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Vikings Know Lions QB Stafford Playing at High Level

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Matthew Stafford is a former No. 1 overall pick and is regarded as one of the league's most talented quarterbacks.

With the Detroit quarterback set to square off with the Vikings on Sunday, those within Minnesota's organization believe Stafford might be playing the best football of his eight-year career.

"Stafford is playing great," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "Not only throwing the ball well and getting it to his guys, but feeling the pocket, buying some extra time and making throws on the run that are really hard to make."

Through eight games, Stafford has completed 191 of 282 passes (67.7 percent) for 2,154 yards with 16 touchdowns. Stafford, who has thrown double-digit interceptions in five straight seasons, has just four picks in 2016 as the Lions are 4-4.

And he's done it all without Calvin Johnson, Detroit's superstar wide receiver who retired this offseason.

Stafford has spread the ball well in 2016 around as three players — wide receivers Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin and running back Theo Riddick — each have four receiving touchdowns.

"We've just been doing a good job of spreading the ball around," Stafford said. "Guys are getting open and making plays. We're by no means perfect or where we want to be.

"We've got a lot of work to do and some improvements to make," he added.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Stafford's mobility has been a plus for the 28-year-old quarterback.

"The things I see from him now, he seems to be moving more in the pocket," Zimmer said. "I don't know if that's based on the wide receivers that he's had or not.

"He's been more efficient with the football," he added.

Stafford has put up impressive stats in 12 career games against the Vikings, throwing for 3,083 yards with 18 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

Minnesota has come out on top more often than not, going 7-5 against Stafford, including a pair of wins last season in which the Vikings sacked Stafford a combined eight times.

McKinnon hopeful for Sunday's game

Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon is optimistic for Sunday's game against the Lions.

McKinnon, who leads the Vikings with 68 carries for 217 yards, missed Monday's night loss in Chicago with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable.

"Things have been progressing," McKinnon said. "I felt good running on it, but I've got two days to rest up and let it heal.

"I'm expecting to play right now, and we'll go from there," he added. 

The third-year running back was injured in Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia on Oct. 23.

The Vikings have endured some turnover this week as Par Shurmur took over as interim offensive coordinator after Norv Turner resigned.

"(We're) just staying focused, staying together, and making sure everybody is on the same page," McKinnon said. "We need to turn things around and come out with a win on Sunday."

'Playing with a chip on our shoulder'

The Vikings aren't happy with their performance the past two weeks, but they aren't ready to hit the panic button yet, and neither is Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.

"[Coach Zimmer] knows what we have to do, and being around us for the past couple years, he knows that, when this team hits some adversity and there's a chip on our shoulder, we usually respond pretty well," Kyle Rudolph said Friday. "I think he has confidence in us going into this game; we've been humbled the past couple weeks, and we'll bounce back."

Rudolph said the team has faced adversity all season. They didn't listen to the outside critics when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee on Aug. 30, and they won't start paying attention now.

According to Rudolph, Zimmer has "a pretty good feel" of his team and how it needs to perform on Sunday. And he's confident in his players.

"He's mentioned a couple of times, 'Hey, everybody on the outside may tell us the walls are falling in, but we're still 5-2, we're still the defending NFC North champs and we're still in first place,' " Rudolph said. "As rough as the last two weeks have been, let's just get back on track and take care of business."

Rudolph said earlier in the week that getting back on track requires small adjustments to make sure all 11 guys are doing their job while they're on the field.

While it may feel like they've taken major steps back, Rudolph said that's just not true.

"When you think about where we were three weeks ago on the bye week to what we've done the last couple weeks, it's easy to lose perspective and think that there's so much we have to do and so far we have to go," Rudolph said. "And that's not the case."

Helped at the home front

The Vikings are attempting to stay undefeated at home and glad to be back for a game at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since Oct. 9.

"It's an amazing environment," McKinnon said. "Credit the fans, they've made it hard on away teams to come in there and execute their game plan.

"We haven't lost a game at home yet, so it's a good time to turn things around," he added.

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