In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It's hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I'm sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Lions preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
With kickoff fast approaching, here are a few final thoughts on today's Vikings-Lions contest.
How to Take in Today's Game Game Time: 3:25 p.m. CT TV:FOXRadio:Vikings Radio Network; KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130Mobile:NFL Mobile (exclusively on Verizon)
Defending Calvin Johnson is not just a Xavier Rhodes jobVikings second-year CB Xavier Rhodes is in the midst of a breakout season. He leads the Vikings and is tied for third in the NFL with 17 pass breakups (PBUs) and is coming off consecutive games with three of them. Rhodes' play this season has garnered national attention, and that combined with the Vikings matchup with Lions WR Calvin Johnson this weekend has put a lot of attention on the Rhodes vs. Johnson matchup.
While Rhodes is likely to play a significant role in the Vikings attempt to slow down Johnson, it won't be solely his responsibility. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer gave no indication he would ask Rhodes to shadow Johnson and he actually said multiple times over the week that about the best thing a team can do is put as many defenders as possible on the 6-5, 236-pound pass catcher.
So yes, today's matchup against Johnson provides as good a test as possible on Rhodes' progress in his second season, but it's also important to note the success or lack of it today against Johnson does not all fall on Rhodes' shoulders, either.
Too much focus on Megatron creates Golden opportunitiesAn argument can be made that Johnson is the NFL's best wide receiver. Keeping him relatively in check is the primary goal for any defense preparing to play the Lions. Put too much emphasis on that objective, though, and another talented receiver in the Lions arsenal will jump up and get you.
The praise heaped on Golden Tate this week by Zimmer, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Rhodes is not just lip service. Detroit signed Tate this past offseason, and it may be one of the best free agent signings any team made last spring. Johnson has solid numbers this season but missed three games in October. Tate has been healthy all season and has been QB Matthew Stafford's top target with 84 catches for 1,186 yards on 121 targets – all better than Johnson's stats and all team-highs. Tate was a big reason the Lions were able to go 3-0 in Johnson's absence.
Tate has been good for Detroit, whether Johnson's been in the lineup or not. While playing with Johnson, Tate averages six receptions and 83.7 yards per game. In the three games Johnson missed, Tate averaged eight catches and 116.3 yards per contest.
Johnson did not play in the first Vikings-Lions matchup of the season and the Vikings did a nice job of keeping Tate in check. Today, though, the Vikings must worry about Johnson and Tate at the same time.
Today's Vikings advantage? Pass RushMegatron is a matchup nightmare for every team. Reggie Bush (questionable – ankle) has a habit of finding the end zone against the Vikings. The Lions defensive line will be a bear for a banged up Vikings offensive line.
But the Vikings have personnel matchups in this contest, too, perhaps nowhere greater than with their pass rush versus the Lions pass protection.
The Vikings are tied for third in the NFL with 38 sacks, and the defensive line has accounted for 29.0 (76.3%) of them. Six times this season the Vikings have collected at least four sacks in a game, and they've collected five or six in four different games. The Lions, meanwhile, have allowed 39 sacks this season, which is tied for eighth-most in the NFL, and they have surrendered four-plus sacks five times, including four sacks to the Vikings earlier in the season.
For the Vikings to march into Ford Field today and upset the Lions, their pass rush must play a major role. Even before that, though, the Vikings must be stout against the run, another task charged to the defensive line. If the Vikings can be sound on early downs against the run, it will put their pass rush in position to succeed on late downs against the pass, and that is the biggest edge the Vikings have in today's game.