WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING
Christian Ponder: If he starts today, I’ll be interested to see how Ponder follows up his performance from last week, particularly his decision-making in the wake of his three turnovers against the Broncos. I’ll also be interested to see how he responds to playing with his hip pointer injury.
If he does go, Ponder will face a defense that is pretty battered. The NFL’s dirtiest player Ndamukong Suh is out because he’s serving a two game suspension for being a dirty player. Suh’s linemate, rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley has been suffering from an injured toe for most of the season, so he’ll be slowed if he plays at all. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson is out and safety Louis Delmas and corner Chris Houston are both doubtful.
If the offensive line steps up the way it eventually did last week, Ponder should have some time to attack a Lions defense that will likely send plenty of blitzes his way. Ponder demonstrated against the Broncos that he’s learning how to defeat the blitz by finding an open man that resulted in two touchdown passes.
Toby Gerhart: While you’d always prefer to have Adrian Peterson carrying the rock, it might not matter as much if the offensive line blocks as they did for Toby Gerhart, if Bill Musgrave calls plenty of north/south plays for him to run, and if Gerhart gets that head of steam going.
Especially with a defensive line that is soft up the middle without Suh and with a hobbled Fairley and a questionable linebacker Justin Durant, as well.
Percy Harvin: Musgrave has done a damn fine job of finding ways to get the ball in Harvin’s hands, especially in space, and I’d expect no less today. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Percy take more handoffs out of the backfield today.
Joe Webb: Whether he’s taking snaps for an injured Christian Ponder today or if he’s on the field in another capacity, I really would like to see him more involved in the game on plays that aren’t “weird,” as my friend Rick would call them. The pass Webb caught against Champ Bailey last week that was called back because of a cheap pass interference penalty would be a nice start, given our lack of depth at receiver.
Whoever plays quarterback today, though, will need to sustain long drives to keep Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford off the field for as long as possible.
Jared Allen: Allen wreaked havoc against the Lions during the last matchup so expect them to give him plenty of attention today. That means the rest of the line needs to step up. Kevin Williams has finally begun to come on, so that will help but Brian Robison has been underwhelming after a dynamic start to the season. Has he worn down or is he a one-trick pony that defensive tackles have figured out? Regardless, I wouldn’t mind seeing plenty of Everson Griffen opposite Allen today.
Asher Allen: Allen will be back, which should help the secondary, but not by much. Allen is 5’9″ and Calvin Johnson is 6’5″; whaddya gonna do? The best recipe for the Vikings secondary at this point is 1) An offense that completely dominates time of possession and 2) a ferocious pass rush that gets to Stafford early and often.
The Lions have dropped five of the past seven games, are undisciplined and beaten up. This is the time to face them with a chance of stealing a victory but after this season, how can you pick the Vikings?