5 questions for the Vikings vs. the Lions

Injuries will play a key role in an NFC North battle.
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Dalvin Cook

The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions will renew acquaintances on Sunday as the two NFC North rivals will collide at U.S. Bank Stadium. Like most things in 2020, Sunday's game will have a different look as both teams attempt to navigate a minefield of injuries and COVID-19 ramifications.

For the Vikings, Sunday is an important game if they plan to get back into the playoff race. As usual, there are several questions that will need to be answered if Minnesota plans on salvaging their season.

Can Mike Zimmer continue his success against Matthew Stafford?

The Lions got some good news on Saturday afternoon as Matthew Stafford cleared protocol and is expected to start against the Vikings pending Lions head coach Matt Patricia's approval.

Stafford's activation means that he will renew his rivalry with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. Since arriving in Minnesota in 2014, Zimmer has done well against the Lions quarterback, limiting Stafford to 201.1 yards per game with a 6-5 record in 11 games.

But those numbers came against a secondary that had significantly more experience than it has now and with a slew of injuries, things could be difficult even with the absence of wide receiver Kenny Golladay.

Can the Vikings overcome injuries at cornerback?

Last week against the Packers, the Vikings were able to put together a group of cornerbacks that would make McGuyver proud. After Cam Dantzler went out with a concussion, things got more difficult, but the Vikings were able to hang on to pick up the victory.

This week, Zimmer's task doesn't get much easier. With Holton Hill, Mark Fields, and Dantzler ruled out, the Vikings will have to field the NFL's equivalent of a paper clip, bubble gum, and duct tape.

Jeff Gladney, Harrison Hand, and Kris Boyd should shoulder the load against Detroit. With Kenny Golladay out, their job should be a little easier but with Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson still on the field, the corners will still have their hands full against the Lions.

How much Dalvin Cook is too much?

The Vikings' win over the Packers was fueled offensively by the performance of Dalvin Cook. With winds howling through Lambeau Field, the Vikings went with a ground-and-pound approach that saw Cook rack up 226 total yards and four touchdowns.

The gameplan figures to be the blueprint for the rest of the season as the Vikings look to minimize Kirk Cousins and keep their defense off the field. Zimmer even raised eyebrows this week by admitting the Vikings are a "run-first" team rather than a balanced offense.

Perhaps that's reading too much into the Vikings' desire to run as Zimmer also admitted he wanted to take play-action shots, but couldn't due to the conditions last Sunday. 

Regardless, the Vikings need to be careful they don't become too one-dimensional in order to use Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and the rest of the Vikings offense.

Did Zimmer unintentionally motivate Everson Griffen?

Griffen will make his return to Minnesota after leaving the Vikings in the offseason. Although he won't get a standing ovation in his return, it still could be a memorable homecoming after a slight from his former coach.

As Zimmer described Griffen as a "good" player in his weekly press conference, Griffen felt slighted thinking he should have been called a "great" player. To enhance the pettiness, Zimmer doubled down in his Friday press conference saying he thought he had a "good" relationship with Griffen.

All drama aside, the Vikings may have awoken Griffen, who grades 86th out of 120 qualifying edge rushers this season per Pro Football Focus. If Griffen wants to stick it to the Vikings, their makeshift offensive line could be in for a long day when they didn't have to be.

Can the Vikings make a run to the playoffs?

If there's a question coming out of the Vikings' win at Green Bay, it's if the way they won is sustainable. The Vikings played about as flawless as possible in the victory, but only wound up winning by six points.

With the Lions potentially seeing several big names out on Sunday, the Vikings should have a good chance at winning this game. But a win would also raise questions if the Vikings can keep winning to make a run at the final playoff spot in the NFC.

If they want to accomplish that, it starts with a victory over the Lions. With a primetime trip to Soldier Field coming next week, Minnesota could find their way to 3-5 with a lighter schedule to round out the season. If they can't beat Detroit, there's little reason to believe the Vikings could catch fire in the second half.

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