Ground success will tell the tale of Lions-Vikings

Detroit has lost 21 straight games on the road but that could all change if the Lions can get their running game in gear on Sunday in the Metrodome. Detroit's Joey Harrington is improving while Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper is turning the ball over at an alarming rate. The game will likely boil down to Detroit's 16th rated run game vs. the Vikings 15th rated run defense.

(ALLEN PARK) - The Lions know it, the Vikings know it and everyone watching this game Sunday at 1:00pm in the Metrodome in Minneapolis will know it too.

The loser of this game will have a giant monkey on their back. For the Minnesota Vikings, they will have lost five straight games after starting the season as the toast of the NFL will six straight wins.

But after the Vikings suffered their first loss of the season, owner Red McCombs inexplicably came into the locker room and ripped the team's effort.

From that point the Vikings haven't won a game. The happy harmony that existed within the Minnesota locker room become more fractured with each loss. Defensive linemen Kenny Mixon and Kevin Williams were both arrested for drunken driving and could face sanctions from the NFL.

A loss to the 3-7 Lions will likely result in total chaso in that room and some personnel turnover in the Vikings personnel and coaching staff at season's end. "Psychologically, any time you lose four in a row, there will be a little dent in the armor," Vikings safety Corey Chavous said. "There's not a break in the foundation."

For the Lions, they already have a huge monkey on their backs, the weight of a 21-game road losing streak. Detroit sees this as their last, best chance to get a win on the road, their next two chances are at the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs and at the 8-2 Carolina Panthers.

Detroit hopes to get a lift from rookie 6th round draft pick David Kircus. Kircus was signed to a contract yesterday and will take the roster spot vacated by the injured Scotty Anderson who was playing the best football of his career at the time of his injury. Kircus is a high energy player with good hands and decent speed.

More importantly for Detroit, they need to get their running game in gear. Detroit is last in the NFC in rushing averaging just 80 yards per game. They'll need to do better than that against a Minnesota run defense that is 15th in the conference surrendering 135.2

If Shawn Bryson, Olandis Gary and Avon Cobourne can combine to get Detroit over the 100 yard rushing mark, it will bode well for Detroit's chances of keeping the ball away from the explosive duo of Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss. The Vikings held Detroit to 77 yards rushing in their previous meeting.

Lately, though, for the Vikings, the blow-ups have been the "in your face" variety. Minnesota is among the worst in the NFL in turnovers (second in the conference with a +7 giveaway/takeaway differential). Culpepper has been had a problem historically with fumbling the football. "I have got to hold onto that ball," Culpepper said. "I take big hits. I've got to hold it."

In last week's loss on the road to the Oakland Raiders, Culpepper threw three interceptions and fumbled twice leading directly to the loss

Detroit hopes to put pressure on the Vikings defense by slowing its run game (4th in the NFC averaging 128.9) and forcing Culpepper into obvious passing situations where they can send passing rushing ends James Hall (4.5 sacks) and Kalimba Edwards (2.0 sacks) after Culpepper.

Detroit will have to tighten up a kick return unit that has been decimated by injuries. Normally a strength, Detroit has fallen to last in the league in kick return defense and the Vikings Onterrio Smith, former teammate of Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, will look to exploit an area of Detroit's team that was once a strenghth.

PICK: If the Lions can slow the early emotional onslaught by the Vikings and not get behind the eight ball early, they'll have a chance in this one. The must run the football and keep Minnesota's potentially potent offense on the sideline by moving the chains.

Detroit will have to cover kicks better than they have up to now and force some Viking turnovers. In short, like coach Steve Mariucci said early in the week, "they'll win when they play better than the opposition."

Detroit's Jason Hanson could be a big factor if the Lions can keep it close and allow Hanson to win it with his leg. The monkey jumps off Detroit onto Minnesota

Detroit 19- Minnesota 17

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