By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings follow its most impressive win of the season with a trip to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions. It will be the first divisional game for both teams.
The Lions (1-2) are off to a disappointing start. It has lost back-to-back games against the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans, both road games.
Lions on Offense
The Lions have a pass-happy, spread’em out, aggressive offensive scheme. The strength of the Lions offense is at quarterback and receiver.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is banged up with a mysterious leg injury. If he is unable to play on Sunday former Viking Shaun Hill will start. He is just as capable to run the offense as Stafford.
Stafford, when healthy, is as good as any quarterback, which is what the NFL world saw last season. In his previous two seasons, he totaled 13 games played. Knee and shoulder injuries derailed his first two seasons.
The Lions will spread the ball around to three wide receivers, two tight ends and two running backs. They all have more than five receptions on the year. The three favorites are wide receivers Calvin Johnson and former Viking Nate Burleson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Those three all average more than five receptions per game.
The Lions lack a threat at running back. Mikel Leshoure played his first NFL game last week and reached the 100 yard mark, but only has a 3.8 yard per carry average.
Lions on Defense
The Lions are very aggressive on defense as well. The stout defensive tackle tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams like to get penetration up the middle. They, along with the two defensive ends, have a tendency to be overaggressive. Offensive lines have taken advantage of that to open up big running lanes and allowing plenty of passing time and space.
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is an underrated tackling machine that keeps the defense from collapsing when the offense gets those big play opportunities.
The Lions are thin at corner and battered at safety. Louis Delmas, widely regarded as the best defensive back on the Lions, missed practice Wednesday. He has yet to play this season and his replacement, John Wendling, is third on the team in tackles.
Basic assessment of the Lions defense is that it is an underachieving unit that was gashed by offenses that should not have been successful (St. Louis Rams and Titans).
Lions Players to Watch
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson: Megatron has that nickname for a reason. Former Lions teammate Roy Williams gave the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket the nickname and it stuck. He is big, fast and incredibly athletic. He already has 24 receptions for 369 yards this season, despite an ankle injury that limited him in practice. It sounds as if the Vikings are going to try to match Chris Cook against as much as possible. Leslie Frazier said Cook would line up opposite him, but did not say how often or in what technique.
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch: The Lions signed the unheralded free agent prior to the 2011 season. The Lions needed a boost at linebacker and Tulloch has done just that. With the help of two very good defensive tackles, Tulloch leads a tough interior run defense. When in position, it is nearly impossible to run up the middle on this unit.
The Lions were thought to be the second best team in the NFC North division behind the Green Bay Packers. However, through three games, things may be changing. The Lions are struggling with its consistency, especially with its running offense and entire defense. Even though Hill is a capable backup, the Lions will not make the playoffs if Stafford is out long-term.
A win by the Vikings would keep them at least tied for the division lead.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.