Friday, November 9, 2012

Extra! Extra! A Vikings Pre-Game Extra.

The writer for Kick Ass Blog (Vikings) and I agreed to write an article for each others site. Mine can be located at his blog So without further ado, here is a Vikings Pre-Game Extra Edition:

The Minnesota Vikings are going in the wrong direction. A surprisingly strong 5-2 start is a fading memory. The club has lost three of its last four games and had their asses handed to them two weeks in a row by Tampa Bay and Seattle. Confidence is at a season low. This is great news, of course, if you’re a Detroit Lions fan. What better way to keep the recent good times rolling than to play a young team that is struggling badly.

The struggles start with quarterback Christian Ponder, who didn’t do much in the road win against your Lions in late September. But that performance (16-26, 111 yards, no TDs or interceptions) was All-Pro-like compared to how he played last week in the loss to Seattle (63 passing yards! 63!). Ponder’s shown poor pocket awareness during his 19 starts in the NFL, but poor has morphed into abysmal the past three weeks. It’s affecting his decision-making, his mechanics and his throwing accuracy. He might be the worst starting QB in the NFL right now.

While Ponder has been playing unwatchable football, the Vikings ineptness in the passing game has truly been a team effort. Their wide receivers can’t beat opposing DBs one-on-one, whether they are running short or long routes. The offensive line has really struggled to pass protect the pass two weeks, particularly against blitzes. And tight end Kyle Rudolph has gone from a dangerous weapon to Mr. Blank Stat Sheet during this slump. What should really make Lions fans smile is that Percy Harvin – the NFL’s Most Dangerous Man – has a sprained left ankle and said on Monday he was a “long shot” to play Sunday. Without Harvin around, the Vikings offense become even easier to defend. Harvin's absence also means the Lions don't have to deal with him on kickoff returns.

I understand the Lions aren’t a very good blitzing team (your defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has said so). But it might be worth a try in this game because Ponder has been curling up in the fetal position at the first smell of pressure. If the Lions front seven can get any type of heat on Ponder Sunday, it should be a banner day for the Detroit defense.

Offensively for Detroit, in the first game against the Vikings, Minnesota made the Lions one-dimensional by smothering Mikel Leshoure and Company. That allowed the Vikings to play their safeties deep with an eye towards preventing the big plays to Megatron, and forcing Matt Stafford – who looked out of sorts most of the game – to beat them with short stuff. It worked. But the Lions run game seems to have improved of late and I don’t think the Vikings defense will be able to shut it down like it did at Ford Field. The Vikings last four opponents have run wild on them. Its front seven is getting pushed around and not playing its gaps very well. And the tackling – so solid in the win against Detroit – has been awful of late.

We all know Detroit is a passing team, but it should try to establish the run with Leshoure and Joique Bell running at what has been a very soft middle of the Vikings defense. Force the Vikings to respect the run, and it will allow Stafford to use play-action effectively and give him a clean pocket to pass from. The Lions offense doesn’t have to worry about turnovers, either, because the Minnesota defense doesn’t force any (just three in the last four games). The secondary is much improved over the sorry crew the Vikings ran out there in 2011, but if the Lions are able to run the ball effectively, and Stafford gets time to throw it, the Vikes Cover Two zones will only hold up for so long.

To win this game, the Lions really just need to stay out of their own way. Play a turnover-free game on offense and take advantage of the Vikings poor tackling and gap coverage to score 25-plus points. Then force Ponder and his wide receivers to beat you – it’s highly doubtful they are up to the task.

Oh, yes, one other thing – your defense must stop Adrian Peterson. Roughly 10 months removed from blowing out his left knee, Peterson is on fire right now. He’s rushed for 458 yards in his last three games on just 55 carries (8.3 yards per carry), and he’s shown the agility, burst and “make-you-miss” ability that guy’s coming off reconstructive knee surgery just aren’t supposed to possess this soon. Peterson’s generally run very well against the Lions, and if Detroit’s defense can’t stop him, that gives the Vikings a chance to win this game. Bottle him up somehow – especially if Harvin can't play – and it's hard for this Vikings fans to envision how Minnesota wins this game without the Lions totally self-destructing.

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