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Vikings 4-pack: First-round pick Darrisaw should start at left tackle against woeful Lions

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Minnesota Vikings linemen Christian Darrisaw (71) watches drills during NFL training camp Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

The Vikings (1-3) are only one game better than the Detroit Lions (0-4) and yet Minnesota is a 10-point favorite against its NFC North rivals in Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium. This might be a reason for Vikings fans to be nervous, but it’s hard to see Mike Zimmer’s team losing this game to first-year head coach Dan Campbell’s club.

The Lions have significant injury issues — especially on the offensive line — and have lost seven in a row to the Vikings. Minnesota is 78-39-2 against Detroit and the last time they lost to the Lions was on Oct. 1, 2017. That brought an end to a stretch in which the Lions went 5-2 against Zimmer’s teams. It was Jim Caldwell who had that success, but he was fired as coach after the 2017 season and replaced by another failed Bill Belichick guy, Matt Patricia.

This season, with Campbell in his first season as a head coach, the Lions have continued their woeful ways. They have trailed by 18 or more points in three of their four games, and are one of only two winless NFL teams (Jacksonville is the other) remaining.

The Vikings are coming off a disappointing performance in a home loss to Cleveland, and should have plenty of motivation to beat up on the Lions. A loss would be disastrous — and could possibly cost Zimmer his job — and even a narrow victory wouldn’t feel all that great.

At the very least, the Vikings should cover the spread and get within a game of .500. This will conclude a three-game homestand, as the Vikings will play at Carolina next Sunday before having their bye.

Here are four things I’d like to see on Sunday from the Vikings:

  • The Vikings intended to have Christian Darrisaw start at left tackle when they drafted him in the first round last April, but that hasn’t happened because of a groin injury that required a procedure during training camp. Darrisaw’s absence has forced Rashod Hill to start at left tackle, which is asking far too much of Hill. He’s a solid backup at left and right tackle, but he isn’t a starter and the longer he is forced to start the weaker the Vikings will be on the line. Darrisaw has been taking part in practice and getting him a start against Detroit would be a wise move.
  • I wrote about this a few days ago, but the Vikings should give Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook the game off and go with Alexander Mattison. Cook sprained his ankle in Week 2 and sat out the following game as the Vikings beat Seattle. Cook was back last Sunday against Cleveland but was clearly limited because of his ankle injury and missed time in the second half. It’s time for the Vikings to try to get Cook as right as possible. Plus, the Vikings should be able to beat Detroit with or without Cook.
  • It’s time for Bashaud Breeland to show that he is worth the one-year, $3 million offseason investment the Vikings made in him. The cornerback has started all four games this season but the results haven’t been positive. And that’s being kind. Breeland is ranked last out of 103 cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus. He was lifted after only six snaps against the Browns because of what the Vikings called an illness and replaced by Cameron Dantzler. There’s a good chance Dantzler would have started opposite Patrick Peterson on Sunday, but the second-year corner has landed on the COVID-19 list. Breeland needs to show improvement against the Lions or Dantzler almost certainly will take over when he returns.
  • One of the biggest disappointments about the Vikings this season — no matter what Zimmer may say — is the performance by the run defense. Expected to be much improved this season after giving up 134.4 yards per game last season, the Vikings have surrendered more than 100 yards on the ground in all four games and are allowing 135.5 yards a game. The Vikings signed nose tackle Michael Pierce in 2020 — he sat out last season because of concerns about COVID — and 3-technique Dalvin Tomlinson this offseason because of their desire to stop the run. Pierce will not play Sunday because of an elbow injury, so Armon Watts is expected to replace him at nose tackle. The Vikings need to hold the Lions below their season average of 101.8 yards.