The Minnesota Vikings' opening to the 2013 season did not instill a lot of confidence that this team is ready to make a return trip to the playoffs. With only six games in the division and the Bears and Packers considered to be the front-runners, the loss to the Lions is doubly troublesome.
Last year, on their way to a 10-6 record, it was their 4-2 record within the division that gave the Vikings the tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears, who finished 3-3 in the NFC North.
Still, it's only one game, and there's a long season ahead for the Vikings to overcome this loss. Hopefully, they can quickly recover and correct what went wrong, or it will be a really long season.
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A winning record within the division is crucial to making the playoffs. Since the NFL created the current divisional structure in 2002, no NFC North division winner has finished below .500. Of the five wild-card teams from the NFC North, only two finished 3-3 in the division.
Fortunately for the Vikings, they get a chance to tighten things up with a game in Chicago. A win against the Bears could result in at least three teams with a 1-1 record—provided the Packers beat the Redskins in Green Bay. If the Lions lose at Arizona, then potentially no one is running away with the division.
Here's the final injury report from the Vikings website leading into Sunday's game against the Lions.
Three of the players on the list were deactivated for the game. The Vikings certainly missed Kevin Williams' presence on Sunday, as the Lions were able to gain a total of 469 yards, including 117 net rushing yards.
According to head coach Leslie Frazier, during his postgame news conference, the Vikings came out of the Lions game relatively healthy with center John Sullivan suffering a contusion to his left knee.
The injury occurred on a low block by Ndamukong Suh on an interception return in the second quarter.
What Must Improve
Fortunately from the Vikings' 34-24 loss to the Detroit Lions, it's kind of obvious what they need to improve upon for their Week 2 matchup against the Bears.
First, the Vikings need to be more consistent in the running game. Adrian Peterson's final numbers looked impressive—93 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.
However, 78 of those yards came on his first run of the game. After that, he only netted 15 yards on 17 carries—0.88 yards per carry.
The only other player credited with a rushing attempt was quarterback Christian Ponder, who finished with 12 yards on four rushes.
Secondly, the Vikings need to limit turnovers. Fortunately for the Vikings, the problem is concentrated in one player—Ponder.
In the game against the Lions, Ponder was responsible for all four of the Vikings' turnovers. He threw three interceptions and was blamed for the missed handoff to Peterson that resulted in a fourth.
The most crucial of these four was the interception that occurred late in the second quarter with the Vikings within field-goal position. At the time, the Vikings were leading 14-6 with an opportunity to increase their lead.
Instead, on 1st-and-10 from the Lions' 38-yard line with two minutes, 22 seconds left in the half, Ponder was forced from the pocket. As he rolled to his left, he attempted to find a receiver, and as he threw the ball across his body, Suh hit his arm and the ball fluttered into the arms of linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
Detroit quarterback Matt Stafford was easily able to drive the Lions 70 yards, on eight plays in 2:04. The score at halftime was 14-13, and the Lions had all the momentum.
Third, the Vikings need to do a better job in the trenches. The offensive line allowed too much pressure on Ponder, and the defensive line did not put enough pressure on Stafford.
The Lions pestered Ponder all game long. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Detroit finished with two sacks, two quarterback hits and 16 quarterback hurries—that's 20 incidences on 28 passing plays.
Surprisingly, second-year left tackle, Matt Kalil yielded the most hurries with four and allowed one hit. The right side of the line, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, gave up another six hits and allowed a sack.
In comparison, Stafford dropped back 43 times and the Vikings only recorded one sack, three hits and nine quarterback hurries.
The difference was that Ponder was under some kind of pressure 71.4 percent of the time and Stafford only 30.2 percent.
With such a huge difference in the pressure applied, it's kind of surprising the Vikings only lost by 10 points.
There are certainly other areas of the Vikings' game that could be torn apart, such as why was rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson only in on five offensive plays or why linebacker Desmond Bishop didn't play a single snap.
Don't worry, it's a long season, and there will be plenty of opportunities to critique the Vikings every week.