Vikings running back Dalvin Cook made a limited return to practice on Friday, giving him a chance to play Sunday against the Lions.
Cook is officially listed questionable to play — the NFL's designation for a 50/50 chance -– for the third straight week because of the sprained right ankle suffered Sept. 19 in Arizona. When Cook previously missed practices, he didn't play, but coach Mike Zimmer said it'll "probably" be a game-time decision after Cook sat out Wednesday and Thursday this week.
"He had a good week," Zimmer said. "We'll see."
Alexander Mattison is on deck for another start after handling most of the first-team reps in practices. He was bottled up against the Browns, held to 20 yards on 10 carries, but he has fared well against Detroit before. He had 145 yards from scrimmage and two scores against Detroit while starting for Cook in Week 17 last year.
Nose tackle Michael Pierce will not play because of an elbow injury suffered in practice on Sept. 30. He didn't practice this week. Zimmer has indicated nose tackle Armon Watts will start for Pierce, leaving Sheldon Richardson in his roles off the bench. Receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (toe) has also been ruled out.
Linebacker Anthony Barr is off the injury report after practicing fully this week. The Pro Bowler is set to play in his first game in 13 months following this summer's knee injury and the torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2020 season after two games.
The Lions have five players listed questionable, including tackle Penei Sewell (ankle) and tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee). Sewell didn't return to practice until Friday, on a limited basis, while Hockenson practiced Thursday and Friday. Edge rusher Trey Flowers (knee), running back D'Andre Swift (groin) and Jamaal Williams (hip) are also questionable despite practicing all week.
Detroit's top threat
The Vikings' plan is to have Barr return to a full workload, according to coaches, and Detroit's top threat may often line up across from him. Hockenson is their leading receiver with 215 yards on 30 targets, but the way coordinator Anthony Lynn deploys him will challenge many parts of the Vikings defense. Minnesota has allowed 253 yards to opposing tight ends this season, the eighth-most yardage surrendered to the position.
"He's their go-to guy a lot," Zimmer said. "He's a tough blocker, he hangs in there and fights guys, runs good routes. They get him outside, spread him out at number one a lot of times and run some routes with him. They use him all over the place."
It's an LSU thing
Receiver Justin Jefferson has had mini LSU reunions when he and his brother Jordan Jefferson — also his roommate — get together with cornerback Patrick Peterson away from the team facility. Gathering with teammates away from team functions was restricted under last year's COVID protocols. But Jefferson's life away from work has been "lovely" while living with his older brother, a former LSU quarterback and Peterson's college teammate, and dropping by Peterson's place to use the hyperbaric chamber.
"We talk football," Jefferson said. "I come home and show [Jordan] the film, show him the plays that I won on, show him the plays that I should have done better on. So, yeah, we talk football, but after the film we chill out, play video games, relax."
Keeping the fire lit
The Vikings offense, at least statistically, gets less efficient as the game marches on. That's been on the mind of coordinator Klint Kubiak this week after they were held scoreless on 10 drives after the opening touchdown in the loss to Cleveland.
The ailing Lions defense may be just what they need. Only two defenses have allowed more than Detroit's 37 points in third quarters. The Vikings have scored fewer points — 36 — across their second halves.
"We've got to come up with some answers and get some drives started," Kubiak said. "I didn't do a good enough job of that against Cleveland."