The Lions will try to put rookie quarterback Christian Ponder under as much duress as possible – the Vikings are 29th in sacks allowed – and they will attack the Vikings' suspect defense (30th in points allowed) with all guns drawn, but that is not the primary issue.
The only way the Lions should lose this game is if they beat themselves, and they have shown a great propensity for self-inflicted wounds the last six weeks. They have to eliminate the penalties, particularly those after the whistle and they can't turn the ball over.
The Vikings can't keep pace with the Lions' passing attack, as evidenced by the first meeting this season. Despite a 20-0 halftime lead, the Vikings lost 26-23 in overtime because Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 22 of 30 second-half passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
Whether it's Adrian Peterson running the ball in his return from a high ankle sprain – which is questionable – or Toby Gerhart, the Vikings need to control the game's tempo and keep Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Lions' other passing weapons off the field.
That also will require Ponder to stop turning the ball over. He has proven that he can bounce back from adversity. Now he needs to stop causing so much adversity (nine turnovers in six starts) to come back from.
Defensively, the Vikings need to sell out and blitz more than they're comfortable blitzing. Hey, they're 2-10. What do they have to lose?
Their secondary isn't talented enough to play man coverage, and the spare parts they have in the back end don't mesh well together. So the only chance the Vikings have of disrupting Stafford is to hit him before he has a chance to throw.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings CB Cedric Griffin, who has given up several big plays in his return from two ACL tears – one in each knee – the past two seasons, vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson. It's uncertain if Griffin will get much of a chance to cover Johnson, but if he does Griffin's knees were exposed in Week 3 when Johnson had a big second half in the Lions' stunning comeback victory. Johnson caught six balls in the second half and overtime. He had 101 yards receiving after halftime, including a 40-yarder in overtime. The Lions kicked the game-winning field goal on the next play. Griffin actually had tight coverage on the 40-yarder in OT. Johnson just made a great over-the-shoulder catch. Griffin, however, has gotten progressively worse this season. He's given up many big plays this season, but the Vikings have had no choice but to keep him out there because of how depleted they are in the secondary. The Vikings are considering having CB Asher Allen shadow Johnson, much like he did Carolina's Steve Smith earlier this season. Allen isn't even close to being an elite corner, but at this point he's better than Griffin.
Vikings LBs Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson, who provide the underneath coverages in the team's Tampa-2 coverage schemes, vs. Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew, who is one of many tight ends that have exposed the soft parts of the Vikings' 26th-ranked pass defense this season. Stopping the tight end over the middle has been an Achilles' heel for the Vikings in recent years. It's moved chains on third-and-long, kept the defense on the field and the offense out of sync. In the first meeting, Pettigrew was a big part of the second-half comeback. He caught nine passes for 88 yards after halftime. The Vikings also need the safeties to play tighter behind the linebackers. If everyone plays their assignments, the seams won't be as big for the tight end down the middle of the field. And that will help the defense get off the field.
Lions LT Jeff Backus vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen. Backus may be looking for some redemption. He had his worst game of the season in Minneapolis earlier. With ear-popping noise, he had three false starts and struggled to get off the snap. As a result, Allen, who is having a career-year, ate him up. He had five tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble.
Lions weakened defensive line vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. Peterson has run for more than 100 yards in five of his eight games against the Lions. He has scored eight touchdowns in those games. Peterson has missed the last two games, but he practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday. It's still unclear if he will play. The Lions, meanwhile, will try to stop him without DT Ndamukong Suh (suspended) and possibly his replacement Nick Fairley, who aggravated his surgically repaired foot last week.
Vikings-Lions game plan
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