The Detroit Lions are facing one of the more important season openers in recent memory. The team is coming off a 4-12 start and both general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz used the word “urgency” when describing the 2013 season in the offseason.
The Lions lost their last eight games last year and haven’t won a regular season game since Nov. 4 of 2012. They need a good start.
The Lions trail the all-time series 33-68-2 dating back to Nov. 19, 1961. Detroit and Minnesota have met four times on opening day, the last time in 1996, with the Vikings winning 17-13. The Vikings beat the Lions in both matchups last season.
2012 REGULAR SEASON NUMBERS
|Points per game||23.3 (17)||23.7 (14)|
|Total yards per game||408.8 (3)||336.6 (20)|
|Rushing yards||100.8 (23)||164.6 (2)|
|Passing yards||307.9 (2)||171.9 (31)|
|Points allowed||27.3 (27)||21.8 (14t)|
|Total yards allowed||341.1 (13)||350.0 (16)|
|Rushing yards allowed||118.1 (16)||105.8 (11)|
|Passing yards allowed||223.1 (14)||244.3 (24)|
|Turnover ratio||-16 (30)||-1 (21t)|
This is the biggest matchup in the game. Allen has notoriously been a Lions killer, racking up 13 sacks in 11 career meetings. This will be his first crack at Reiff, who’s making only his second NFL start.
"Riley’s ready for the challenge, he goes against some pretty good players in practice,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “Is it going to be easy? No, but that’s why we drafted him and that’s why he’s playing for us. We’ re excited.”
Slay, a second-round pick by the Lions in April, clearly won the starting spot opposite
The only two punters drafted in April square off in the first game of the regular season. Locke was selected 10 spots before Martin in the fifth round. Both players are expected to make big contributions for their respective teams this year. The Vikings run a ball-control, field position offense, which makes their punter so important. The Lions are hoping Martin provides them the leg to flip the field and be a weapon. Locke averaged 43.6 yards per punt in the preseason. Martin averaged 48.6.
Fairley made a bold prediction this offseason when he said he and Suh were the best defensive tackle tandem in football. Well, now it’s time to make good on those remarks. Everything the Lions want to do on defense starts upfront and Suh and Fairley are the catalysts for it all. The Vikings had the league’s No. 2 rushing attack last year (164.6 yards per game) and finished in the top third in the league in sacks allowed (32). They have some nice pieces upfront.
RB Adrian Peterson vs. Lions linebackers
Tackle. Tackle. Tackle. The Lions will need all 11 players on defense to corral the reigning MVP, but the defensive line and linebackers are the first line of defense. Missed tackles have plagued this defense in the past and they can’t afford too many vs. Peterson that allow him to get into the second level.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: LIONS
We think we know how the Lions are going to use Bush in the backfield, but Linehan told reporters Thursday that it will vary from week-to-week. This much we do know: Bush is going to be featured heavily in the passing game. The Lions are going to try and get him matched up with a linebacker or safety in open space as much as they can early on Sunday in hopes the Vikings have to adjust what’s expected to be heavy coverage
Edwards is being asked to fill the shoes of Titus Young. Despite all his problems, Young was an important weapon in this offense the first year-and-a-half he was here. Edwards will get first crack to make plays on the outside opposite Johnson.
“He can be very important,” Linehan said of Edwards. “He’s got a really good skill set, he can play outside, even though he’s not the tallest guy in the world. He’s got great speed, gets off the line of scrimmage. He just hadn’t had the opportunity yet because he was injured last year and on the IR. It’s going to be exciting to watch him go out there and show what he can do.”
Ashlee Palmer, LB
Palmer takes over one of the outside linebacker spots left vacant by the departure of Justin Durant (Cowboys) via free agency. Palmer does have starting experience. He started two games last year when DeAndre Levy was injured.
This is the first time he enters the season as an every-day starter after winning the job with steady play throughout training camp and preseason. He’s got a good test Week 1 against a good running back in Peterson, a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph and an explosive slot receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: VIKINGS
Shariff Floyd, DT
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams has been ruled out of Sunday’s game and that means rookie first-round pick Sharrif Floyd is expected to take his place in the starting lineup. That’s obviously good news for the Lions offensive line, but especially for rookie right guard
Xavier Rhodes, CB
Another first-round pick by the Vikings in April, Rhodes has won one of the starting cornerback spots. His introduction into the NFL will be against Lions All Pro receiver Calvin Johnson and the league’s third-ranked passing attack last year. Rhodes is a physical cornerback at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. He told the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week that a test like Megatron in his first game can “make you or break you”.
Zach Line, FB
Adrian Peterson averaged 6.9 yards per carry with Pro Bowl full back Jerome Felton on the field last year and 4.6 yards per carry with him off the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Felton is suspended the first three games of the regular season. To fill the void, the Vikings could use Oxford native and fullback Zach Line, a rookie out of Southern Methodist. The team could also tap tight ends Rhett Ellison or John Carlson for the duties. Either way, the loss of Felton will be felt.