On Paper is a weekly segment where I take a look at the Lions’ weekly matchup and dissect each unit. At the end of each unit summary, instead of giving a typical “Advantage Lions” or “Advantage Opponent”, I award one of the teams with a point value of 1-5 (or give it a draw). These point values are based both on talent and the influence that this unit matchup will have on the game outcome.
Lions Pass Offense vs. Vikings Pass Defense
Matthew Stafford looks to rebound after a pretty poor debut against the Saints. Stafford was inaccurate and tried to force too many balls into coverage. Things are only going to get tougher for Stafford in week 2, when he faces the solid defense of Minnesota.
The Lions’ offensive line will have their hands full with Minnesota’s solid defensive line, which racked up five sacks last week against Cleveland’s above average line. DE star Jared Allen struggled last week (1 tackle, 0 sacks), but he was lined up against Joe Thomas. Jeff Backus is going to have to step up his game up if he doesn’t want Stafford eating turf all day.
Minnesota’s secondary is just as impressive. They lost Darren “I only play well against Detroit” Sharper to free agency. Tyrell Johnson replaces him and is the weak point of this unit. However, the Vikings boast two impressive corners in Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin. Of course, both will have their hands full with Calvin Johnson looming.
Given the Vikings’ success last week at pressuring the quarterback with Allen neutralized, this looks to be a poor matchup for the Lions. Stafford may be heading for another turnover-happy day. The Lions will have to have a balanced attack if they’re going to keep Minnesota honest. Otherwise, Stafford will have a long day. Minnesota +2.
Lions Rush Offense vs. Vikings Rush Defense
This is another tough matchup for the Lions. The Vikes have the best one-two DT punch with Kevin and Pat Williams. Their success at eluding guards is only outmatched by their ability to elude suspensions. Last year, the Viking ranked first in rushing defense. This year, they bring back all four linemen and get back MLB stud E.J Henderson. Henderson missed most of last year due to injury, and should only improve the Vikes’ defense.
However, last week, Minnesota struggled against Cleveland’s run game. Though the Browns only had 89 yards rushing, Jamal Lewis averaged 5.2 a carry. Given the past success of this defense, I wouldn’t expect a similar performance this week, especially given how poor the Lions’ running game was last week. Kevin Smith had 15 rushes for 20 yards last week and was met in the backfield consistently. It’s hard to imagine a much better day out of him this week when he’s up against a better defense. However, the Lions do have a shot if they get a little creative with their play-calling. Misdirection plays are a must for this offense, because they won’t be able to beat Minnesota with pure force.
Overall, it looks to be another rough day for Smith. Vikings +3
Lions Pass Defense vs. Vikings Pass Offense
Okay, so the Vikings finally have a somewhat competent quarterback at the helm. Last week, the Vikes didn’t rely on Brett much, only gaining 110 yards through the air. More importantly, Cleveland sacked Brett four times on Sunday. Unfortunately for Detroit, pass-rusher Cliff Avril is listed as doubtful. Though the Lions never got to Drew Brees last week, both Avril and DeWayne White came within inches of bringing him down on multiple occasions. If they can get some extra push from the DTs and actually blitz this week, they may get to Favre several times.
The Lions secondary struggled last week against the Saints last week, giving up six touchdowns along with 358 yards through the air. But Minnesota doesn’t bring the same threat as the Saints. Rookie Percy Harvin is looking to establish himself as a big threat, but he’s not there yet. Also, the Lions will likely get Phillip Buchanon back from injury to bolster the secondary unit. This is a rare week in which the Lions pass defense has the advantage: Lions +2.
Lions Rush Defense vs. Vikings Rush Offense
The Vikings have Adrian Peterson. The Lions gave up 143 yards to Mike Bell last week. Not. Good. Because the Vikings don’t have the passing threat that the Saints have, the Lions will likely stack as many men as possible in the box. Their game plan needs to be stopping the run.
But AP is going to break one. The interior of the Lions’ defensive line is too weak, and unless the linebackers have a phenomenal game, this could potentially get very ugly. Vikings +3.
Last week, the Lions surprised a lot of people with their special teams play. Aaron Brown and Dennis Northcutt had returns of 87 yards and 43 yards respectively. Fortunately for Detroit, Minnesota is struggling with coverage. Last year, they g ve up a league-high four punt returns for touchdowns. Last week the trend continued as they gave up another touchdown to Josh Cribbs. Minnesota blog Daily Norseman explains:
“The other special teams failure can be largely pinned on punter Chris Kluwe, and it came towards the end of the first half. Kluwe's punt towards the dangerous Josh Cribbs was a low line drive that Cribbs fielded, made one move to his left, and went basically untouched for 67 yards and a touchdown that put Cleveland ahead going into the locker room.”
This explains why Minnesota’s kick coverage is solid.
Detroit’s punt and kick coverage is also suspect, although they didn’t give up a big play against the Saints. Minnesota has a decent threat in Harvin, who averaged 33 yards per return last week.
Overall, both teams have the ability to make huge plays on special teams. Though the matchup favors the Lions, considering the near randomness of big special team plays, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a big return from both teams. This could turn out to be a very pivotal matchup as the teams will be battling for field position all day. Lions +2.
The Vikings come out with a +4 advantage. Last week, I gave the Saints a +3 advantage and they handled the Lions fairly well. Though I think Minnesota is a weaker team than New Orleans, the matchups this week are tougher. Minnesota’s defense is much more solid than New Orleans and it’s likely to be another ugly day for Stafford. Detroit’s strength is their offense, and if Minnesota can stop them, as it looks like they will, Detroit will struggle to put up a lot of points. But given that everyone on Minnesota’s offense not named Adrian Peterson is not a huge threat, the Lions have a chance to keep this one close. I think chances are low that the Lions pull out a win here (even though I predicted it two weeks ago), but I do believe this game will be tight and low-scoring. 24-13 Vikings.