Vikings-Lions Game Plan

The running game is key to the Vikings' success Sunday. The numbers stack in their favor, but after what they've experienced the last two weeks they can hardly be overconfident.

This is an excellent chance for the Vikings' defense to regain some confidence. The Lions are a horrendously poor running team, ranking last in the NFL with an average of 80 yards per game.

For the first time in more than a month, the Vikings are hoping to be able to defend the run with only their front seven. That will allow the safeties, which have missed way too many tackles in run support the last four weeks, to concentrate on stopping the pass.

The Vikings are 28th in stopping the run (135.2) and have given up 261, 211 and 191 the past three games against Green Bay, San Diego and Oakland, respectively.

If the Vikings can make the Lions one-dimensional, that puts the game in the hands of Lions quarterback Joey Harrington. Harrington has thrown 15 interceptions, 11 touchdown passes and is completing only 54.1 percent.

The Lions ran for only 77 yards while Harrington threw three interceptions in the Vikings' 23-13 victory at Detroit on Sept. 21.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Vikings receivers Randy Moss and Kelly Campbell against Detroit cornerbacks Dre Bly and Otis Smith. In the first meeting, a 23-13 Vikings' victory at Detroit on Sept. 21, Moss and Campbell caught 72-yard passes from backup quarterback Gus Frerotte, who made his first appearance as a Viking after Daunte Culpepper fractured bones in his lower back. Bly had an interception and four tackles in the first meeting. Smith, a 14-year veteran, was forced to play in that game because starter Andre Goodman suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Moss had only three catches for 85 yards. Campbell had two for 85, including a 72-yard touchdown.

  • Vikings running backs Moe Williams and Michael Bennett against Detroit's front seven. The Vikings were coming off a 202-yard rushing effort against Chicago when they faced Detroit the first time this season. They were expected to pound the Lions' weak run defense, but ran the ball only seven times in the first half. Only four of the carries were called runs. The Vikings again should be able to run the ball against Detroit's defense. Moe Williams had 95 yards on 13 carries (7.3) in the first meeting. Bennett was on the physically unable to perform list. He has played the last three games, but hasn't carried the ball more than eight times because the Vikings have trailed and lost all three games. Lions middle linebacker Earl Holmes has a team-high 81 tackles. If the front seven can't stop the running game, safety Brian Walker will have to move closer to the line of scrimmage. Walker is the Lions' second-leading tackler with 80.

  • Vikings safeties Brian Russell and Corey Chavous against Lions quarterback Joey Harrington. Harrington has thrown 15 interceptions and only 11 touchdown passes this season. Chavous leads the NFL with seven interceptions while Russell is tied for second with six. The Vikings had 18 interceptions after eight games, but have none in the past two. Chavous and Russell each had one interception against Harrington in the first meeting this season.

  • Vikings linebackers against Detroit's running game. The Vikings have given up 261, 211 and 191 yards rushing the past four weeks. The Lions are last in the NFL in rushing. They're averaging only 80 yards per game, and had only 17 in a 12-10 victory over the Bears two weeks ago. The Vikings want linebackers Greg Biekert, Chris Claiborne and Henri Crockett to take control of stopping the run. If they can do that, the safeties can focus on the passing game.

  • Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper against the Lions defense. Culpepper had six turnovers in his first seven games. Last week, he had five. He lost two of three fumbles and threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown on the second play of the game. The Lions are tied for third-worst in the NFC with only 14 takeaways. Culpepper, who has sulked after poor games in the past, has remained upbeat this week.

    — Vikings return game against Lions kick coverage. The Vikings have improved their kickoff returns the past three weeks with Onterrio Smith as the primary kickoff returner. The team's first returns against San Diego and Oakland crossed midfield and should have set the tone for scoring drives. But the Vikings ended up punting against the Chargers and throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown against Oakland. Detroit ranks last in kickoff coverage (25.5) and has given up a touchdown. Smith is averaging 23.6 yards per return and opened with a 46-yarder against the Raiders.

  • Vikings pass rush against Lions pass protection. The Lions rank first in sacks per pass play. They've given up only seven sacks in 377 attempts. The Vikings' defense has 24 sacks, led by nickel rusher Lance Johnstone's 6 1/2. Johnstone had 1 1/2 sacks against the Lions in the first meeting this season.

    INJURY IMPACT: LB Raonall Smith, who has been inactive the past four games because of a hamstring injury, is a solid special teams player. But the Vikings have enough young athletes to take his spot.

  • KR-WR Nick Davis, who hasn't played all season because of a shoulder injury, hasn't been needed because the kickoff return unit has played well the last two weeks.

    The Vikings have lost four in a row to some not-so-great teams (San Diego and Oakland, for instance) but it's hard to imagine the Lions shutting down the Minnesota offense, especially with CB Dre' Bly playing at something less than 100 percent with a hamstring. That being the case, they're going to have to score a load of points against a Minnesota defense that ranks 29th overall in the NFL, just to stay in the game. The Lions will have to attack, attack, attack but it won't be easy with their injury-depleted WR corps and their lack of a running game.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Lions CB Dre' Bly vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss. The Lions felt pretty good about themselves after holding Moss to three catches for 85 yards in the Sept. 21 game although it came out later than Moss was playing sick.

  • Lions FB Cory Schlesinger vs. Vikings WLB Chris Claiborne. The Lions will have to try to run the ball, which means Schlesinger will be blocking against his former teammate, now the Vikes' leading tackler.

    INJURY IMPACT: The Lions could have even more problems than usual if they can't keep CB Dre' Bly (hamstring) and LB Boss Bailey (shoulder) on the field to deal with the Vikings' high-powered offense. Both Bly and Bailey will play but a reinjury could finish either of them for the day, as it did with Bailey last Sunday at Seattle. The loss of WRs Shawn Jefferson and Scotty Anderson leaves Mariucci in a precarious situation with only four WRs, including rookie David Kircus in his first NFL game.

  • Viking Update Top Stories