The Vikings bring a four-game losing streak to Ford Field this weekend and an overall record of 2-10. The East Dakota Barneys have fewer victories this season than Albert Pujols had $200-plus million contract offers this week.
The Lions are also struggling as of late. After pacing the field through the first part of the season with a perfect 5-0 record, the Lions have hit the three-quarter pole losing five of the last seven and now are on the outside looking in for one of the two wild-card spots.
Let’s not write this team off just yet though, the Lions are playing meaningful games in December, and back in August, that’s pretty much what all Lions fans were hoping for, right?
As the Lions begin the last quarter of the season, the final four games Schwartz used last year to simulate a playoff run, the training wheels are off and the bullets are live.
The final pair of home and away games could propel the Lions into the playoffs thanks to the great state of Texas.
Yes, the Lions can thank the Lone Star State for still having a shot at the 2011 playoffs.
With the Texans knocking off the Falcons and Jason Garrett icing his own Cowboy kicker to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the Lions remain a singular winning yellow rose out of the playoffs.
But the Texas influence goes further. It was former Texas Longhorn Roy Williams that dropped a first-and-goal pass that ultimately was intercepted and helped the Chiefs upset the Bears. Plus, the only touchdown of the game was an alley-oop reception in the end zone by Dexter McCluster.
Wait, McCluster went to Mississippi you say? Correct, but he has increased reps because Longhorn Jamaal Charles was lost for the year when he stepped on the first-down marker earlier this year in Detroit. Who says the Lions don’t control their own destiny?
If Detroit can beat Minnesota this week, it will mark the first time since 1992 that the Lions will have a three-game winning streak against the Vikings.
Once again, we will forgo discussing Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. I will, however, replace Ndamukong Suh, who is finishing his two-week staycation by pouring over repair costs for his 1970 Chevelle, with Jeff Backus.
As Jared Allen comes to town with his infantile comments this week, the matchup between the Texan-born redneck and Lions' consecutive start leader Backus is a no-brainer.
Here are the Van Etten V...
Gosder Cherilus should have Bob Marley’s Redemption Song looping on his iPod this week.
"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery," because "None but ourselves can free our minds.”
How true. Cherilus should be motivated to show his coaching staff and a sold-out Ford Field he is ready to break the chains of Brian Robison.
It was Week 3 that Gosder was embarrassed by the Vikings defensive end for two sacks and was forced to the bench for Corey Hilliard.
With the Vikings still having a stout run defense, 12th in the league, the Lions will be throwing often, and with Jared Allen coming from the opposite side, Stafford will be sliding to his right, and it will be up to Gosder to keep No. 9 comfortable.
With the referee pimp slap delivered by Brandon Pettigrew last week and Titus Young’s red-zone brain fart, it’s quite possible Tony Scheffler gets some more looks this week.
We’ll see if Schwartz reprimands Pettigrew with less playing time or by giving him more assignments helping Backus and Cherilus block the Texas combo of Allen and Robison.
Pettigrew was the beneficiary of the Vikings defense in Week 3 as they attempted to take away the outside and left the middle of the field for Pettigrew to exploit for 11 catches and 112 yards.
Scheffler has only 18 receptions this season for 231 yards, but he has more touchdown receptions, outside of Calvin, than any other Lion with five trips to the end zone.
The seam route connection has been perfected by Scheffler and Stafford this season, and if we in the stands know it’s coming when the Lions set up in an apparent running formation, I’ll be interested to see if the Vikings recognize it as well.
With a touchdown every four receptions, if the PA announcer says Tony, Toni, Tone, chances are the next Scheffler reception will be accompanied by a touchdown celebration.
A young inexperienced quarterback plus a speed rusher equates to big numbers; whether it’s Chris Ponder or Joe Webb, Cliff Avril should be smiling come Sunday night.
In the last meeting with the Vikings, Avril got to the ever-expanding waistline of Donovan McNabb as part of his team-leading seven sacks. The Lions sackmaster also leads the team in forced fumbles with five.
At some point, Cliff should get to one of the green signal-callers on Sunday, and his carrot should be no bigger than this week.
Cliff is still looking for his big contract, and with all the losses on the defense: Suh, Fairley, Delmas and Houston, there's no better time to show the front office he can put the D on his shoulders and come up with a huge effort with a depleted supporting cast.
With young quarterbacks in sight and Benjamins on the table, it’s a perfect storm for Cliff to destroy the Vikings ship.
Adrian Peterson has missed the Vikings last two games and is listed as questionable for Sunday, but if he goes, Justin Durant will be waiting.
With Peterson’s ability to cut back and slide out the backside, Durant will have to fight the urge to attack and stay home to fill his gap or maintain containment.
The outside linebacker had one of his better games this year at the Metrodome. He had six tackles but suffered a concussion that kept him out of the next three contests; he should be looking for payback.
Even with missing those games, Durant is still seventh on the team with 41 tackles and will get plenty of opportunities on Sunday as the Vikings should lean heavily on the run to keep the ball out of Stafford’s hands.
When they do go to the air, expect a short passing tree. Last week, 14 of Ponder’s 29 completions went to running backs and tight ends.
Durant will need to recognize the screen plays and close quickly in the flats to force Minnesota to look further downfield and allow the Lions front four time to meet at the quarterback.
Do you remember the last time Jason Hanson missed more than one field goal attempt in a game?
You have to go back to December 2, 2001 in Chicago where he missed three of four attempts.
Yes, Hanson has been the Rock of Gibraltar for a decade before the blocked kick and failed 55 yard attempt in New Orleans.
If Schwartz uses this home game as a “teaching opportunity” and sits some of the players that killed drives last week with mental misfires, combined with the Vikings inexperienced quarterback and less than 100 percent running back corps, I could see Linehan playing this one close to the vest and the kicking game becoming critical in the second half.
I expect Hanson to deliver, don’t get me wrong, but kickers are like golfers; you never know when you’re going to get the yips.
It would be nice to make sure Hanson’s confidence is still strong heading to Oakland for what will probably be a must win to keep the Lions in the playoff chase.
Those are my five to watch. Enjoy the game!