The Vikings and Lions each have weaknesses the other will be looking to expose. Get the matchups to watch and the key injuries that could affect the outcome to Sunday's NFC North matchup.
VIKINGS GAME PLAN
The Vikings must stop the run in the first half in order to keep the Lions from gaining valuable momentum that will be tough to overcome at Ford Field.
In the Vikings' 22-19 victory over the Lions at the Metrodome last month, the Lions ran for 128 yards and a 6.1-yard average. At the time, the Lions ranked last in the NFL in rushing with a 75.1-yard average. Now, after strong running games against Arizona and Green Bay the last two weeks, they're 21st in the league in rushing with a 107.9-yard average.
If the Vikings shut down RB Kevin Jones
, QB Joey Harrington
will find a way to lose the game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings MLB E.J. Henderson
vs. Lions RB Kevin Jones — Jones ran for 95 yards on 15 carries in the first half of the last meeting, which the Vikings won 22-19 on Nov. 21. The entire Vikings defense was to blame, but Henderson especially. Poor alignment and technique contributed to large holes for Jones to run through. The Vikings made adjustments at halftime, and Jones ran for only five yards in the second half.
Vikings C Cory Withrow vs. Lions DTs Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson — The last time these teams met, Pro Bowler Matt Birk started at center. Birk is a large, active center who can block either Rogers or Wilkinson one on one. Withrow is smaller and shorter and will need help dealing with these two, especially Rogers. If Rogers and Wilkinson disrupt the middle, it affects the running game and pass protection.
Vikings pass defense against Lions QB Joey Harrington — Harrington is one of the easiest quarterbacks to rattle in the NFL. Lance Johnstone sacked him three times at the Metrodome this season, and Harrington was jittery at the end of the game. The Vikings won't have the home-field noise, which destroyed Harrington's poise earlier this season. They'll also be without CB Antoine Winfield, who is out because of a sprained left ankle. Harrington has thrown eight interceptions this season. The Vikings' defense had two picks last week, by CB Brian Williams and FS Brian Russell.
WR Randy Moss' strained right hamstring is nearly 100 percent. He caught four passes for 104 yards and a touchdown Sunday and reported no setbacks.
CB Antoine Winfield probably will miss his second consecutive game because of a high left ankle sprain. It will be a huge loss, as evidenced by the first half of Sunday's loss to Seattle. The Vikings tried to play zone defenses in the first half, but several blown assignments led to two touchdown passes and one long completion that set up another TD pass. Terrance Shaw replaces Winfield and isn't bad in man coverage. Derek Ross comes off the bench to play Shaw's nickel back position. He has talent but hasn't shown it. He was almost released because of poor play two weeks ago. Last week, he gave up a 37-yarder on third down when the Vikings desperately needed the ball back late in the game.
WLB Raonall Smith, who missed six consecutive games because of two concussions earlier in the season, was placed on injured reserve. He could have helped on special teams down the stretch.
C Matt Birk will miss his fourth consecutive game because of hernia surgery. Backup Cory Withrow will start again. This will be Withrow's toughest assignment since replacing Birk. The smallish center will have to help block Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, two massive defensive tackles.
CB Ralph Brown, who fractured an eye socket Sunday, probably is out for the season. He was the team's dime back. The Vikings promoted practice squad player Rhett Nelson.
LIONS GAME PLAN
The Lions had a 17-9 lead on Minnesota midway in the third quarter of their Nov. 21 game at Minneapolis but couldn't move the ball or get anymore points and ended up losing the game by a field goal.
With QB Joey Harrington struggling, look for the Lions to run the ball early and often against a Vikings defense that ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run.
Defensively, they will have their hands full if WR Randy Moss is playing anywhere near his full capability. Even without him in the November game, QB Daunte Culpepper was able to pick the Lions defense apart for short gains in long scoring drives.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Lions CB Dre' Bly vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss — Moss didn't play in the first game against the Lions, but he's apparently close to 100 percent recovered from the hamstring injury he suffered early in the season. Bly struggled early in the season after suffering a sprained knee but has played better the last two weeks.
Lions RB Kevin Jones vs. Vikings MLB E.J. Henderson — Jones has been on a tear the last five weeks and, considering the Lions' struggles with the passing game, they're likely to run him until the Vikings prove they can stop him.
LT Jeff Backus missed some practice time early in the week with a calf injury but is expected to play.
CB Fernando Bryant sat out the loss at Green Bay and isn't likely to play against the Vikings, leaving backup CB Andre Goodman to cover WR Kelly Campbell or Nate Burleson.