Vikings-Lions Game Plan

The Vikings are hoping there is little interim Lions coach Dick Jauron can do with Detroit's lackluster offense. The Vikings do have to be wary of their defense, however, as it gets two important starters back on the field.

VIKINGS

The Vikings aren't quite sure what to expect with Dick Jauron replacing Steve Mariucci as Detroit's coach.

Jauron, for the most part, is going to need to keep the Lions' current system in place, but Vikings coach Mike Tice said he wouldn't be surprised to see Detroit attempt to utilize a greater vertical attack with receivers Charles Rogers, Mike Williams and Roy Williams. Jauron revealed Wednesday that Jeff Garcia will get the start at quarterback; Joey Harrington started the previous game against Minnesota.

Tice wouldn't elaborate much more about his thoughts on what strategy Detroit might employ. "We have to think outside the box," Tice said. "We have some history that we can rely on from (new Lions offensive coordinator) Greg Olson, and we'll do that, but we can't do that 100 percent. So we have to prepare for what we've seen to this point, and we have to prepare for what we think we might see. So that puts us in a little bit of a bind."

Minnesota's defense has been playing exceptionally of late, forcing an NFL-high 15 turnovers during its four-game winning streak, and it's unlikely Jauron will be able to do anything drastic with an offense ranked 27th in the league.

The bigger concern might be the Lions defense, which is ranked 14th. Jauron was brought to Detroit last year to serve as the team's defensive coordinator, and it's likely he will try to exploit the flaws in the Vikings offense.

There appear to be many. Brad Johnson is 4-0 since taking over as Minnesota's starting quarterback, but the offense is 25th in the league and doesn't even begin to resemble the once high-powered unit of Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss.

The Vikings' biggest goal these days is to establish the play-action pass as a threat so it can set up some sort of vertical game. Cleveland had to respect the play action enough that the plan worked last Sunday. The reality, however, is that the Vikings' running game has been hit and miss at best. Fortunately for the Vikings, Detroit is 26th against the run, meaning RB Mewelde Moore could be in for a successful day.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Vikings C Melvin Fowler and RG Anthony Herrera will have the task of going against DTs Dan Wilkinson and Shaun Rogers. Wilkinson only had three tackles against the Vikings on Nov. 6, and Rogers did not play because of injury, but the two veterans could create problems for inexperienced starters Fowler and Herrera. Herrera can tend to play out of control at times, so Rogers will try to take advantage. Wilkinson, meanwhile, will try to use his 335-pound bulk against the 295-pound Fowler.

  • Vikings RB Mewelde Moore will be a focus of the Lions linebackers. Michael Bennett rushed for 106 yards against the Lions on Nov. 6 as Moore saw limited action, partially because of a right wrist injury he suffered. New coach Dick Jauron, no doubt, won't want to let the Vikings running game get started.

    INJURY IMPACT

    The Vikings will be counting on rookie DT C.J. Mosley to fill in for injured Pro Bowl player Kevin Williams. Although he certainly wasn't having another Pro Bowl season, Williams' absence will be a blow to the depth in the middle of the Vikings' line. Mosley's durability also will be tested as he gets far more reps than he has been used to this season.

    Spencer Johnson, returning after a three-game absence, will play behind Mosley.

    Brian Williams will start at cornerback for a fourth consecutive game as Fred Smoot isn't ready to return yet from a fractured right collarbone.

    LIONS

    The Vikings haven't lost a game since Brad Johnson was forced into the starting lineup, which is a pretty good indication the Lions have to stop Johnson if they're going to turn around the 27-14 loss four weeks ago in Minneapolis.

    The return of CB Dre' Bly, who missed the first game with a wrist injury, should help the Lions.

    Offensively, the Lions' running game has not been productive and, with RB Kevin Jones limited by a quadriceps injury, it will be up to QB Jeff Garcia to try to exploit the Vikings' pass defense, ranked 25th in the NFL.

    MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • Lions QB Jeff Garcia vs. Vikings FS Darren Sharper. One of Sharper's seven interceptions this season came in the first game against Joey Harrington and the Lions. Garcia can't afford to give the ball away but was not impressive in his Thanksgiving Day appearance against Atlanta.

  • Lions LT Jeff Backus vs. Vikings DRE Erasmus James. Backus has had a tough season and now he's hampered by a sprained ankle, but he'll have to protect Garcia's backside against the rookie James.

  • Lions CB Dre' Bly vs. Vikings WR Marcus Robinson. Bly sounded off against some of his offensive teammates after the firing of coach Steve Mariucci and will be under pressure to give a good accounting of himself, probably against Robinson, who leads the Vikings with five touchdown catches.

    INJURY IMPACT

    FS Terrence Holt (elbow) has been listed as out for the Minnesota game, meaning Jon McGraw or Bracy Walker probably will get the start in his place.

  • RB Kevin Jones (thigh) is listed as probable but was limited in practice Wednesday with the injury he suffered in the Thanksgiving Day loss to Atlanta.

  • Special teamers RB Paul Smith (hamstring) and LB Donte' Curry (thigh) are listed as questionable.

  • QB Jeff Garcia also is listed as questionable but is expected to start.


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