It’s understandable for Detroit Lions fans to be awfully giddy over their team’s 2-0 start of the season.
They do, after all, live in one of the most economically depressed cities in an economically depressed nation. They have, after all, suffered losing season after losing season for, what?, the past 150 years or so? The very best player in the history of their franchise, after all, retired on the eve of setting all time rushing records rather than suffer the indignity of remaining a Lion.
So it’s hard to fault Lions fans for having greater expectations than they ever have in the past; it’s hard to fault them for their confidence.
I noticed this attitude from Lions fans last year and it has continued full force into this season.
Amidst all the joy and optimism of a downtrodden people, would it be indelicate for me to point out that they finished tied for last place in their division last year? Probably.
Hey, Lions fans: You finished tied for last place in your division last year. With us. So forgive me for saying: Prove it before you start getting all up in everyone’s grill.
I’m not taking the Lions lightly. They’re a much improved team since they got rid of Matt Millen, brought in a coach in Jim Schwartz who appears to know what he’s doing, and drafted a talented quarterback who has yet to prove he’s not fragile.
But still, this year they barely beat a Buccaneers team that we could and should have beat and they stomped all over a Kansas City team that is pretty damn awful.
So, as Chad Ochocinco might say: Child, please.
With that mini-rant out of the way, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Offense: You can’t deny the Vikings running game has been successful thus far this year and that will need to continue on Sunday. The trick is where the Vikings will be able to run the ball.
Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is super strong and quick, so he will be very tough to handle for center John Sullivan and guard Anthony Herrera. I expect the Vikings will double-team Suh quite a bit but I also expect Sullivan to get blow up quite a bit.
This should be a tougher test for Adrian Peterson than the last two defenses he’s faced. I expect the Vikings will try and get Peterson to the edges and take their chances with him matched up against the Lions very much improved and much quicker linebacking corps.
The Lions are likely to sneak a safety up to the line frequently, so if there’s a game for Bernard Berrian to step up and get separation on a deep route, Sunday would be it.
Defense: Kevin Williams returns to the line, so that should lift the play of the entire defense significantly, improving the unit in both rush and passing defense. His ability to penetrate and disrupt the running game will help the Vikings try and shut the Lions run-game down.
If the Vikings can force the Lions into third-and-longs, then an already impressive pass rush with Jared Allen and Brian Robison coming off the edges should improve dramatically with the push that Williams can apply up the middle.
Then it will be up to the Cover 2 to work it’s magic.
Our corners will need to jam at the line and/or react quickly and tackle surely on the underneath routes, either quick slants to Calvin Johnson, drags and crosses from our friend Nate Burleson, or dumps and screens to Brandon Pettigrew or Jahvid Best.
Our safeties must keep their receivers in front of them and be ready to react if Matthew Stafford tries to force the deep ball. And by react, I mean intercept the balls you have an opportunity to intercept (cough, Tyrell Johnson, cough).
The key matchup on defense will be Johnson and Antoine Winfield. He won’t be able to afford the missed tackles he’s had this year because the Vikings will want to keep the Lions from their red zone in order to take away the jump ball and the size mismatch between the two.
Special Teams: Don’t be surprised if Percy Harvin ends up set to receive every kick return opportunity because with gunners Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall injured, the Lions are banged up on special teams. But also don’t be surprised if kicker Jason Hanson tries to boot each and every kickoff out of the end zone.
Special teams play could very well be the difference in the game.
With an 0-2 start, the Vikings do have their back against the wall but for that reason and because we have history on our side (the Lions haven’t won at the Metrodome/Mall of America Field since 1997), I expect the Vikings to win Sunday in a close game.
The keys to a Vikings victory are obvious, I think: Overall, the Vikings need to greatly reduce the number of penalties they’re committing and the coaches need to get better at in-game adjustments.
On defense, the Vikings need to tackle well for sixty minutes and they need to react quickly to the underneath plays.
On offense, they need to continue to run the ball effectively but McNabb needs to connect with some of his receivers on a deep ball or two, and they need to come away with points after long drives, either a field goal or a touchdown, but points either way.
The Vikings host the Detroit Lions at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome on Sunday. Kickoff is at noon CST and the game will be broadcast on Fox.
Your play-by-play guy will be Dick Stockton and John Lynch will be your analyst with Jaime Maggio serving as the sideline “reporter.”
The radio broadcast is on KFAN-AM 1130/KTLK 100.3-FM locally with your usual crew of play-by-play guy Paul Allen, analyst Pete Bercich and sideline reporter Greg Coleman. Pre-game show starts at 10 AM CST.
Only his eyes are evil. When you see the sideline closeup shot of Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch‘s red eyes on Sunday, you won’t have to wonder why he looks so evil. [HERE’S WHY.]
Vikings: Cornerback Chris Cook (groin) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (knee) did not fully participate in practice both yesterday and Wednesday. Cornerback Marcus Sherels (chest) returned to full participation yesterday after being limited Wednesday. Cornerback Asher Allen (toe), wide receiver Michael Jenkins (groin) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (foot) were full participants yesterday, as they were Wednesday.
Lions: Wide receiver Calvin Johnson did not practice fully yesterday because of an ankle injury and he did not practice at all on Wednesday. Also limited were defensive end Cliff Avril (knee), wide receivers Rashied Davis (hamstring) and Maurice Stovall (hand), linebacker DeAndre Levy (knee) and safety Louis Delmas (hip). First round rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), tackle Jason Fox (foot) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (shoulder) did not participate in practice. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch returned to practice after being a healthy scratch Wednesday.
Fairly is out with a broken foot and Stovall is likely to be inactive but Johnson and Pettigrew are expected to play.