Vikings have tough task against Lions defense

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 16: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings runs with the ball for a 21 yard touchdown, his second of the day, in the fourth quarter of them game against the Miami Dolphins. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

With a new coordinator in charge, the Minnesota Vikings put up one of their best offensive performances of the season to beat the Miami Dolphins 41-17.

The win put them one step closer to the NFC Playoffs. They got back to running the football with a season-high 220 rushing yards. The offensive line won the line of scrimmage, and they’ll be looking for the same effort Sunday at Detroit.

The opportunities will be there for the Vikings. The Lions’ run defense is ranked No. 16 in the NFL, allowing 115 yards per game.

It’ll be paramount for the Vikings to run the ball, as the Lions will be looking to get after Kirk Cousins and force turnovers. They have six interceptions on the season and are second in the NFL with more than 24 yards per interception return.

They’re led in the secondary by Darius Slay, one of the better defensive backs in the NFL. He’s got 17 interceptions since becoming a full-time starter in 2017. He also leads the NFL with 89 passes defended since 2013, and returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown in a Week 14 win over the Cardinals.

“They’re big and physical up front, they sit on some routes on the back end. The safeties are physical and the physicality they play with up front (concerns me),” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

Quandre Diggs is also a featured player in the secondary. He has 120 tackles, eight for a loss, five interceptions and one returned for a touchdown since last season.

The Lions are seventh in the NFC with 38 sacks through 14 games. They’re one of just two NFL teams with at least five players that have had multi-sack games. Devon Kennard leads the defense with seven sacks.

Detroit is allowing just 219 passing yards in its last four games. They’re also limiting opposing offenses to 15.8 points per game over that same span.

“They’ve done a great job of not giving up very many points recently so it will be a good test for us,” Zimmer said.

Kirk Cousins will be looking to bounce back against the Lions from one of his worst statistical performances of the season in Week 9, despite a 24-9 Vikings’ victory. He threw for just 164 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

In last week’s win, he spread the ball around to seven different receivers and got a combined 20 catches out of Adam Thielen (7), Dalvin Cook (7) and Stefon Diggs (6). Diggs has gone for at least 80 yards receiving in three of the Vikings’ last four games against the Lions.

Diggs and Thielen have combined for 197 catches and are both averaging more than 10 yards per catch.

“We just have to be us,” Diggs said after the Vikings beat the Dolphins. “New coach, just buy into whatever he’s doing or whatever he wants done. Just go make the plays for him."

The Lions are ranked No. 13 in total defense in the NFL, allowing 346 yards per game.

Establishing the run game through Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray early will be critical to getting a win at Detroit. It’ll also put them that much closer to the postseason.