First Take: Detroit Lions (4-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
Except for maybe Broncos-Raiders on Sunday night, this is going to be the considered game of the week in the NFL for Week 9. The Lions have struggled at various points during the season, but are looking to pick up steam against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are coming off a disappointing loss and the resignation of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and things aren't looking like they are going to get much better. How can each team make an effort to win this game? Let's find out.
Minnesota Game Keys: Keep Stafford's passing lanes narrow and concentrated in near range. Stafford has arguably the NFL's best arm at the quarterback position, and can hit a target on point down the field. If the Vikings let receivers like Marvin Jones and Golden Tate get behind them, Stafford's Lions will rip them to shreds. To win, the Vikings will need to stick their top corners in man-to-man schemes up against the Lions receivers. It will be important to keep the receivers in front of you. A four or five yard bailout catch is okay, but stopping to watch the blitz and letting a guy run thirty yards down field would not be in Minnesota's preferred agenda. If you do slip up, Stafford isn't going to miss. Also, the Vikings will have to force Stafford to get uncomfortable. They need to shut down the best way for the Lions to go about attacking the pass rush, which is running the football. This way, you can eliminate the threat of play action passes that would allow receivers to get down field and loosen up on their coverage. You need to diagnose each play at the line of scrimmage and make the stop. If the ground game isn't a problem, neither will the deep ball be. If the Vikings can put pressure on Matt Stafford and force him to look for a third or fourth option, you can stop the Lions from gaining ground. Offensively, running the ball needs to be an asset to this team. The Lions will be able to stop a one-dimensional offense, and you can't let Bradford have to try to ad-lib. That didn't go well in the two weeks prior, and it won't if it happens this week. The ground game needs to open up opportunities off tackle that will keep defensive ends and edge rushers suspended at the line on play action passes. This will give Bradford a bigger pocket to work with if the threat of a running back slipping off tackle is there, and we've definitively seen that Bradford can work better with more time and space.
Detroit Game Keys: These are essentially the opposite of the Minnesota game keys. As the Detroit offense, you need to be able to find a way to utilize the run game as a strength of this team. Then, you can get receivers time to get down field and strike. The secondary needs to help bring the pressure on Sam Bradford. With little time, Bradford is not an elite quarterback and can get uncomfortable easily. You need to open up the wounds formed by two games of torture for the Vikings. Use what you saw on tape, rush Bradford, and don't let up to the offensive line. Pressure is your top asset in this game, both to throw off Bradford and to stop the ground game from taking effect. If Bradford can't work straight, he can't execute on throws to his receivers, and the Vikings will be forced into two or three yard plays at a time, a system that is a model of inefficiency. The Minnesota defense is not an easy one to defeat, but the Lions will have to do just that to have any success in this game. You need to find a way to bail yourselves out if the Vikings found out what you're doing, and make adjustments throughout the game. Everyone has to find a balance and chip in what they can, throwing different looks at the Vikings, making them work to stop short gains - everything will count in the final score.
Score Prediction: Detroit Lions 24-21 - This won't be the prettiest game of the week. Offenses won't be lighting up the game with big play after big play. The one factor that will matter most in this game is the ability of one team's offense to use everything they can, be it formations, adaptations, or just playing their game, to get down the field slowly and put some points on the scoreboard. This game won't be a shootout, but I expect the Detroit Lions to come out on top by out gaining the Vikings slowly but surely and taking away their time.