, guys are competing up at the top, making big plays for him down the field."
The scheme, devised by former Vikings Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, has fit Stafford well. Stafford's targets are performing well when given opportunities. The confidence generated by this combination has also led to the veteran ranking highly in another passing metric – passing attempts leading to contested catches. Put simply, Stafford hasn't been afraid to throw into tight windows to give his receivers a chance to make a play.
This also gives defensive backs chances to make plays, though. And when given chances to make plays, Vikings defensive backs have been up for the challenge. Two weeks ago against the New York Giants, the Vikings defended 11 passes. Last week against the Eagles, the Vikings got their hands on seven passes. Of those 18 passes defensed, 11 were tallied by defensive backs, including Mackensie Alexander's interception of Carson Wentz last week.
Put it all together, and it's clear that any Vikings defenders in coverage will have their work cut out for them this week. They're facing a confident quarterback, talented pass catchers and an aggressive scheme – it all adds up to lots of opportunities. And the Vikings defense should be up for the challenge.
Two NFC games in four days gives Vikings chance to fortify standing
The Vikings have yet to notch a division win. Their next opportunity comes this Sunday in Detroit. The good news is if they are indeed able to grab their first win in the NFC North this weekend, they will be well on their way to fortifying their place among teams not only in their division but in the entire NFC.
If the Vikings can also take care of business four days later when they host the Washington Redskins on Thursday Night Football, well then the news gets even better.
As it stands heading into Week 7, the Vikings are 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the NFC. Only the Green Bay Packers with four have more NFC victories than the Vikings with three (Atlanta, NY Giants, Philadelphia). In the last decade, NFC wild card teams have averaged 10-11 wins. The 5 seeds have averaged 10.8 wins per season and the 6 seeds 10.0 wins per season.
Should the Vikings win their next two games, both against NFC opponents, they'll be 6-2 overall with five wins in the NFC. Halfway through the season, they'd be in the thick of it in the NFC North and in strong position in the NFC overall.
It is a little early to be surveying the conference landscape and handicapping the wild card race. And it's taboo to look ahead to the next game before you take care of the upcoming opponent. But it doesn't hurt to glance around the landscape and gain a little perspective now that the NFL calendar is well into its second quarter.
Ameer Abdullah was a 2nd-round pick of the Lions in 2015, but on Sunday he'll return to Detroit for the second time as a member of the Vikings. The Vikings claimed Abdullah in November of 2018 and the Nebraska product was active and played 15 special teams snaps in the Week 16 contest between the Vikings and Lions at Ford Field. In that game, Abdullah had two kickoff returns for 52 yards, including a long of 30 yards, and he also had a special teams tackle.
This Sunday, though, Abdullah may have an even greater chance to impact the game on special teams. Abdullah is averaging 16 snaps per game on special teams, plus he's the Vikings primary kickoff returner. The Lions are last in the NFL in touchbacks on kickoffs with just eight on 30 attempts. Their strategy is to force the opposition to return kicks with the goal of tackling the returner inside the 25.
Last week in Green Bay that plan was executed well. The Packers averaged 16.6 yards per kickoff return and their average drive start after a kickoff was their own 21. Expect the Lions to land kickoffs short of the goal line, giving Abdullah an opportunity to return kicks past the 25 and setup the Vikings offense with better-than-average field position.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.
The Vikings have ruled out one starter for Sunday's game – linebacker Ben Gedeon (concussion). But they're expecting to have two starters along the offensive line who missed all or most of last week's game against the Eagles. Both right guard Josh Kline (foot) and left tackle Riley Reiff (ankle) are expected to play, a boost for the offensive line in a game where they'll face a stout defensive front.
The Lions have ruled out defensive tackle Mike Daniels (foot) and cornerback Amani Oruwariye (knee), but signs point to everyone else being able to go for this NFC North showdown.
What do you credit for Dan Bailey's performance in the season compared to training camp? I'm not well versed on the holder but is it possible that's been it?
-- Ryan Anderson
Le Mars, IA
First and foremost, this is who Bailey is. In seven seasons with Dallas, Bailey was an 88.2% field goal kicker and he was 100% on his extra points. In fact, since the extra point was increased to a 33-point kick, Bailey is 143 of 147 (97.3%). With the Vikings, Bailey 78.4% field goal kicker and he's 95.8% on extra points. While both of those numbers are down from his career average, it's important to note he switched teams and he's had turnover at both long snapper and holder. Yes, I do believe the holder (and long snapper) have a profound impact on the kicker's performance. With Austin Cutting holding down the long snapping duties and veteran punter Britton Colquitt as the holder, the operation has settled into a groove and Bailey's accuracy has, unsurprisingly, increased. Again, this is who Bailey is. Consistent, steady, reliable.
"It was about time. We need to keep it that way." – Head Coach Mike Zimmer on his team being penalized a season-low four times last Sunday
The Vikings have been a well-disciplined team under the guidance of head coach Mike Zimmer. Nonetheless, penalties were an issue for the Vikings in the first five games. The Vikings were penalized 111 times in Week 1, an average of seven times in the next three games and then 12 times in Week 5. In Week 6, however, the Vikings cleaned it up and were penalized a season-low four times.
Stat of the Week – 8-6, 51-12
In their two contests against one another last season, the Vikings had eight scoring drives and the Lions had six. Looking at that margin, one would think the Vikings and Lions played in a pair of closely-contested games. But one would be wrong in that assumption. While the number of series resulting in scores was close, the actual scoring margin was not. The Vikings outscored the Lions 51-12 in 2018. The difference was Detroit settled for field goals on all six of their scoring drives while the Vikings found the end zone five times on offense and once on defense.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
National Television: FOX
Play-by-play: Brandon Gaudin
Analyst: Chris Spielman
Sideline: Shannon Spake
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman and Ben Leber
Pre-game show: Mike Mussman – 10:00 a.m. CT