EAGAN, Minn. – Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has played 16 career games against Minnesota. He is 8-8 and has thrown for 3,993 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Half of those games have come against Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who is 3-5 with Minnesota against the Lions quarterback.
Sunday will mark the ninth Zimmer-Stafford matchup, which means Zimmer will have seen Stafford more than any other quarterback in his career with the Vikings. [Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has also played eight games against Zimmer, including one this season.]
Zimmer on Monday met with the Twin Cities media, and gave his assessment of a quarterback he knows well, even likening him to a Vikings legend.
“He’s always dangerous,” Zimmer said. “He’s been great at fourth-quarter comebacks; I think he’s taking care of the ball pretty well this year.
“He’s still got a big arm, can throw it anywhere on the field, and his movement in the pocket is still excellent,” Zimmer added. “He scrambles around and ducks; Fran [Tarkenton] would be happy.”
Stafford has thrown for 1,912 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions for Detroit this season. He has a passer rating of 98.5, which would be the second-highest of his career.
Zimmer was asked if there were any differences he has noticed in the Lions quarterback this season compared to previous meetings.
“I think one of the areas he’s gotten better at is the red zone,” Zimmer said. “He had thrown a lot of turnovers in the red zone in the past. He’s taking good care of the football now.
“As far as arm strength and things like that, where you know notice with quarterbacks is typically their arm strength doesn’t change that much or athletic ability doesn’t change,” Zimmer added. “There was a corner blitz the other day [on film] that he wasn’t looking at, and he ended up throwing the sight to the X-receiver against Miami. So those kinds of things they tend to see more and react to them quicker.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Talent up front
The Lions rank 16th in the league in rushing as they average 109.7 yards per game.
Zimmer credited Detroit’s strong blockers up front for the successful season so far.
The Lions added tight end Luke Willson, who spent the past five seasons with Seattle. Detroit also spent a first-round pick on Frank Ragnow, a Minnesota native who played at Arkansas.
The Lions moved Graham Glasgow from guard to center and also have first-rounder Taylor Decker at left tackle. Guard T.J. Lang and tackle Ricky Wagner man the right side.
“They’ve added the tight end, who’s a good blocker,” Zimmer said. “Ragnow is a guy that’s physical. They moved [Glasgow,] the guard to center from Michigan. Yeah, they do a good job.
“Decker is a good player; they got a couple of first rounders in there,” Zimmer added. “Lang, he looks healthy again. I think that’s part of it, too, the tight end and runners, their commitment.”
2. Stout in the trenches
Along the other side of the ball, the Lions rank 31st against the run as they are giving up 144.6 yards per game.
But Zimmer said he believes Detroit is a better team against the run than the stats indicate.
“The one thing about it is that they’re stout and physical up front,” Zimmer said. “They’re very stout and physical. They’ve given up some runs, but there’s a lot of no-gainers in there, too.
“They’re very physical in there, and we’re going to have to stick with it, going to have to keep pounding and keep fighting, stay on blocks because these guys are big, physical players; linebackers are getting downhill,” Zimmer said. “I’ve seen some teams that have been gashed before, but I don’t see [that in] this.”
The Lions have given up at least 89 rushing yards in each game this season, and have allowed 100-plus yards in five of seven games, with opponents rushing for 169 yards or more in four games so far in 2018.
3. Time to man up
Some defenses try to find success against an opponent with elaborate zone schemes while others play man coverage and trust 1-on-1 matchups.
It’s a safe bet the Vikings will see more of the latter Sunday at home.
“Played a lot of man,” Zimmer said when asked what he has seen from Detroit’s secondary. “They’ve got good players back there – two safeties back there are very good.
“Obviously, [cornerback Darius] Slay is a really good player, but they play a lot of man and try to disrupt you at the line of scrimmage,” Zimmer said.
Slay, who was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection at cornerback in 2017, is one of two Lions with an interception this season. The other is safety Quandre Diggs, who mans the back end with fellow safety Glover Quin.
4. Staying pat
The Vikings didn’t make a move as the NFL’s trade deadline came and went on Tuesday afternoon.
Zimmer was asked how close the Vikings were to making a move.
“I’m not going to discuss it,” Zimmer said.
The Lions and Packers did make trades Tuesday. Detroit shipped wide receiver Golden Tate to Philadelphia while Green Bay traded running back/kick returner Ty Montgomery to Baltimore and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix to Washington.
Zimmer said he wasn’t actively following the trade action on social media.
“I am so into what we are doing I am not worried about what else is going on around the league,” Zimmer said.