NFL Preview - Minnesota (0-0) at Detroit (0-0)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Long-time rivals kick off the 2013 NFL season in the Motor
City on Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings and reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson
face off with the Detroit Lions.
Rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson skewed
a lot of perceptions around the NFL last season. You're not supposed to
succeed as a freshman quarterback in the league but those three turned that
kind of thinking on its head in 2012. But, before you think there has been
some sort of seismic shift in the development of signal callers at the college
level, understand Luck, RG3 and Wilson are the exceptions that prove the rule,
not the actual rule.
All you have to do is rewind back to 2011 and pay closer attention to the
struggles players like Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder are
After a poor preseason in which he didn't receive all that much playing time
the questions surrounding Ponder in Minnesota have only increased.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has put together a championship-level
roster around Ponder and it's now time for the third-year quarterback out of
Florida State to start carrying his own water.
Those who still believe in Ponder point to last December when the Vikings made
an unlikely playoff push by winning four straight games without now departed
star wideout Percy Harvin.
And to his credit Ponder did rebound from an awful midseason slump in which he
would often have trouble reaching the century mark in passing yards, an almost
unthinkable struggle in today's pass-heavy NFL.
To those watching closely, however, it was clear offensive coordinator Bill
Musgrave dialed everything back and asked Ponder to do little other than
manage the game as Peterson and a solid defense did all the heavy lifting.
The Vikings need more from the embattled signal caller this time around.
"I do feel established. I do feel like I belong here, I feel comfortable,"
Ponder said. "Knowing everybody, all my teammates, all the coaches, knowing
the area and everything, knowing how things work. I just know that I need to
continue to become a better football player and a better quarterback."
The Lions, meanwhile, came into the 2012 season with high hopes after putting
behind years of frustration in 2011 with a 10-6 record and their first playoff
appearance since 1999. Last season's Lions, though, looked a lot more like
those hapless teams that have plagued the Motor City.
An eight-game losing streak capped a 4-12 season as the team stumbled through
a tough campaign which saw bad decisions from both the coaches and players,
along with plenty of undisciplined penalties.
That said, there were some positives to take away as the Lions were close in
most of their games, dropping just three by double-digits while suffering
two losses in overtime and losing another two by two points.
The highlight of the season was of course Calvin Johnson's record-setting
campaign as he broke the single-season receiving yards record with 1,964
yards, topping Jerry Rice's high-water mark which had stood since 1995.
Detroit also made a few splashes in the offseason, signing running back Reggie
Bush away from the Dolphins, and using the fifth overall pick in the 2013
draft to take promising defensive end Ezekiel Ansah out of Brigham Young.
"You know, we feel good about our offseason acquisitions," said head coach Jim
Schwartz. "We felt good about the players we brought back and the players we
Ansah, however, suffered a concussion late in the preseason and could miss the
opener against the Vikings.
Minnesota swept the season series against the Lions in '12 and will be
seeking its second consecutive regular season opening victory. The Vikings
also lead the all-time series by an imposing 68-33-2 margin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The strengths of these two teams match up against the other's weaknesses so
the coach who can exploit things the best figures to come out on top.
With battle-tested veteran Antoine Winfield in retirement after a short stay
in Seattle, the Vikings' roster now sports cornerbacks Chris Cook, Josh
Robinson, Xavier Rhodes, A.J. Jefferson and Marcus Sherels. Those five players
combine for 41 career NFL starts and just three career interceptions, two from
Robinson in his '12 rookie season and one from Jefferson while he was with the
That's the group being asked to match up with the All-World Johnson along with
ex-Viking Nate Burleson and the talented Ryan Broyles, who are both returning
from 2012 injuries. Cook, Robinson and especially Rhodes, a 2013 first-round
pick out of Florida State, are very talented but they have to turn potential
into production very quickly.
"He's a great player," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of Johnson. "He's one
of those guys where when you game plan, much like with Adrian (Peterson), you
have to have a plan for Calvin Johnson. He's a tremendous player. Even though
you may know that he's going to be getting the football, you can't always stop
what he does."
Detroit, meanwhile, is asking first-time left tackle Riley Reiff to handle one
of the best pass rushers of this generation, Jared Allen. Reiff replaces
veteran Jeff Backus, who retired after 12 seasons and 191 starts for the
Allen had a down season in 2012 due to knee and shoulder injuries yet
still registered 12 sacks. A healthy Allen had 22 two years ago and could make
life miserable for Matthew Stafford, who signed a monster contract extension
in the offseason despite some serious mechanical issues that surfaced last
"You get a security blanket having a guy like Jeff Backus out (there),"
Schwartz said. "He's always there week-in and week-out. But Riley has a lot of
the same characteristics. He's very tough. He's quiet. I think he's had a very
good training camp, a good preseason and we expect him to hold that position.
It would be nice if he could do it as long as Jeff Backus did, with as much as
Allen has recorded 13 1/2 sacks, one interception, four forced fumbles and
three pass breakups in 11 career games against the Lions.
"He's very difficult to handle because he can do so many things," Schwartz
continued when asked about Allen, a four-time All-Pro. "He rushes inside,
rushes outside, he's hard to figure out. Whoever is blocking him is going to
really go to battle every single play and never have one play where you're not
at your best, because Jared can make you pay. A lot of forced fumbles, tipped
balls, sacks, that's what he's known for. Those are the game-changing plays
that he makes for Minnesota's defense."
The rest of the Lions' offensive line, if anything, is less proven than Reiff
and will be dealing with a Minnesota front seven which also features talented
defensive lineman Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, as well as another first-
round pick, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, and Pro Bowl linebacker Chad
Detroit could get a break, though, with the possible absence of veteran
defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a five-time All-Pro who is dealing with a
"He's really improving," Frazier said when talking about Williams on
Wednesday. "He's making a lot of progress."
Offensively the Vikings figure to same the same formula as they had last
season, ride Peterson and keep things simple for Ponder so he doesn't make the
The only way Detroit wins this one is in a shootout and the Lions certainly
have the offensive firepower to accomplish that but it's hard to imagine
Detroit's back seven on defense stopping Peterson on a consistent basis.
In 11 career games against Detroit, A.P. has rushed for 100-plus yards seven
times and amassed 36 different rushes of 10-or-more yards.
"We're excited about the kickoff of the season and we've got what we needed to
get out of the preseason from my perspective and our coaches perspective,"
Frazier said. "We'll be ready when we line up against Detroit on Sunday. We
have enough time to continue to hone in on some things and we're going to
continue to work as hard as we can to be prepared."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 24, Lions 20
09/05 14:04:29 ET