Minnesota Vikings 2012: 5 Keys to the Matchup Against the Lions
For the Vikings, this year has been a pleasant surprise. They had the overtime win in Week 1 and the huge upset over the 49ers last week. While the loss to the Colts was disappointing, no fan can complain about how the team has looked this year.
Now for the Lions, coming off a a 10-6 year, expectations were high. After nearly losing to the Rams in Week 1, the team did lose to the 49ers and then the Titans in depressing fashion. Defensively the Lions have unimpressed, and Mathew Stafford has not been himself.
If the Vikings can pull off another upset, they would match their win total from 2011 after 4 games. With all that said, here are five things that Vikings fans should watch for in this game.
Can Christian Ponder Have a Repeat Performance?
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Christian Ponder has been a whole different quarterback. After finishing his rookie year with a QB rating of 70.1 and a completion percentage barely over the halfway point, no one predicted a big year from him.
Instead, he comes out and has a rating of 104.9 and a completion percentage of 70.1. And he has yet to throw an interception. Not too shabby for the second year Seminole. (Stats from espn.com).
Perhaps most encouraging was his performance against the 49ers. Considered one of the best defenses in the NFL, Ponder didn't even flinch. He looked poised, controlled, and elusive. He (along with some stellar defensive play) carried his team to arguably the biggest upset so far this season.
He gets a big boost this week as well, as the speedy deep threat Jerome Simpson returns from his suspension. While it might take him a few games to truly become a factor in the offense, don't be surprised to see Ponder take some chances on his new receiver.
In order for the Vikings to progress as a team, they need Ponder to continue to develop. He still has holes in his game, but if he can play the way he did last week, the Vikings should be in good position to get Leslie Frazier his first divisional win.
Can Megatron Be Held in Check?
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I was going to write "Can Megatron Be Shut Down?", but that is far too tall of an order. So instead, the key is what this young secondary can do to keep him from winning the game single-handedly.
Calvin Johnson has the talent and physical stature to take over a game, and that was on display all of 2011, and he looks to be well on his way in 2012. He has already accumulated 369 yards on 24 catches. (Stats from espn.com)
I think the Vikings will have Chris Cook lined up opposite Megatron for most of the game, as he is the only cornerback the team has that is even remotely close to the same size, standing in at 6'2''.
He should have plenty of safety help, but Johnson will still likely get his targets. It's what the team can do about those targets that will make the difference.
Perhaps the best way to limit his influence on the game is to control the clock. The Vikings will be wanting plenty of long drives featuring Adrian Peterson to keep the ball out of the Lions' hands for most of the game.
Will Adrian Peterson Become All Day?
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Speaking of Peterson, he is always worth watching, but this week especially. He deserves the recognition he is getting so far for his recovery, and last week he went against a powerful run defense in San Francisco, but he has yet to look like his old self.
That could change against Detroit. Peterson has a history of success against the Lions, rushing for eight touchdowns and averaging just under 100 yards a contest in nine games (via cbssports.com).
Not only that, but Peterson himself said he feels that the rust was finally shaken off last week against San Francisco. If he is right, the Lions may be in for a long day.
As I mentioned before, the Vikings are going to want to lean heavily on the run to keep the ball away from Detroit's high powered offense.
However, if All Day shows up, the Vikings will have a high powered offense of their own.
Can the Vikings Defense Stop Mikel Leshoure?
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The Lions unleashed Mikel Leshoure on the football world last week, and he impressed. Granted, it was against Tennessee's porous defense, but he looked as advertised.
He did have a groin injury coming into the week, but it looks like he will play. That could be a problem. All Detroit was missing offensively last year was a quality running game.
Now, Minnesota's run defense is better than Tennessee's, but it still isn't great. They are allowing 95.3 yards per game (from NFL.com).
Most coaches will tell you that making a team one dimensional is a key to winning, and I agree. If the Lions are able to run the ball effectively, the passing game will explode. So despite the fact I have Leshoure on my fantasy team, shutting him down is key to the Vikings win.
Can Either Team Put Their Opponent Away?
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In Week 1, Minnesota needed a last-minute drive and overtime to beat the Jaguars. Detroit scored a touchdown with five seconds left to beat the Rams.
Then Week 2 comes along, and both teams lose. Detroit lost to a superior 49ers squad that dominated for most of the games. Minnesota fell victim to a late drive again and became Andrew Luck's first career win.
Then in Week 3, every time Detroit made a move, they would allow a big play that kept the Titans in the game, eventually losing in overtime.
And while Minnesota did upset the same 49ers team that beat up Detroit a week earlier, some late fumbles by the usually sure-handed Toby Gerhart gave the 49ers more chances than they should have had.
Neither team has put the nail in the coffin yet. It almost cost the Vikings in Week 1, and did cost the Lions in Week 3.
To be in the upper echelon of teams, you need to put teams away. If Minnesota had been playing a better team than Jacksonville, they would have lost. It took a brilliant defensive effort to contain the 49ers, and the team still almost blew it.
Both of these teams have the talent to compete this year, even if experts aren't giving them enough credit. But mark my words, unless they can finish teams off, neither will find themselves in the playoffs.
Perhaps this will be the week fans will see the "killing blow".
Other Thoughts to Consider
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While he hasn't looked like himself yet, he is playing. Whichever Stafford shows up will have a huge impact on this game.
Like I said earlier, Simpson is returning from suspension this week. He is excited to be back, and the Vikings should be excited as well.
The normally sure-handed Gerhart fumbled three times against the 49ers. Sure it took a fourth timeout for the 49ers to get the challenge, but the fact remains that Gerhart may see a reduced role after that.
The ankle injury to Mistral Raymond opens the door for Sanford's second chance as a starter. He was disappointing last year, but looked like a different player against San Francisco. He will need to be great again against the Lions' pass offense.
Williams had knee surgery earlier in the week, and he will miss the next couple of weeks. How that effects that impressive defensive line rotation will be telling and have a major impact on this game.
Vikings Defensive Line
For a defense that needs the front four to generate pressure, the Vikings have survived without it so far this year. Of the team's seven sacks on the season, only two have come from the defensive line (espn.com). They need more pressure to continue winning.
He saw the field a lot against San Francisco, mostly as a blocker. He hasn't caught a pass yet, but he was running routes effectively. He could soon become involved in the offense.