La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.
The role of Dalvin Cook will be played Sunday at Detroit by Alexander Mattison, and Mattison has had little trouble performing as a competent caretaker of the Vikings running back position.
An effective running game will be paramount this week as the Vikings look to return to .500, and Mattison will spearhead that attack. Yes, I have been advocating for the Vikings to throw more, as they have two talented receivers and a quarterback who can get them the ball — when he is not worrying about a pass rush. But this is a week, even without Cook, to bring the rushing attack.
Losing a back of Cook's caliber normally is problematic, but Mattison has speed, can hit holes and gash teams. And he's done it against the Lions before. Mattison has two 100-yard games this season, including a 113-yard effort on Oct. 10 at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Lions. The Vikings walked off Detroit that day on Greg Joseph's 54-yard field goal. That game showed how plucky the 0-10-1 Lions can be. Detroit coach Dan Campbell blubbered on the podium following the game, but the Lions have not stopped playing hard. They haven't played well, but they have played hard.
The Vikings are 5-6, the same record they had a year ago through 11 games. They finished the season 2-3 and out of the playoffs. This season, the Vikings still have a shot at being one of the seven NFC teams to reach the postseason, and wide receiver Adam Thielen said every game is a playoff game at this point. They say they aren't taking Detroit lightly.
So now prove it, Vikings. Lean into Mattison, who had 153 yards from scrimmage in the first meeting against the Lions, establish the run early and then start popping passes to the receiving corps. A lack of a rushing game would prompt the Lions to get after Kirk Cousins, who is coming off of his worst game of the season last week.
While you're at it Vikings, feel free to mix in Kene Nwangwu if he's healthy. He has provided a spark as a kick returner and should slide into Mattison's backup role Sunday and get a few carries.
Mattison likely has been a popular pick-up this week in fantasy football following Cook's shoulder injury against San Francisco last week. Sunday he can be the Vikings' pick-up — the guy who can pick up the offense coming off a bad game and add to the Lions' season of woe.
Twins need to talk trades during lockout
Hopefully when baseball owners and players finally settle on a collective bargaining agreement, the Twins have a couple of announcements ready to pop.
As in, "We have acquired quality starting Pitcher A." And, "We have bolstered the front of our rotation with a trade for quality starting Pitcher B."
Because of the more than $1 billion in guaranteed contracts handed out in the days leading to Thursday's owner-initiated lockout, all the Twins were able to announce was the signing of Dylan Bundy, a reclamation project looking to distance himself for shoulder problems.
Spending $20-plus million a year on a quality starter apparently wasn't in the Twins' plans. Now fans have to sit through labor wars looking at rookie Joe Ryan as the team's best option for an Opening Day starter. Teams are allowed to discuss potential deals during the lockout. The Twins need to spend this time wisely and lay the groundwork for a big trade.
The Wild's winter
It's early, but I've heard from my hockey-loving friends and media cohorts who follow the team that this is the best version of the Wild in years.
If that's not enough for you, here's Jon Cooper, coach of the back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning Lightning after the Wild prevailed 4-2 over Tampa Bay last weekend: "The hockey they play is probably some postseason hockey."
Cooper has no incentive for praising the Wild like that, so it appears to be genuine. Line adjustments have clicked. Ryan Hartman is finding the net at a ridiculous pace. And some of this has come with Jared Spurgeon and Mats Zuccarello out because of injuries. With the depth the team is showing, the Wild looks capable of sustaining this success.
... AND TWO PREDICTIONS ...
Old friends coming to town
Like the Timberwolves, Cleveland has found a young core to develop. But look for former Wolves stars Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love to lead the Cavaliers to victory when they face their former team on Friday at Target Center.
Won't need a 54-yarder this time
This won't be the struggle the Vikings had with Detroit on Oct. 10. Look for an effective running game and timely passing to allow the Purple to pull away to a 23-13 victory against the Lions.