EAGAN, Minn. — There's a logjam in the NFL.
After two weeks and one game, 17 teams currently sit at 1-1 on the season (Cleveland defeated Pittsburgh on Thursday to start Week 3), including all four teams in the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions will look to gain an advantage in the early division race when the two teams square off at noon (CT) Sunday on FOX.
The Vikings made a strong first impression with a 23-7 victory against Green Bay in Week 1, but followed up with a dismal outing on Monday Night Football at Philadelphia. The Lions narrowly lost to the Eagles in their season opener before defeating Washington in Week 2.
"Obviously, a huge opportunity for us on a short week. Another divisional rival at home," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "Knowing our first three home games are division games, it helps coming off a performance that we would like to have, obviously, put on a better showing on Monday Night Football, but in a lot of ways the short week is a real plus to be able to get right back to work and coach these guys up.
"We've got a great group in there, and I'm expecting our group to respond in the right kind of way, and [there's] no better place to do it than right back in front of our fans at U.S. Bank Stadium," O'Connell added.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
Offensively, the Lions have averaged 35.5 points per game, tied for second most in the NFL so far this season. O'Connell, who faced Detroit last year when he was the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator, added he knows it's going to be another challenge.
"It's a really good football team coming in. These guys are playing really well and have done some really great things early on this season," O'Connell said. "Having played those guys last year, it was a tough game. [Lions Head Coach] Dan [Campbell] and his staff did a phenomenal job against us last year. You just see the growth of the team. They're going to have a great scheme to take away a lot of the things that we like to do, and that's where we've really got to get all of our guys involved and really play a well-rounded game but stay true to who we want to be offensively."
Here is what Sam Thiel, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com will be watching in Sunday's game:
Can the Offensive Line Tame the Lions Defensive Front? | By Sam Thiel
The Vikings offensive line stood tall in Week 1 against the Packers. On Monday night, Minnesota struggled to contain the defensive pressure of the Eagles front.
Philadelphia blitzed on 20.3 percent of the total snaps against the Vikings after only blitzing 11.5 percent throughout 2021.
"That was a tough front that we played last week," Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips said. "Those guys are a penetrating front, they really get off the ball, they're more of a tackle the run on the way to the quarterback type of front, not a lot of reading going on there. We ended up throwing the ball 46 times, and I thought for the most part those guys held up really well."
This week, the Vikings will face another extremely difficult defensive front with the Lions. Detroit will be anchored by this year's second overall draft pick, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. He registered 3.0 sacks against the Commanders in Week 2.
Phillips added Hutchinson looks as good as advertised so far in his young career.
"He's really a relentless player," Phillips said. "Whether it's run game, pass game, he's rolling off the football, he's [got] all-out effort, and he's got talent on top of it. That usually makes a pretty good player."
The Lions are currently ranked 10th in pressure percentage, according to The Athletic, which also noted Detroit has blitzed 38.1 percent of the time, the fourth-highest mark in the NFL this season.
"We have tools within our protections to recognize looks and get guys to the right people, and some of those are having answers when they [Cover 0] you, when they bring one more than you can block, regardless of how many guys you've got back there," Phillips said. "So those 0s, we obviously saw some last week, and teams are watching the tape, and they're going to see if you get it fixed, so I expect us to be tested at some point in this game."
Balancing the run & pass | By Lindsey Young
The Vikings understand the importance of balancing the run and pass game offensively.
In Week 1, Minnesota recorded 269 passing yards and 126 yards on the ground in its defeat of Green Bay. On Monday Night Football against the Eagles, the Vikings had 202 passing yards and just 62 rushing – with quarterback Kirk Cousins being the team's top rusher.
Phillips this week emphasized a focus on not being one-dimensional.
"I don't know that we put a number on, 'Hey, it's gotta be 50-50,' but I think we're all feeling a lot better when we're rattling off four, five yards or more a carry," Phillips said. "It just puts you in better situations, shorter third-down situations or not facing third down at all, where a lot of teams – like [the Lions] – can get in some exotic-type pressures that really challenge you."
At Philadelphia, Dalvin Cook averaged just 2.8 yards on six carries, finishing the evening with 17 rushing yards. While O'Connell said he wished he would have called more run plays, Cook isn't placing blame on the coaches. He did say that finding a groove early on can be key to a successful run game.
"Getting in a rhythm, making plays early," Cook said. "We left a lot of plays on the field [Monday] that would've helped the play calling. We've got to be better on the field making those plays and just settling the game down. That's just about being hard on each other, holding each other accountable and just going back to work, man. Just digging deep into the details and just getting back to the basics."
The Lions defense limited the Commanders to just 88 yards rushing in Week 2, but in the season opener, Detroit allowed Philadelphia to rack up 216 yards on the ground. There could be ground for the taking.
Guarding "Lil Tron" | By Craig Peters
Not sure if anyone else has thought of a nickname for Amon-Ra St. Brown, but he's venturing into "Lil Tron" status.
Listed at 6-foot, 202 pounds, St. Brown has been putting up numbers similar to the ones "Megatron" Calvin Johnson did in the Pro Football Hall of Famer's first 20 career games, according to NFL Media Research.
St. Brown will be playing his 20th NFL contest on Sunday, and he's already recorded 107 receptions for 1,092 yards and eight touchdowns on 143 targets.
In Johnson's first 20 career games, the 6-foot-5, 237-pounder recorded 71 catches for 1,133 and seven scores on 138 targets.
The Vikings allowed 17 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown on 20 targets in their first two games against the 2021 fourth-round pick.
A week after allowing Jalen Hurts to throw for 333 yards, including 149 combined to receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown, the Vikings will try to limit the impact of St. Brown, and the chemistry that has flourished with Jared Goff since late last season.
St. Brown has done damage to other teams, as well. He's recorded at least eight catches in eight consecutive games, which is tied with Antonio Brown (2014) and Michael Thomas (2019). That tied him for sixth-most such games in a player's first two seasons (Super Bowl era). Justin Jefferson set the record with 11 from 2020-21.
The other streak St. Brown has going is catching at least one touchdown in his past six games. If he gets another Sunday, he'd join Randy Moss as the only players to put together a run like that in seven games before turning 23.
"You can clearly see that Jared's got unbelievable confidence in him to win in a lot of different ways – coverages, match coverage. He finds zones, he understands leverages, he really has all the makings of a truly impactful inside and out receiver, which is what he's done for them," O'Connell said. "He's really strong with the ball in his hands, he affects the run game with his ability to be physical. I've been really impressed watching him this week, and it's not a shock with the type of season he's had so far and, really, going on back into last year with the rhythm they kind of got into late in the year."