Early look at the Detroit Lions 2017 opponents: Minnesota Vikings

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Nov 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Andre Roberts (12) completes a pass during the game as Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) applies pressure at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks

The Vikings Cornerbacks revolted against the coaching staff, refusing to implement the game plan against the Green Bay Packers, and cost the team a possible win. They allowed Jordy Nelson to log seven catches, two touchdowns and 145 yards by halftime. The Vikings finished the season one game out of the playoffs. the Viking’s response was, of course, to bring back all of the players involved. 38-year-old Terrence Newman was brought back despite leading the revolt, and despite the presence of third-year first round pick Trae Waynes, and second-year round two pick Mackensie Alexander.

Xavier Rhodes has developed into one of the better corners in the NFL, and Waynes appears poised to join him. Alexander had a rough time transitioning to the NFL and is likely the reason Newman was brought back. In either case, it is likely that the Vikings Corner group will be very good on every down next season. The Lions do not have the wide receiver depth to find match-ups with their wide receiver group against the Vikings. There will be plays where the Lions players outplay the Vikings defenders, but their rarity will mean the Lions need to take advantage of them when they occur.

Nov 6, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) beats Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith (22) and scores a touchdown to win the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Lions won 22-16 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Safeties

Harrison Smith is in the top tier of NFL safeties, and the leader of the Vikings secondary. He is returning from off-season ankle surgery but is unlikely to miss any regular season time. The Vikings blitz Smith a lot, his 2014-2016 sack total of 6.5 is only a half sack short of his interception total for the same period.

At times this has given the Lions interior offensive line and running backs difficulty. The rest of the Vikings safety group is forgettable. Last season’s starter at strong safety Andrew Sendejo was clearly the weak link in the Vikings secondary in 2016 and would continue to be so. His competition for the starting gig are 2015 undrafted rookie Anthony Harris, and 2014 sixth round pick Antoine Exum.

Aug 18, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Marcus Sherels (35) returns a kickoff against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Minnesota defeated Seattle, 18-11. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Specialists

Kai Forbath was 15-15 in field goals for the Vikings last season and will return. Veteran Ryan Quigley and rookie Taylor Symmank are battling it out for the Vikings Punter role. Quigley ended last season early, suffering from the effects of an infection in his shin, but is likely to get the spot. Cornerback Marcus Sherrels appears to be the front-runner to take on all return duties for the Vikings in 2017. That is a marked reduction in return talent from previous seasons in which Cordarelle Patterson was always a threat to drastically alter the Vikings field position.

Conclusion

It would appear that the Vikings defense has taken a step back going into 2016, but will still be very good. The Offense has taken a step forward, but will likely still be limited by the quality, or lack thereof in the middle of their offensive line. The Lions’ offensive weaponry is in a good place to take advantage of the new missing scales in the hide of the Vikings defense. One of the Lions dynamic running back or Eric Ebron should find themselves in a mismatch with a Vikings linebacker that can not handle them in the passing game.

The Lions defense looks well suited to match the Vikings defense but lacks the interior pass rush to really take advantage of the Vikings guard/center group. I expect these two games to come down to the last possession again this season and result in heart attacks among both fanbases.

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