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NFL Preview - Minnesota (1-0) at Detroit (0-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Last week, the Detroit Lions had the pleasure of seeing Drew Brees, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year and the league's best passer a year ago.
This Sunday, when the Minnesota Vikings visit Ford Field, they'll be facing the current king of the NFL rushing chart, Adrian Peterson. And, as if that isn't enough, the all-time leading passer in league history, one Brett Favre, will be appearing in purple as well.
The Lions, who will be trying to end an 18-game losing streak in their home opener, didn't fare particularly well in their first effort of the season against an offensive superstar,
Brees threw for six touchdowns against the Lions - just one off the NFL record - in a 45-27 New Orleans win, and the Saints piled up a total of 515 yards that was tops in the league during Week 1. That showing didn't exactly reinforce the opinion of those who would argue that new Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz, the former coordinator of a Top 10 defense in Tennessee, would immediately instill improvement on that side of the ball.
Still, Detroit did manage to hang around thanks to a smattering of big plays, including an interception of Brees by new Lions corner Anthony Henry, a 65- yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by promising rookie safety Louis Delmas, and an 87-yard kickoff return by rookie Aaron Brown that set up another Lions score. Those highlight-reel worthy plays helped offset a shaky first outing for rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall draft choice Matthew Stafford, who rushed for his first NFL touchdown but also completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (16-of-37) and tossed three interceptions without a touchdown.
More big plays will likely be needed this week as the Lions stare down a Vikings team that ran over the Browns - almost literally - in a 34-20 road win last week.
Peterson grabbed all the headlines from Favre, rushing for 180 yards and three touchdowns, including a 64-yard touchdown run that Peterson himself rated as the best of his career. Peterson's game keyed a 225-yard ground assault that was best in the league on the opening week.
Favre, in his first start as a Viking, mostly handed off to Peterson and threw the occasional short pass, completing 14-of-25 throws for 110 yards including a six-yard touchdown strike to rookie wideout Percy Harvin in the third quarter.
Defensively, Minnesota notched five sacks of Cleveland's Brady Quinn, and is tied for the NFL lead in that category entering Week 2.
The Vikings hold a 63-30-2 lead in the all-time series with the Lions, including a home-and-home sweep last season. Minnesota picked up a narrow 12-10 victory when the clubs met at the Metrodome in Week 6 of last season, and were 20-16 victors at Ford Field during Week 14. Detroit is 1-13 against the Vikings since 2002, with the only win over that stretch a 20-17 overtime triumph in the Motor City during the 2007 campaign.
Vikings head coach Brad Childress is 5-1 against the Lions as a head coach, while Detroit's Schwartz will be meeting both Childress and Minnesota for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Clearly, the program for the Vikings will involve getting the ball in the hands of Peterson, who made a strong case that he remains the league's most talented and dynamic running back a week ago. Peterson will be vying for his fourth consecutive 100-yard game against the Lions, and Chester Taylor (17 rushing yards, 5 receptions) will again spell him. In the passing game, Favre may need to throw downfield a bit more in Week 2, a situation that would be music to the ears of Bernard Berrian (0 receptions) and Sidney Rice (2 receptions), both of whom were under-utilized in Cleveland. Rookie Percy Harvin (3 receptions), who scored his first career touchdown last week, will continue to work primarily out of the slot. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (3 receptions), who had a critical fourth-quarter touchdown catch to help beat the Lions last December, will also try to get involved. If the Vikes displayed a weakness offensively last week, it was in the area of pass-blocking, as Favre was sacked four times in the win.
The Lions may not have looked much better defensively last week than they did during a 2008 season in which they allowed a whopping 517 points (second-most in NFL history), but the fact that the team made some big plays is a good sign. Detroit had just one interception from the secondary in all of 2008, so the interception return by Henry (11 tackles) and fumble recovery for a score by Delmas (6 tackles) were an indication that the team has turned the corner in the playmaking department. The ability of ends Cliff Avril (1 tackle) and Dewayne White (1 tackle) to get pressure on Favre will be key, after Detroit was shut out in the sacks department a week ago. The initial returns on the run-stopping ability of the Lions were not positive, as Saints reserve Mike Bell gutted the Lions for 143 yards on 28 carries. A new-look linebacking corps led by Larry Foote (9 tackles) and Julian Peterson (2 tackles), along with holdover Ernie Sims (5 tackles), needs to do a better job. But the team's bigger issues could be at the point of attack, where defensive tackles Grady Jackson (1 tackle) and Sammie Hill (2 tackles) need to provide more of a presence.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Cutting down on the mistakes will be a must for Stafford, who must also throw the ball downfield with more proficiency in order to keep the pressure off of Kevin Smith and the running game. Just eight of Stafford's 16 completions went to wide receivers in Week 1, including a combined seven for wideouts Calvin Johnson (3 receptions, 90 yards) and Bryant Johnson (4 receptions, 45 yards). The former Johnson had a touchdown catch in both meetings with the Vikings last year. Stafford's favorite target in New Orleans was actually Smith, who caught seven balls for 52 yards to help offset a poor rushing day (15 carries, 20 yards). Smith did score on a four-yard rush in the second quarter, but didn't have a run longer than six yards all afternoon. Stafford was pressured frequently in the loss to the Saints, but was sacked just once behind Detroit's shaky o-line.
Minnesota's defensive reputation is mainly as a stout run-stopping team, thanks to the "Williams Wall" of defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. But last Sunday's win against Cleveland also included a serious dose of pass-rushing prowess, with Browns QB Brady Quinn sacked five times in the contest. Kevin Williams (2 tackles) and end Ray Edwards (6 tackles) had two of the sacks, but Pro Bowler Jared Allen, who had just one tackle on the day, was not in on the fun. The Vikings secondary did a nice job as well, with cornerback Cedric Griffin (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble) intercepting the team's first pass of the year and Browns wide receivers accounting for only eight catches and 68 yards. Minnesota limited Cleveland's running backs to 62 yards on 15 combined carries, with linebackers E.J. Henderson (8 tackles, 1 sack) and Ben Leber (6 tackles) contributing to the run-stopping effort.
Anyone who held the No. 1 fantasy pick and decided they were going to outsmart the room by taking someone other than Adrian Peterson had a terrible case of buyer's remorse last week. Peterson was dazzling, and if he stays healthy should continue to put up huge numbers every week. No one else on the Minnesota roster really stands out, though Harvin is worth considering as a flex option, Shiancoe should get a bunch of opportunities most weeks, and Ryan Longwell remains one of the most reliable kickers in the game. Also, against a rookie quarterback this week, you have to start the Vikings defense if you own it.
If you're looking at starting any member of the Lions other than Calvin Johnson, your season is already on shaky footing. Kevin Smith scored a touchdown and was a factor in the passing game last week, but you can't count on great production from him against a strong Minnesota run-stopping group. Jason Hanson is still great in the kicking game, but it's worth questioning how many opportunities he'll really get here. A risky play at best.
Many are expecting the Vikings to run the Lions off the field this week, though many were looking for the same to happen when Minnesota won its two games against Detroit by a combined six points a year ago. For all their problems, the Lions have never been intimidated by the prospect of facing the Vikings, and after displaying some renewed toughness in their first foray under Schwartz last week, you can look for Detroit to hang in its home opener. Ultimately, Stafford will make one too many mistakes to pull off a Lions upset against a superior opponent, but look for the fourth quarter to be interesting.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 21, Lions 17
09/17 12:33:43 ET