Few players in the NFL are as dominant on the inside as the Detroit Lions' Shaun Rogers. Blessed with a rare combination of brute strength, size and speed, Rogers can dominate games from the defensive tackle position and almost always requires double teams. While the Vikings will likely use double teams to neutralize him, center Matt Birk is going to draw the assignment of keeping Rogers at bay, making their battle this week's Matchup to Watch.
While the Vikings have been at or near the top of the rushing defensive statistics all year, since the Lions returned from their bye week Oct. 21, only the Baltimore Ravens have had a better run defense than Detroit. Much of the reason for that is Rogers.
As a two-time Pro Bowler, the Lions likely learned Rogers' worth last season. With him gone for 10 games of the 2006 season due to injury and a four-game suspension, the Lions lost seven of their final eight games, due in large part to teams being able to run up the middle on them. With Rogers back, Detroit has solidified its run defense to the point that they have become one of the most dominant defenses in the conference. While Detroit is riding a three-game losing streak, it has little to do with the run defense. The offense has sputtered and the Lions have been beaten through the air. The run defense has allowed a big play here or there, but by and large it has graded out well in almost all of the games this season.
With the return of Adrian Peterson this week, the Vikings will be looking to establish the run and use it as a primary offensive weapon. In last week's win over the Giants, Tarvaris Jackson attempted just 12 passes. The Vikings would like to do the same this week. For that to happen, they will likely need to run 30-40 times, giving both Peterson and Chester Taylor opportunities to run the ball often. That will require Birk and guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera to move Rogers where they want him to go, not allowing him to dictate the pace of the action.
Rogers is a massive player that has multiple moves that can confuse offensive linemen and get them off balance. He has an excellent combination of agility and power that allows him to shed blockers and get into the backfield in a hurry. If he does that enough, it has the effect of killing a drive when he makes a big stop on second or third down. If the Vikings are to control the tempo and pace of the game, keeping Rogers out of the backfield will be priority No. 1 – whether they are running or passing. Having Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball matching up doesn't happen often, but this time it will be an ongoing battle from the first play to the last, making the battle between Rogers and Birk this week's Matchup to Watch.