Whether Jim Schwartz wants to admit it or not, his Detroit Lions have some tangible momentum heading into a critical NFC North road battle against the Minnesota Vikings. Those Vikings, however, are heading in the opposite direction. After a sterling 5-2 start, Minnesota has crashed back to earth with a few ugly losses. On election day, there's much talk of swing states. Sunday afternoon, this match up is perhaps the biggest swing game in the NFC.
What do the Vikings do which could help push the balance back in their favor or turn things back towards Detroit? Here's this week's scouting report.
Vikings Offensive Difference Maker: Adrian Peterson, RB. As always, Peterson is the man to watch when the Vikings have the ball, and that's more true this week than ever. Percy Harvin is hobbled by an ankle injury, meaning his big impact might be felt a tiny bit less. In this season's first game, Peterson ran for 102 yards against the Lions, but didn't find the end zone. Detroit will have to keep his rushing totals lower and prevent him from scoring again. If they're able to take Peterson away and Harvin isn't as effective, Christian Ponder might have a hard time finding enough points against a defense which has banded together well despite plenty of injuries and inconsistent play.
Vikings Defensive Difference Maker: Jared Allen, DE. Also as always, the Lions can expect a nasty effort from Allen off the edge. He'll be going against Jeff Backus, an old nemesis. He traditionally has big games against Detroit, especially at home. To keep the offensive momentum moving forward, Allen must be controlled again and not allowed to hit Matthew Stafford or make impact plays. It's easier said than done, but the Lions only allowed him one sack in October. That will have to happen again.
Vikings Major Problem: Consistent quarterback play. Christian Ponder started the season hot, but he hasn't been the answer lately. He hasn't thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a game since September against San Francisco. Ponder's stats have been getting ugly, and his quarterback rating has also been plummeting, bottoming out at an ugly 35% in last week's loss to Seattle. The Lions' defense rushes the passer well, and their rag-tag secondary has been getting the job done. If the Vikings can't get a good game out of Ponder, their offense might remain in trouble for yet another week.
Vikings Major Strength: Tackling and rushing the quarterback. What Minnesota lacks with consistency on offense, they make up for dramatically with a technically sound defense. Not only do the Vikings boast two of the top pass rushers for sacks (Allen and Brian Roberson), they've got the top tackler in the league in Chad Greenway. To beat a team like this, the Lions will have to have a solid afternoon running the ball to take the heat off Stafford in the pocket, and be very disciplined on offense. They must continue their efficient third down play, score in the red zone and cash in the chances they have. The Vikings won't beat themselves on defense, so the Lions will have to come right out and beat them, first.
Biggest Intangible: Metrodome environment. The Lions hadn't won in the Metrodome in over 10 years prior to last season's overtime victory. Was that win a simple aberration, or can the team get the job done again? It will be loud, it will be impassioned and it will be a tough place to win again. The Lions will have to play a technically sound, low penalty game in order to emerge victorious in Minnesota once again.
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