EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that he expects the Lions to take their chances on aggressive throws when Detroit hosts Minnesota on Sunday.
“Really explosive offensively and very good in play actions, moving, pushing the ball down the field,” Zimmer said to start his media session. “I think [QB Matthew] Stafford is playing outstanding. They’ve got some really good receivers — Marvin Jones, [Jr.], who was with me in Cincinnati, [Kenny] Golladay is making some big plays — and their run game is much improved.”
Jones (6-2, 199) has caused the Vikings plenty of problems in the past three seasons, including Thanksgiving Day in 2017 when he totaled six receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns in Detroit. He also had six receptions in Minnesota last November but was limited to 66 yards and kept out of the end zone. Jones missed the teams’ second meeting of 2018 in December.
Golladay (6-4, 214), a third-round pick in 2017, has played three games against Minnesota, totaling 11 receptions for 165 yards. His six catches on 58 yards in December, however, resulted from 15 targets for a catch percentage of 40 percent and led to his fifth-lowest yards-per-target average in a game (3.87 yards).
Zimmer said former Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, the eighth overall pick of 2019, has added “another dimension” and that Stafford is throwing more contested passes than anyone in the NFL this season.
Stafford’s completion percentage was a combined 66.1 percent from 2015-18, but it has dropped to 61.3. His yards per attempt, however, have gone from 7.3 over those four seasons to 8.0. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft compiled a passer rating of 94.9 from 2015-18 and has totaled a 99.1 through five games in 2019.
Here are four other topics that Zimmer discussed:
1. ‘About time’
The Vikings played their cleanest game of 2019 last week against the Eagles. Minnesota was flagged for season lows of four penalties and 30 yards.
It was a good turnaround from racking up a season-high 12 infractions for 112 yards against the Giants in New York.
“It was about time,” Zimmer said. “We need to keep it that way.”
Zimmer said he’s been hammering messages each week to explain “what we need to do to clean things up.” Zimmer said.
“We still have a long way to go in that area,” he added.
2. Staying out of the fray
Zimmer was asked about Monday night’s Lions-Packers game that Detroit lost 23-22 in Green Bay, during which defensive end Trey Flowers was flagged twice for illegal use of hands to the face.
The NFL admitted this week that the second play shouldn’t have been a penalty but contended that a foul did occur on the first one.
Flowers, a fourth-round pick by New England in 2015 who was playing his 51st regular-season game, had never been flagged for the infraction during his career.
The Packers scored a touchdown three plays after the first flag, then milked the final 90-plus seconds of clock before kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Zimmer cited a league policy in declining to talk about the plays. Asked a follow-up, he said, broadly, “I think the politically correct answer is that, throughout time, coaches have been frustrated when they’ve conceived bad calls against them. I better stop right there.”
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
3. Protecting the rock
The Vikings have fumbled the ball 15 times and lost it on six occasions this season.
The Lions defense has forced 10 fumbles by opponents and recovered eight.
It’s safe to say that the importance of protecting the rock is being recapped this week in meetings.
“Yeah, especially since we put the ball on the ground the last two weeks,” Zimmer said. “We have to make sure we take care of the football and hold on to it. … They’re going to try and strip the football.”
4. Special teams hits stride
After an offseason of experimentation at the specialists positions, the Vikings until has been consistent.
Dan Bailey is 8-for-9 on field goals and 16-for-17 on extra points, quickly forming a rhythm with rookie long snapper Austin Cutting and punter/holder Britton Colquitt.
“Bailey has been doing a good job,” Zimmer said. “I think Britton has been doing a good job, as well. Hopefully we don’t have to use him very much. But that part of the game is so important in football, because field position is an important part of it, making sure that you gain some yards every time that you kick the ball.”
Colquitt has punted 22 times. His gross average is 46.4, and his net is 42.1. He has placed eight punts inside an opponent’s 20-yard line and has a long of 59.