Vikings stay firmly in NFC race with bounce-back win

MINNEAPOLIS -- The reeling, injured and discombobulated Detroit Lions are not a good football team.

The Minnesota Vikings treated their divisional opponent as such in a 20-7 win at home on Sunday.

With its defense under an intense microscope entering the final quarter of the season, Minnesota left little in doubt against an overmatched opponent to stay firmly in the NFC playoff picture and wild-card race.

The Vikings face their other two NFC North foes -- Green Bay and Chicago -- in Weeks 16 and 17 and continue to hold a firm grip on their postseason destiny as they head to Los Angeles for a meeting with the Chargers next Sunday.

QB breakdown: The Vikings offense didn’t exactly blow the doors off U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday (354 total yards, 5.1 yards per play), but it’s not like they had to dig deep into the playbook to keep the Lions off balance. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski deferred to the play-action game often, allowing Kirk Cousins to go 12-for-12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on such throws in the first half, the highest number of play-action completions in any half since ESPN started tracking that data in 2006. Cousins picked apart an injury-depleted Lions defense and had all day to throw, as has been the trend in each of his meetings against Detroit this season. In Week 14, Cousins averaged 3.58 seconds from snap to pass, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His previous longest was 3.38 seconds in Week 7 at Detroit (he’s averaged 2.97 seconds this season). Cousins finished 24-of-30 for 242 yards and a touchdown after not needing to throw the ball more than two times in the fourth quarter.

Ground game goes: With Dalvin Cook dealing with a chest injury, the Vikings turned to their deep crop of running backs to carry the load against Detroit. Cook notched 20 touches on 32 snaps and gained 75 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Alexander Mattison had 14 carries for 46 yards and two catches for 18 yards while Mike Boone got in five carries for 13 yards late in the game.

Promising trend: After Xavier Rhodes’ struggles came to a head with a sideline outburst in Seattle, having earned a not-so-great recognition as having allowed the highest completion percentage (84) as the nearest defender among all defensive backs this season, coach Mike Zimmer opted to rotate his cornerbacks against Detroit, choosing to scheme towards matchups instead of having his top two corners -- Rhodes and Trae Waynes -- play their respective sides. Mike Hughes alternated with both veteran corners, notching an early third-down pass break-up and three tackles in 25 defensive snaps. Holton Hill also played a considerable amount once Rhodes exited the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury.

The Vikings defense treated a rookie backup quarterback the way you’d expect. It took the Lions 40 plays into the game to eclipse 100 yards of offense, and David Blough was harassed repeatedly (sacked five times) in his second NFL start, going 24-of-40 for 205 yards, a garbage-time touchdown and two interceptions.

Danielle’s dynasty: Fifth-year defensive end Danielle Hunter etched his name in NFL history as the youngest player to reach 50.0 career sacks (25 years old and 40 days). Having flown under the radar for most of his career, Hunter has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-rushers, leading the NFL in total pressures and moving his season total to 12.5 sacks after dropping Blough three times in the first half Sunday. All three of Hunter’s sacks came on third down. Hunter now has 11 career sacks against the Lions, more than any other opponent in his career.