EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Fans talk about catching and surpassing the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer needs to get ahead of the Detroit Lions first before worrying about the perennial power over in Green Bay.
A year ago, as the Vikings were sliding from 5-0 to 8-8, Detroit beat Zimmer’s team twice in four weeks. That dropped the Vikings’ head coach to 2-4 against the Lions, the same mark he has against the Packers.
Zimmer gets a chance to improve upon that record on Sunday as the Vikings (2-1) and Lions (2-1) both open division play at U.S. Bank Stadium. Zimmer might be armed with Case Keenum at quarterback for the third straight week after giving Sam Bradford Wednesday’s practice off to continue resting his ailing left knee.
“But we’re doing everything we can to get him ready to play Sunday,” Zimmer said. “We’ll just give him one more day of rest.”
Bradford, who had reconstructive ACL surgeries on the knee in 2013 and 2014, hasn’t played since twisting the knee in a non-contact injury in the opener against the Saints. He hasn’t practiced since last Thursday, a day before flying to Florida for a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who did Bradford’s ACL surgeries.
Andrews confirmed that there is no need for surgery and that Bradford’s knee is structurally sound.
No matter who plays quarterback, the Vikings will be facing a more difficult task than the one presented by a short-handed Buccaneers defense in last week’s 34-17 Vikings rout. The Lions already have seven interceptions this season.
“They do a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback,” Zimmer said. “They play tight in coverage. They are very well coached scheme-wise, fundamentally sound and they are around the football so they end up getting a lot of picks.”
In training camp this year, Zimmer got defensive about his team’s defense down the stretch last year. He mentioned the two Lions games, pointing out that the Vikings held Matthew Stafford and the Lions to 13 points in Detroit and 16 points in regulation in the 22-16 overtime loss at home.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, because of injuries, a shortage of talent and the upheaval at offensive coordinator, they didn’t have the offense to keep pace with Stafford as he rallied the Lions to comeback victories in both games.
But this year, on paper through three games, the Vikings have one of the best offenses in the league. In the three games since offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had his interim tag removed, the offense has had two quarterbacks post a career-high passer rating in victory.
After a jittery performance in a loss at Pittsburgh, Keenum returned home to face a depleted Buccaneers defense. In a turnover-free effort, he set career highs for passing yards (369) and passer rating (142.1) in a 17-point blowout.
The Vikings head into the game with the league’s No. 2 offense. They’re averaging 400.3 yards per game, have the No. 2 rusher (Dalvin Cook) and the Nos. 2-3 receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, respectively. Diggs also leads the NFL with four touchdown catches.
Of course, it will take more than offense to beat the Lions. Last year in Minneapolis, Stafford wiggled free from a 16-13 deficit with 23 seconds left.
Zimmer admitted he mismanaged the clock when the Vikings had the ball and scored a touchdown with 23 seconds left. Blair Walsh then botched the ensuing kickoff. He was supposed to loft the ball high so that a return would take some time off the clock. But he kicked it too far and there was a touchback. Walsh was released not long after that because of several missed place-kicks.
Then Zimmer had his defense sit way back in a prevent zone. Stafford rifled two completions for 35 yards, giving Matt Prater time to send the game into overtime with a 58-yard field goal.
The Vikings never got the ball back. Stafford directed a long scoring drive and ended the game in overtime with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate.
Four weeks later, on Thanksgiving, the score was tied at 13 with under a minute left. The Vikings had the ball, but Bradford threw an interception.
The Lions knelt for one play and won with a 40-yard Prater field goal.
Those two games have bothered Zimmer for about a year now. He gets his chance to do something about them on Sunday.
SERIES HISTORY: 112th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 71-38-2. Vikings are 39-15-1 at home, but lost 22-16 in overtime last year. The Lions swept the season series in two of Mike Zimmer’s first three years as head coach.
–It sounds so strange to hear a player in today’s NFL actually say what’s really on his mind while talking to a scrum of reporters.
Defensive end Everson Griffen caught reporters off-guard Wednesday when he was asked about Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and his offensive line.
After expressing the challenges that Stafford and other players will present, Griffen was asked about left tackle Greg Robinson, who has had to step in since Taylor Decker went down because of a shoulder injury.
“Quite honestly, (he looks) kind of lazy,” Griffen said. “He’s lazy. He gets beat on the inside. I think the biggest thing is he’s got to compete more, but yeah he’s pretty lazy. I feel like the rest of their offensive line, they do pretty well, but to me he’s kind of lazy.”
Later in the interview, he was asked about his comments on Robinson.
“It ain’t nothing personal,” Griffen said. “He looks lazy.”
–Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked how much he talks to rookies like Dalvin Cook about taking care of their bodies throughout the longer NFL season.
The 61-year-old laughed at the notion of him talking to players about the human body.
“I don’t talk to them too much about that,” Zimmer said. “The veteran players are the ones (who talk to them). They have a much better idea about how their body feels than I do. I was just talking and it’s been about 45 years since I had pads or a helmet on. I’m probably not the right guy to talk to about any of that stuff.”
Zimmer also has been asked quite a bit about what has made Cook so immediately ready for the NFL.
“He’s slippery,” Zimmer said. “He can get into small creases. He wiggles just a little bit enough so a guy doesn’t get a clean shot at him. They don’t get many clean shots at this guy and then when he does and he gets in the crowd and then he lowers his shoulders. I’ve been extremely happy with the way he’s preformed and I hope it continues and continues to get better.”
NOTES: WRs Adam Thielen (299) and Stefon Diggs (293) rank second and third in the NFL in receiving yards. This is the first time since the 2000 Rams (Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce) that a team has had two of the top three receiving yardage leaders after three games. … RB Dalvin Cook has four runs of 20 yards or more this season. He ranks second in the league behind another rookie, Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt. … QB Case Keenum, in his second start as a Viking, became the second player in franchise history to complete over 75 percent of his passes for over 360 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a single game. The first to do it was Tommy Kramer against the Browns in 1980. … QB Sam Bradford didn’t practice Wednesday. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was giving Bradford the day off and that the team is still trying to get him ready to start on Sunday. Bradford hasn’t played since injuring his left knee in the season opener. … DE Stephen Weatherly is the only player on Wednesday’s injury report other than Bradford. And he missed practice only because of an illness. The Vikings have been shockingly healthy, except for the starting quarterback, of course.
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