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Lions vs Vikings Preview

Typically when divisional foes meet for the second time in a season there is a level of familiarity between the two teams from their previous matchup.  The Lions and Vikings are the exception to that logic this season.  In the first meeting in Week 3 Donovan McNabb was the Vikings starter and now he’s not even on the team anymore.  In addition, Jahvid Best is on IR, Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder may not play, half the Lions’ starting secondary is out, no Ndamukong Suh and nine starters from the first game could miss this game.

The Vikings’ offense is going to be dramatically different that in the first matchup, especially if Christian Ponder is out and Joe Webb gets the start.  The Lions will most likely have all the same starters, with the exception of Best, as the first game but the offensive production has dropped significantly since Week 3.

Offense:

The Lions offense has been stuck in neutral the last couple of games, and rarely as a result of the defense.  The Lions moved the ball extremely well against the Packers and Saints but found so many creative new ways to shoot themselves in the foot that Elmer Fudd was laughing at them.

Penalties, sacks, dropped passes and a few more penalties robbed the Lions of scoring opportunity after opportunity. Eventually, the Lions put together a handful of scoring drives, but not until they trailed by two scores in each game.

The Lions have struggled all season with slow starts but for varying reasons.  Early in the season it was predictable play calling and a stubborn refusal to run the ball.  The last several weeks the play calling has gotten better but fumbles doomed them against the Bears, Stafford’s broken finger sparked a rash of turnovers and then the penalty flags started falling like December snowflakes against the Saints and Packers.

The Lions will attack the Vikings’ overmatched secondary, do not doubt that, but they better try to do it smarter than in the first game.  The Vikings pass rush absolutely mauled the Lions in the Metrodome, partly because of crowd noise, but also because of play calling.  Scott Linehan tried to push the ball down field early in the game and the Vikings just teed off rushing the quarterback.  The Lions didn’t counter the onslaught until the second half when they  used Brandon Pettigrew on quick short passes to negate the pass rush.

Crowd noise shouldn’t be a problem for the offense this time and hopefully the play calling won’t be either.  If Kevin Smith plays, the Lions will have a greater commitment to the run than in the first game, but even without him they should use screens and the short passing game to establish some early rhythm.

The Vikings are not a team that is built to come from behind, but the Lions can’t afford to force the issue trying to take an early lead.  They need to establish field position and avoid negative plays and the point will come.

Defense:

So much of the Vikings’ offense approach will depend on the injury report this week.  Adrian Peterson has been out since the Raiders game and Christian Ponder is recovering from a hip pointer.  The difference between facing Peterson and Ponder to Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb is huge.

Obviously Peterson is a huge big play threat where Gerhart is a grinder that isn’t going to break long runs.  Ponder is a classic West Coast style quarterback that stays in the pocket and doesn’t have a huge arm while Webb is extremely mobile and has a big arm.

The one constant in both scenarios will be Percy Harvin, who has emerged as a huge part of the offense the last few weeks.  Harvin is the Vikings second best offensive player, but he has played sparingly most of the season.  The Vikings have gotten him involved in the run game as well as the passing game and he is always a threat on returns.

The Vikings offensive line is still a weak point for the team, but the Lions are not in a position to exploit that weakness with Suh and possible Nick Fairley missing the game.  The onus will be on the defensive ends, who will be missing Lawrence Jackson again, to generate the rush.  If Webb plays, the Lions will need to spy him with Stephen Tulloch, especially if they struggle to get pressure up the middle and he has room to step up in the pocket.

The Vikings really lack any other playmakers on offense, but tight end Kyle Rudolph has made some big plays here and there this season, although he may not play due to injury as well.

Wild Card:

The injury situation will really impact this game for both sides.  The Vikings won’t be much of a threat without Peterson and Ponder, but Joe Webb presents a different dynamic that could pose all new threats.  The Lions typically rotate eight or nine defensive lineman but could have as few as five or six available as well as half their starting secondary.  Many of the players are expected to be game time decisions, which raises even more questions.

Prediction:

On paper this is the game the Lions need to get back on track.  A home game against an opponent they know well and have beaten already this season.  However, this has all the makings of a let down game too.  The Vikings are limping in at 2-10, but they are on the verge of putting together the worst season in franchise history and desperately want to avenge their historic collapse from Week 3.

I think the Lions will get back on track against the Vikings this week, but a win may not be enough.  The Lions need to win impressively and without penalties or any other stupidity that has plagued them the last month.  If the Lions play sloppy and eek out a win, they will still face the distractions and questions they have been dealing with since the meltdown against the Bears.  The need to dominate in all phases of the game to put some of the negativity in the rear view mirror.


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