Though the Detroit Lions are back to even footing 4-4 and the Minnesota Vikings are beginning to spiral downward, this weekend's game from Mall of America Field is still a complete toss up. Prior to last season, the Lions hadn't won in Minneapolis since 1997, and do routinely struggle with the dome's tough environment. With both teams dinged up and going in different directions, this game will be a true "survival of the fittest" match up.
What are some things to watch as Detroit attempts to climb out of the cellar for good and make it back to back wins in their old house of horrors? Here's this week's rundown:
1. Both Running Games. Last week, between Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, the Lions had 143 yards on the ground in a road game., which was a huge plus Jacksonville is a bad team, and the Vikings defense will provide a bit more of a challenge here. If the Lions can grind out more yardage on the ground, their passing game will have a much easier time operating in a tough environment. In the first match up between these teams, the Lions weren't outstanding, so they will have to continue their fantastic recent momentum here, leaving the team some short yardage situations that can be converted easier. From Minnesota's side, the offensive plan will be heavy on Adrian Peterson, who has an ankle problem of his own.
2. Complementary Receivers. Calvin Johnson's return to form last week means the Vikings are going to be all over him as usual. That means once again, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew are going to be counted on to play well. From the Vikings' standpoint, their big wheel Percy Harvin might be out and hobbled, meaning Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson and Kyle Rudolph must step up. Also watch out for Jarius Wright, who has been practicing in Harvin's role this week. The play of complementary players will likely determine which quarterback is victorious at the end of the day.
3. Jared Allen Against Jeff Backus. Whenever the Vikings and Lions play, it's worth watching this match up. Allen is a load off the edge, and Backus, as always, will have his hands full. In the first game, Allen wasn't incredibly dominant, only completing one sack. Backus will have to keep his explosiveness to a minimum on the road, or else a loud crowd will be whipped into a frenzy. Allen's one of the best defenders in the NFL, and his impact cannot be felt destructively in this game, or else Detroit's offense will have some major problems staying consistent.
4. Christian Ponder's Competence. Since the beginning of the season, Ponder seems to have regressed more than a bit, throwing more interceptions and looking terrified to look down field. How will he look against a fearsome Lions' defensive line this time around? In Detroit, he looked like a confident game manager despite not throwing a touchdown, but he has been gun shy lately, including last week's putrid 63 yard passing output. If the offensive line can't help him out up front and Ponder is making the big mistakes against a nicked up Lions' secondary, you'll know the Vikings are likely in for a long afternoon.
5. Injuries, Specifically Percy Harvin's Ankle And Dinged Up Lions. This week didn't bring great news for either team on the injury front, as Harvin could barely walk, Peterson is a bit gimpy, Johnson and Titus Young missed practice a few times and plenty of other Lions are fighting injury issues. What role will this play in the game? Harvin is perhaps the biggest story, being that he has been so explosive and dominant early this season. Without him at 100%, the Vikings could have big problems scoring against Detroit, barring a superhuman performance from Peterson, Ponder and Rudolph. From the Lions' side, they need to find a way to keep surviving despite resembling the walking wounded.
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