The Vikings may be coming off a momentum-generating win last week against the San Francisco 49ers, but they have redemption on their mind this week. This weekend the Vikings will travel to Detroit for a battle against the Lions, a team that swept the season series from them a season ago. The season sweep for Detroit was their first over the Vikings since 1997, and the Lions have now won the past three games against the Vikings.
There’s a lot to talk about in previewing this matchup, and we’ll get it started by pointing out 6 storylines we’ll be chasing this week…
1. Jerome Simpson Debuts For Vikings
The Vikings signed WR Jerome Simpson last April and he immediately developed a rapport with QB Christian Ponder, an encouraging development for the Vikings as they looked to add speed and explosiveness to their passing game. Simpson had to serve a 3-game suspension to begin the season. That suspension is now over, and Simpson was reinstated to the team on Monday. A big question this week is: How will Simpson fit into the Vikings offense?
We saw quite a bit of Simpson during the offseason program and training camp. Then we saw him briefly in the preseason, with the highlight being a 33-yard catch-and-run in Week 2 against the Buffalo Bills in which he caught a quick slant and hurdled a defender before being tackled downfield. That’s the kind of athleticism that has many expecting Simpson to add some flare to this Vikings passing attack. This week we get to see Simpson in the Vikings offense during the regular season for the first time.
2. Vikings First (and last, for a while) Crack At Division Opponent
Sunday’s contest marks the first divisional test for the Vikings, and it’ll be the Lions first game in the NFC North, too. The Lions will jump right back into divisional play in three weeks, with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. But the Vikings won’t see a division opponent again until Week 10, when they host the Lions at Mall of America Field. It’s an odd scheduling quirk for the Vikings, as they play just two divisional games in the first 11 weeks of the season, and both of those divisional games are against the same opponent.
The Vikings are keepers of the NFC North, boasting more division titles since their inception into the League in 1961 than any other franchise. Lately, though, the Vikings have not taken care of business within the division. The Vikings last division win was September 26, 2010 at home against these Lions, and their last road win in the division was on November 1, 2009 at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. This week the Vikings have a chance to start regaining supremacy within the division.
3. Can Ponder Keep It Going vs. Lions Pass Defense?
Vikings QB Christian Ponder is off to a solid start in 2012. He’s completing 70.1% of his passes, good for 2nd in the NFL, and he has generated a passer rating of 104.9, good for 5th in the NFL. On the flip side, only four teams are allowing opposing QBs to complete a higher percentage of their passes than the Lions, and only three teams have yielded a higher opponents’ passer rating that the Lions. Can Ponder keep it going against Detroit? Don’t be surprised if the game comes down to that question. Granted, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has a per-carry average of 5.2 yards and 8 rushing TDs against Detroit in 9 games, so a large focus for both teams when the Vikings have the ball will be on the running game. But whether it’s because the Vikings want to be aggressive, the Lions slow down the Vikings ground game, or the Vikings need a quick score late in the game, there’s a good chance Ponder will have an opportunity to test this Lions pass defense.
4. Lions vs. Harvin, Vikings vs. Megatron
A wide receiver has been the most dynamic weapon for each of these offenses during the young season. For the Vikings, it’s been Percy Harvin. He leads the NFL with 27 receptions and he’s 7th in receiving yards as well. When you combine his receiving and rushing yards, Harvin has 319 total yards (30% of the Vikings offensive output).
For the Lions, Calvin Johnson has led the way. He’s 3rd in the NFL with 24 receptions and 1st with 369 yards. While he has just 1 TD to this point, Johnson does have 9 plays already of 20+ yards (the next closest Lions has 2) and he has accounted for twice as many 1st downs (18) as any other Lions non-QB.
A big factor in this week’s game, obviously, will be how each team’s defense fares in neutralizing the opponent’s #1 threat. The difficulty for Detroit is how versatile Harvin can be because the Vikings line him up everywhere, from the slot to out wide to in the backfield and then of course as a kickoff returner. The difficulty for the Vikings is Johnson’s size-speed combination. He simply overpowers defenders of all types.
5. Vikings Offensive Line Faces Another Nasty Defensive Line
Not many defensive fronts have been nastier than the San Francisco 49ers the past couple seasons. Last Sunday, though, the Vikings offensive line was even nastier. They paved the way for Vikings rushers to gain 146 yards – the most any team has gained on the ground against the 49ers since 2010 – and offense as a whole generated 344 yards, which is the 5th highest total against the 49ers over their last 19 games. It may have been the offensive line’s best performance over the past two seasons.
The time for looking back on that performance is over, though, because the Vikings offensive line has another tough assignment this week. While the numbers through three games don’t necessarily show it, this is a talented Detroit defensive line. A pair of disruptive DTs – N’Damukong Suh and Cory Williams – anchor the line and then left DE Cliff Avril and right DE Kyle Vanden Bosch come from the edge. Nick Fairley adds good depth at DT as well, and this group of 5 players have accounted for all 7.0 of the Lions sacks this season. The Lions have permitted 13 rushes of 10+ yards this season (3rd worst in the NFL) and they’ve forced just 4 three-and-out drives (tied for fewest in NFL), so there are opportunities for the Vikings offensive line to expose flaws.
6. Is This The Week Adrian Peterson Registers A Breakout Performance?
Adrian Peterson’s comeback from knee surgery has been remarkable. His presence in the lineup for Week 1 was inspirational to both his teammates and fans, and he’s played an important role in both of the Vikings victories this season. But he’s yet to have a trademark Adrian Peterson performance in 2012 – the kind of performance that keeps fans on the edge of their seats the entire game. Peterson has gained 84, 60 and 86 yards in his first three games, and he’s averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Not bad, but again, it’s not the standard Peterson has created over his first five seasons.
This week presents Peterson with a great chance to author a signature performance. The Lions have a talented and deep defensive line, but as we pointed out in headline #5, this is a defense that has allowed 13 explosive runs already this season. On top of that, Peterson has a great track record against the Lions. In 9 career games against Detroit, Peterson has 169 carries for 892 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 8 rushing TDs. In his second career game against the Lions back in 2007, Peterson ran for 116 yards and 2 TDs on 15 carries, and he followed that up with a pair of 100-yard rushing games in 2008. In November of 2009, Peterson rushed for 133 yards and 2 TDs on 18 attempts, and the next season on September 26 he rushed for 160 yards and 2 more TDs on 23 carries, including his career-long rushing TD of 80 yards.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, Jerome Simpson, Percy Harvin
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