The Vikings will look to get their offense on track against a Lions defense that has given up 54 points in its first two games, including 35 in a loss last Sunday to Philadelphia.
The Vikings offensive line figures to have its hands full with rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and end Kyle Vanden Bosch putting pressure on Brett Favre. Minnesota's greatest success so far has come on the ground, as Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson is off to a good start.
The Lions are giving up an average of 131.5 yards per game on the ground — 27th in the NFL — and Peterson has rushed for 232 yards in two games, putting him third in the league.
Minnesota needs to get quarterback Brett Favre on track. He has thrown only one touchdown and four interceptions and hasn't developed a rhythm with any of his wide receivers.
This includes Bernard Berrian, who was expected to be Minnesota's go-to receiver with Sidney Rice sidelined. Berrian has only three receptions for 27 yards.
The Lions defense has given up 304.5 passing yards per game, putting them near the bottom of the league in that category as well.
Defensively, the Vikings surrendered 120 rushing yards to the Dolphins on Sunday. That's a rarity for one of the better run defense in the NFL. Shaun Hill is expected to start at quarterback for the Lions in place of the injured Matthew Stafford.
The Vikings defense is going to have to be aware of rookie running back Jahvid Best at all times because of his play-making ability. If wide receiver Nate Burleson (ankle) is unavailable for the Lions that will take a weapon from a passing attack that also features Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew.
The Lions have to find some way to loosen the Vikings defense. Both the Bears and Eagles dared the Lions to run against their base defense while keeping both safeties back to bracket and disarm the threat of WR Calvin Johnson. The Lions found ways to manipulate other matchups (RB Jahvid Best and TE Brandon Pettigrew) and they will do the same against the Vikings.
But when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter and the Lions needed to make a play down field, they were completely stymied. The Eagles never brought that eighth defender into the box and the Lions managed 115 yards rushing, six in the second half.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings CB Lito Sheppard, who is playing the left corner in the nickel package, vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson, who has caught eight passes for 95 yards and a touchdown this season. The Miami Dolphins had immediate success against the Vikings nickel package last Sunday by going right at Sheppard on the Dolphins' first play from scrimmage. The result was a 46-yard pass completion from Chad Henne to 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall that set up a touchdown. You think the Lions aren't going to notice that? Johnson is 6-5 and stands to create trouble for Sheppard or Asher Allen, who was starting at left corner. Sheppard is only 5-10 and Allen is 5-9. Antoine Winfield, the starter at right corner who moves inside in the nickel, also is 5-9 but he is the Vikings' best cornerback. The wild card in the equation could be the health of the Vikings' two biggest cornerbacks. If Chris Cook (6-2) and Cedric Griffin (6-0) are far enough past their knee surgery, they would be a better matchup against Johnson. Cook could provide some much-needed size against Johnson if he can play.
Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie, who played last week despite a dislocated finger, vs. Lions DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has 1.5 sacks this season after being signed to a four-year, $26 million free-agent deal this offseason. McKinnie has had issues at times with top-flight defensive ends and he now will be facing Vanden Bosch and Chicago's Julius Peppers twice a season. This will be McKinnie's first test. The key for McKinnie, who is in his ninth season, is simply showing consistency because he has the athletic ability to be a very good player. Vanden Bosch plays with a motor that never quits and will spend the afternoon using a variety of moves to try to get around the 6-8, 335-pound McKinnie.
The offensive lines vs. the defensive lines on both sides. The Lions spent the summer revamping their defensive line. They signed Vanden Bosch, traded for Corey Williams and drafted Suh to go along with an athletic defensive end they've developed from Purdue named Cliff Avril.
The Minnesota Vikings have on their defensive front a top tier defensive tackle (Kevin Williams), a top-end trade acquisition (Jared Allen), a run stuffer (Pat Williams) and an athletic end from Purdue (Ray Edwards).
"You are going to have a hard time finding better defensive lines than they have in this division," said Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. "This is just another test for us. It's a great matchup (of front fours) and we have to do what we can to make it a wash."
Lions rookie DT Ndamukong Suh, who had eight tackles last week, vs. Vikings All-Pro LG Steve Hutchinson. It will be a power-on-power battle.
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