LIONS INSIDER

Game Preview: Lions vs. Vikings

Posted Dec 10, 2011

THE HISTORY

The division rivalry dates back to 1961 when the Vikings beat the Lions 37-10 in their first meeting.

Sunday will be the 101st meeting with the Vikings holding a commanding 66-32-2 record.

The Lions beat the Vikings, 26-23 in overtime, earlier this season and also won, 20-13, in the final game of the 2010 season at Ford Field.

The Vikings have won 20 of the last 24 meetings, though.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lions player to watch: Nate Burleson, WR

Burleson is coming off a five-catch, 93-yard performance against the Saints but was also flagged three times for offensive pass interference penalties. Burleson joked this week that it’s the last time he’ll wear bright white sleeves to help the officials spot those extended arms.

Burleson had just two catches for 12 yards against the Vikings earlier this season and it started a stretch of six-consecutive games where he didn’t have more than four catches or 34 yards.

The Vikings are banged up in the secondary and Burleson should have a very favorable matchup on Sunday opposite Calvin Johnson.

Vikings player to watch: Percy Harvin, WR

Lions coach Jim Schwartz joked this week that there’d be an “all points bulletin” out on No. 12 this Sunday.

Harvin is a jack-of-all-trades for the Vikings, especially over the last two weeks while running back Adrian Peterson has been dealing with a high ankle sprain.

The Vikings have used Harvin as a running back at times and are allowing him to run inside the tackles like a true back.

Harvin is a threat to take it to the house as a receiver, runner and returner on Sunday.

“”He’s strong like a running back, he’s got good run-after-the-catch, he’s a good blocker,” Schwartz said of Harvin. “When they throw an interception, watch out, because he’s a good tackler too. He’s physically different than most wide receivers.”

KEYS FOR THE LIONS

Keep the penalties down

This is getting to be an old bit, I know, but it remains relevant as long as the Lions continue to shoot themselves in the foot with yellow flags.

Neither the Packers nor the Saints could stop the Lions offense. The Lions took care of that on their own with costly penalties. The Lions have had 22 penalties (four after the whistle) over the last two weeks.

Especially frustrating has been the penalties on third-downs that are taking away conversions and big plays to keep drives alive. The Lions had at least three or four of that variety against the Saints last week.

The Vikings aren’t talented enough to beat the Lions as long as the Lions don’t beat themselves.

BE "EFFICIENT" RUNNING THE BALL

The Lions aren’t a great running team (23rd in NFL), but they haven’t had to be in order to score points. The Lions have the fourth-highest scoring offense in the NFL (27.8 ppg)

Despite being 2-10, the Vikings have a talented front-seven on defense that can get after the quarterback. The Vikings have amassed 35 sacks this season and employ defensive end Jared Allen, who has 14.5 by himself.

Sometimes, the best way to neutralize a great pass rush is running right into it. The Lions will likely start Maurice Morris with Kevin Smith still ailing from a high ankle sprain.

If the Lions can run the ball well on first- and second-down and keep themselves away from third-down-and-long, it’ll go a long way to be more efficient on offense.

The Lions have rushed for more than 100 yards in five of their last eight games, but had just 20 against the Vikings in their earlier matchup this season.

The Vikings rank 12th against the run and are one of only nine teams who haven’t allowed a rush of over 40 yards this season.

START FASTER ON OFFENSE

The Lions offense sometimes forgets that football rules allow them to try and score before the half.

They’ve had problem with slow starts on a number of occasions this season.  The Lions fell behind 20-0 to these very same Vikings in Week 3 before kick-starting the offense in the second half.

The Vikings aren’t as talented on either side of the ball as the Lions. On paper, this is a mismatch. But if the Vikings are able to hang around and build some confidence with their young quarterback, who knows what could happen.

But if the Lions can get going early on offense and build a lead, it’ll get rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who’s questionable with a hip injury, or second-year quarterback Joe Webb (two pass attempts this season) out of their comfort zones and force them to make plays.

That’s a great recipe to a Lions victory.

THREE KEY MATCH-UPS

Lions T Jeff Backus vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen

These two are very familiar with each other having played twice a year for the last four seasons.

“You know, there’s some teams that you match-up well, you just feel comfortable,” Allen said this week about playing the Lions. “I guess I’d say, I feel comfortable playing, I mean, I know what Backus is going to do, he knows what I’m going to do. It’s fun to have those battles, it’s fun to be able to see some of the same people year-in and year-out.”

Allen got the better of Backus in their match-up earlier this season. Allen had three sacks and was able to disrupt the Lions offense with pressure early in that game.

In eight career games against the Lions and Backus, Allen has 9.5 sacks.

If the Lions can keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright, the Vikings secondary isn’t good enough to match-up.

That task will fall primarily on Backus.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford vs. Vikings secondary

The last seven quarterbacks to face the Vikings have surpassed a 100-passer rating. That includes Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (149.3), who had his finest passing game as a professional against the Vikings last week with 202 yards and two touchdowns.

The Vikings have been decimated by injuries in the back end and rank 31st in passer rating allowed (106.5), 30th in yards per attempt (8.2) and have given up 11 pass plays of 40 yards, tied for most in the NFL.

In comes Stafford, who’s coming off a 408-yard performance against the Viking and is on pace to break most of the Lions’ major passing records this season.

Advantage Stafford and the Lions.

Vikings RB’s vs. Lions LB’s

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain but might try to give it a go Sunday against the Lions.

If he can’t, the Vikings will turn to power-runner Toby Gerhart.

The Vikings are at their best as an offense when they turn around and give the ball to Peterson.

The Vikings average 4.9 yards per rush and have the sixth-ranked rushing offense in the league. They also have 13 rushes of more than 20 yards on the season.

With a rookie quarterback under center, the Vikings have relied heavily on their run game this season.

The Lions have been better stopping the run of late, but still rank 22nd in the league (125 ypg).

Whoever is taking handoffs for the Vikings, it’s important for Lions linebackers to fill their gaps and bottle him up and make inexperienced Vikings quarterbacks beat them.