Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a self-proclaimed chronic worrier. Even when heading to Detroit to play a Lions team that’s 5-9, physically beaten down to a nub and only seven weeks removed from scoring a season-low nine points in a 10-sack mauling at U.S. Bank Stadium.
So, Coach, what’s the one thing that concerns you most of all about this wounded division foe that stands between you and the possibility of leaving Ford Field with a third road win, an 8-6-1 record and your franchise’s first clinching of back-to-back playoff berths since Brad Childress did it with Brett Favre’s considerable help in 2009?
“There’s more than one thing,” said Zimmer, whose team currently holds the NFC’s sixth playoff seed and has been given a 58 percent chance of making the playoffs by the mathematical wizards at FiveThirtyEight.
For that to happen this weekend, the Redskins need to lose at Tennessee on Saturday, the Eagles need to lose or tie the visiting Texans on Sunday, and, of course, the Vikings must beat a Lions team that Zimmer has gone 4-5 against since being hired as Vikings coach in 2014.
The first concern that came to Zimmer’s mind was 6-4 receiver Kenny Golladay, “a heck of a player.” Golladay leads the Lions in catches (64), receiving yards (1,005) and receiving touchdowns (five), but was held to three catches for 46 yards in the 24-9 loss to the Vikings.
Golladay is the only wideout on the active roster with more than 20 catches now that Marvin Jones Jr. is on injured reserve and Golden Tate is with Philadelphia. He also has a chest injury and is one of six Detroit players listed as questionable.
Four of them are starters, including quarterback Matthew Stafford (back), defensive tackle Damon Harrison (ankle) and linebacker Devon Kirkland (hip).
The second concern Zimmer mentioned was “really good” running back Theo Riddick, who had a game-high seven catches but only 36 yards in the first meeting. With leading rusher Kerryon Johnson going on IR this week and LeGarrette Blount listed as questionable because of a calf injury, Riddick, who has only 149 yards rushing on the season, could carry a running attack that ranks 24th in yards per carry (4.21) and is hoping it can protect Stafford’s ailing back.
Especially this week. The Vikings’ 10 sacks in the first meeting were a franchise record and the second-most in the league this year behind Baltimore’s 11 against Tennessee. Six Vikings had sacks, led by Danielle Hunter (3½), Tom Johnson (2½) and Everson Griffen (1½).
“The offense put some points on the board, we were able to stop the run and get them in passing situations,” Griffen said. “And were were able to dial up our packages and do what we do. Third down’s our money down.”
For the second straight year, the Vikings have the best third-down defense. Opponents are converting only 28.8 percent of them, although Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (hamstring) is out. The Lions offense converts only 36.0 percent, ranking it 25th.
Other concerns Zimmer mentioned were kicker Matt Prater’s range and a secondary that includes Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, who has one pick-six and will no doubt be looking to increase Kirk Cousins’ season total to four.
And, finally, Zimmer also mentioned a big, physical defensive front that he all but guaranteed will not play as miserably as Miami’s sloppy front did last week in interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski’s near-flawless debut as an NFL play-caller.
With an edict to run the darn ball, Stefanski’s offense ran it 40 times for 220 yards while throwing it 21 times for 215 yards. In the first Lions game, the Vikings ran the ball 23 times and passed it 22 times.
While being asked about the size of the holes the offensive line created last week, Zimmer interrupted long enough to say, “They won’t be that big this week.”
In terms of playoff scenarios, the Vikings’ is straightforward: Win twice and nothing else matters.
But there is a Week 17 game against a Bears team that behooves the Purple faithful and its chronically concerned coach to end this thing now with a win over the Lions and losses by the Redskins and Eagles.