Vikings leery of Lions’ big threats

The Vikings prepared as if Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will both play. Both of them might not, but Minnesota’s defensive backs are working under multiple strategies to account for the possibilities.

For years, the Detroit Lions have been a competitive team because of the explosive playmakers they possess on offense. First overall draft pick Matthew Stafford is locked and loaded for a long-term run. Calvin Johnson, taken ahead of Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft, has earned the nickname “Megatron.” Reggie Bush, for all his faults, has killed the Vikings in the past.

Of those Big Three, only Stafford may end up playing Sunday.

As the Vikings prepare for Detroit at TCF Bank Stadium, the uncertainty as to how much – or if at all – Bush or Johnson will play will weigh on the Vikings. Is their playing status subterfuge that is the quiet, covert nature of NFL warfare?

Probably not. But, as it concerns Johnson and Bush, the Vikings aren’t buying what the injury report is selling. The Vikings are impressed with the Lions offense and two of the players most responsible for keeping their passing game in check – safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson – are taking a cautious approach. They would prefer not to see Megatron or Bush, but they’re not taking their potential absence as gospel on Sunday.

“They’re strong with or without him,” Robinson said, speaking on Johnson. “Of course, they’re better with him. We’re going to prepare as if he is going to play. We’re going to go in with a game plan expecting that they’re both going to be there – Calvin and Reggie Bush.”

The only certainty of the Big Three is Matthew Stafford. The Vikings have had his number, winning three of their last four meetings, but Stafford is a quarterback capable of great things and tragic errors. Smith said in film study, he sees a different Stafford. He’s more composed and, if given time, he is a big play waiting to happen.

But the Lions have allowed 17 sacks this season, including 10 in the last two games against the Jets and Bills. If the Vikings’ defensive backs are going to have an impact, it would seem the pass rush will lead directly to them.

“Stafford is a guy who can make all the throws,” Smith said. “He’s mobile and can get outside of people’s grasp and create throws. We have to focus on us. As long as we’re in our place and don’t let him out of the pocket, don’t get off our keys or let him look us off, we can keep him from doing what he wants to.”

The bigger question is whether the rumors will become fact and the Vikings won’t have to deal with Megatron. Officially, he is listed as doubtful. For all intents, Johnson has been largely negated by the Vikings. In 13 career games, he has caught 62 passes for 873 yards and seven touchdowns. For the purposes of comparison, in 12 games against the Packers, Megatron has caught 71 passes for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns – numbers more reflective of his career production.

He is to the Lions offense what A.P. has been to the Vikings offense. Every defensive coordinator and player who comes in contact with him has to be on alert. They’ve been warned.

“Everybody knows who Calvin is,” Smith said. “When he’s on the field, you recognize him right away. He can stretch the field and he’s such a big target, he is just unique in that he has it all – size, strength, speed. We’re preparing as if he’s going to play.”

Defensive end Corey Wootton described Johnson as “close to my size and he runs a 4.3” – frighteningly high praise. Those who may end up locked on him would much prefer to see him sitting this one out, because he is as dangerous as his nickname implies.

“He’s a great receiver,” Robinson said. “He’s a big guy, a guy that can run and he’s definitely a vertical threat – a guy that can catch the ball in double coverage. You’ve really got to keep an eye on him. You’ve got to be physical with him and be like a gnat – all over him. You have to agitate him and try to frustrate him.”

It’s little consolation for the Vikings that, if Megatron is sidelined, Golden Tate will be the primary target. In the last two games, Tate has 250 receiving yards and, in his only previous game against the Vikings, he only caught three passes – but two of them went for touchdowns.

Whether he is viewed as second fiddle to Johnson or not, the Vikings have a significant amount of respect for what Tate can do on the field.

“He’s an explosive guy,” Robinson said. “We’ve often compared him to Percy (Harvin) – a guy that is very explosive and can make plays with or without the ball.”

While there remains a sense of mystery as to who will be in uniform for the Lions and who won’t on Sunday, the Vikings secondary is focusing on burying the bad memory of the loss to the Packers and getting back to the basics on their home turf.

The Vikings are preparing multiple defensive game plans – one that doesn’t include Megatron, one that doesn’t include Bush, one that includes neither and one that includes both.

Whichever one gets activated on Sunday, the focus of the secondary is to make right what was so wrong a week ago Thursday. As they see it, there is just too much talent on the Vikings defense to witness a repeat performance.

“Knowing you have the players with the talent and ability to make the plays you need and you don’t makes it more frustrating than anything,” Smith said. “We didn’t, but at the same time we know we can correct it. It’s just on us to do it – focus and do our jobs.”

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