NFL Preview - Minnesota (2-1) at Detroit (1-2)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Intrigue over Matthew Stafford will greet an improving
Minnesota team on the verge of matching its win total from all of last season
as the Detroit Lions host the Vikings at Ford Field.
The Lions lost Stafford to a strained hip on Sunday and they are hoping the
former No. 1 overall pick will be healthy enough to start Sunday at Ford
Stafford went down late in the fourth quarter of Detroit's 44-41 overtime
loss at Tennessee, trying to chase down the Titans' Alterraun Verner, who had
stripped the ball out of the hands of Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew before
taking it 72 yards for a touchdown.
"He had a muscle pull, or a leg pull, a hamstring pull," said Detroit head
coach Jim Schwartz. "It started bothering him during the game and it got to
the point where we had to go with Shaun (Hill)."
Stafford was unable to practice Wednesday but returned a day later and appears
on track to start this week barring any setbacks.
Hill actually guided the Lions on two touchdown drives to tie the game against
the Titans before Detroit eventually fell in the extra frame.
Stafford has thrown for 863 yards and three touchdowns along with four
interceptions on the season and is considered one of the NFL's top up and
coming young signal callers while Hill, although he performed admirably under
difficult circumstances last week, is limited physically.
After watching a 14-point lead evaporate in the final minute of play,
including a Hail Mary on the final play of regulation that tied the game for
the Lions, the Titans started overtime with the ball and were able to get a
26-yard field goal from Rob Bironas with 10:36 left.
Hill, who started his NFL career with the Vikings, responded and a 26-yard
catch by Calvin Johnson got the ball into Tennessee territory.
Facing a 4th-and-inches at the Tennessee 7, Detroit wanted to try to draw the
Titans offsides but center Dominic Raiola didn't get the memo and snapped the
ball. Hill attempted to push forward but the rest of the line didn't fire off
and he was stymied.
"The sneak was just miscommunication," said Schwartz. "We wanted to draw them
offsides, but the crowd was loud. It was my fault, I should have called a
Stafford finished the game 33-for-42 with 278 yards and a TD, while Hill was
10-for-13 with two scores and 172 yards in his limited time.
Johnson had just one catch for six yards in the first half, but finished the
game with 10 grabs for 164 yards and a score, while Mikel Leshoure, making his
season debut after missing all of last season with an Achilles' injury,
totaled 100 yards and a score on 26 carries and had four catches for 34 yards
in his NFL debut for the Lions (1-2), who have dropped two straight after
winning their season-opener against St. Louis.
"I've been around a lot of crazy games, but I don't know if I've ever been in
one like this," said Schwartz. "We were lucky to even be in the game at the
The lightly-regarded Vikings, meanwhile, stunned the football world by
dominating the mighty 49ers last week.
Christian Ponder threw a pair of touchdown passes to Kyle Rudolph and also ran
for a score on Sunday as the Minnesota Vikings outplayed San Francisco en
route to a 24-13 victory.
Ponder went 21-of-35 for 198 yards while Rudolph finished with 36 yards on
five catches for the Vikings (2-1), who were coming off a last-second loss to
the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2.
"We know with him back there, he's accurate, we're going to pick up first
downs, we're never going to be out of a football game," Vikings center John
Sullivan said of Ponder. "It (quarterback position) had kind of been in flux
the last couple years."
Percy Harvin had nine receptions for 89 yards in Sunday's win while Adrian
Peterson rushed for 86 yards on 25 carries.
"The Vikings did a better job than we did all the way around," 49ers head
coach Jim Harbaugh admitted.
Minnesota, which finished 3-13 last season, has dominated the Lions for most
of this series, compiling a gaudy 66-33-2 mark against them but Detroit has
turned things around recently winning three straight.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
After looking lost down the stretch of his rookie season Ponder has upped his
game significantly early is his sophomore campaign. Ponder is one of just two
starting quarterbacks who hasn't thrown an interception so far this season
although to be fair, three potential picks have been dropped by the
opposition. That said, Ponder has made good decisions by and large and
completed over 70 percent of his passes although he rarely throws down the
field since the Vikings one proven commodity at receiver, Percy Harvin, is
most comfortable in the slot.
That could change this week with the addition of the speedy, athletic Jerome
Simpson, who was suspended by the NFL for the first three games after being
convicted in a felony drug wrap during the offseason.
"The more plays I get, the more film I watch, it slows down and I just feel so
much more comfortable in what I'm doing," said Ponder. "And it helps when the
players around you are playing so well."
Simpson, who had a breakout season in Cincinnati a year ago, was allowed to
attend team meetings and work out on his own at the Vikings' facility but
hasn't been on the field with his teammates since the Aug. 30 preseason finale
"We want to utilize his talents as soon as possible," Minnesota coach Leslie
Frazier said. "He's champing at the bit to get out there and help us but we
want to get him integrated right away."
Simpson's presence should make things easier for an emerging Vikings offense
since his deep speed must be accounted for and respected. Harvin, one of the
game's most versatile playmakers, remains the team's top threat at least until
Peterson returns to 100 percent while Rudolph looks like an emerging star at
Running back Toby Gerhart, who may have lost some confidence after fumbling
three times last week, and TE John Carlson, who has been limited with a
sprained knee, will also be featured at some point this season.
Minnesota's offensive line is a work in progress but is much improved thanks
to first year starters at left tackle (Matt Kalil) and right guard (Brandon
Fusco). Kalil, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft is a natural pass
blocker and looks like a future Pro Bowler if he can improve in the run game.
Center John Sullivan is the Vikings best o-lineman but has been struggling
with a balky ankle.
Detroit has a great front four with Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril leading the
way although defensive tackle Corey Williams, who generally plays well against
Minnesota, underwent knee surgery and will not play this week.
The Lions also got cornerbacks Chris Houston and Bill Bentley back from
injury last week but impact safety Louis Delmas is still sidelined after knee
surgery last month.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The Lions possess one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the
league led by Megatron himself. Pettigrew is also a tough matchup at tight end
and Johnson's compliments at receiver, Nate Burleson and Titus Young, are also
known for making big plays.
If Leshoure can develop some consistency at running back, Detroit figures to
have one of the best offenses in pro football.
The Vikings could be without two starters on defense, weakside linebacker Erin
Henderson and strong safety Mistral Raymond. Henderson is dealing with a
concussion and hadn't been cleared as of midweek while Raymond is out with a
partially dislocated ankle. Jamarca Sanford, who has plenty of starting
experience, will start in place of Raymond wile veteran Marvin Mitchell will
get his second straight start if Henderson can't go.
Chris Cook, a tall, talented corner who has never lived up to his physical
gifts, will likely shadow Johnson while Minnesota would like to see a breakout
game from ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison in the pass rush.
This should come down to whether Stafford can get on the field or not. If
available the former No. 1 overall pick, who started all 16 games in 2011
following two injury-plagued years, will put too much stress on a shaky
"We'll see how (Stafford) progresses through this week," Schwartz said Monday.
"Friday we'll make a determination what that availability is."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 30, Vikings 21
09/27 17:26:27 ET