Preview: Lions and fans will put the heat on Vikings QB Christian Ponder
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Who: Detroit Lions (4-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Metrodome (capacity: 64,111), Minneapolis.
TV: Fox (Ch. 9).
Line: Lions by 3.
Coaches: Vikings - Leslie Frazier (2nd season, 11-20); Detroit - Jim Schwartz (4th season, 22-30).
Series: The Vikings lead 67-33-2 and have a 36-13-1 mark at home against the Lions. Detroit swept the season series against the Vikings last year for the first time since 1997. Frazier is 1-2 against Detroit.
Last meeting: Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown and Marcus Sherels took a third-quarter punt 77 yards for another score as the Vikings ended a three-game losing streak against Detroit with a 20-13 victory on Sept. 30 at Ford Field. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh also made field goals of 49 and 27 yards as the Vikings' offense did not get into the end zone.
At stake: The Vikings' 4-1 start seems like a distant memory as the team attempts to fix a broken passing game and a defense that went from being a pleasant surprise to one that is having trouble with the basic fundamental of tackling. However, the Vikings still stand at 5-4 and could give themselves a real lift by completing a sweep of the Lions. Considering the difficulty of the Vikings' schedule coming out of the bye, a loss on Sunday could set this team into a freefall for the rest of the season.
Vikings: WR Percy Harvin (ankle) and NT Letroy Guion (foot) are doubtful. FB Jerome Felton (shoulder), LT Matt Kalil (knee), CB Antoine Winfield (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion), P Chris Kluwe (left knee), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, illness), S Mistral Raymond (ankle), S Jamarca Sanford (knee), WR Jerome Simpson (calf) and DE Jared Allen (shoulder) are probable.
Lions: S Louis Delmas (knee) and S Amari Spievey (concussion) are out. DE Cliff Avril (back), T Corey Hilliard (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), DT Corey Williams (knee) and WR Titus Young (knee) are questionable. S Erik Coleman (toe), CB Chris Houston (illness), RB Mikel Leshoure (ankle), LB DeAndre Levy (hamstring) and LB Stephen Tulloch (knee) are probable.
Five things to watch
Close eye on Ponder: Christian Ponder insists his confidence level is fine and acknowledges he knows he will hear calls for his backup, Joe Webb, if he continues to struggle in Sunday's game. It's one thing to say those things, it's another to be productive knowing your every mistake is going to draw catcalls from the home crowd. Ponder, who has thrown six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the past five games, has not gone an entire game without a pick since the Vikings' win on Sept. 30 at Detroit. Coming out of that game, the Vikings were 3-1 and Ponder was being praised for not making mistakes. Ponder needs to get back to limiting his mistakes and finding his receivers. While he's a key figure in this situation, this isn't all on Ponder. The entire passing game is filled with flaws that Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave spent this week trying to fix. We'll find out Sunday if they were successful. By the way, no matter how loud you might boo him, Ponder will not be lifted. At least we believe that to be the case.
Where's Kyle? Harvin likely won't play because of injury, Simpson isn't playing at 100 percent and the other wide receivers don't strike fear in anyone. That means if the Vikings are going to move the ball through the air that tight end Kyle Rudolph is going to have to be an option in the passing game. Rudolph is the guy who was expected to be Ponder's security blanket when all else failed this season, but after catching 25 passes in the first six games, he has only two receptions in the past three. Both of those came in the Vikings' loss on Oct. 25 against Tampa Bay. Both Frazier and Musgrave said last week that they needed to find a way to get Rudolph more involved. It is one thing for Ponder not to go to Rudolph because he is covered too well, but it's another thing to not throw the ball to Rudolph simply because he is covered. Rudolph is 6-foot-6, 258 pounds and said last week that he is completely confident in his ability to catch the ball in traffic.
The Wright move: Harvin, the NFC's leader in receptions with 62, hasn't been declared out for this game after spraining his left ankle last Sunday in Seattle, but it appears to be a big long shot that he will play. Frazier said rookie wide receiver Jarius Wright will be active, meaning the fourth-round pick out of Arkansas will be making his NFL debut. Wright is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds and was drafted with the expectation that he could serve as Harvin's backup at the slot receiver. It will be interesting to see how much action Wright gets, especially if Harvin is out. Also keep an eye on Simpson. Frazier said last week that Simpson hasn't been playing at full strength since waking up on the morning of Oct. 7 with numbness and weakness in his lower leg. That was the result of what is believed to be an issue with a disc in Simpson's back. Simpson made his Vikings debut in Week 4 against the Lions and caught a season-high four passes for 50 yards and also drew two pass interference penalties. In four games he has played since then, he only has four catches.
Run woes: The Vikings held the Lions to only 55 yards rushing in their first meeting. Things certainly have changed. The Vikings have given up 100 yards on the ground to a player in each of their past four games. That includes Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (138 yards), Arizona running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (104 yards), Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin (135 yards) and Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch (124 yards). The Vikings' focus in the run game against the Lions will be running back Mikel Leshoure, who rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday in Detroit's 31-14 win at Jacksonville. Guion is unlikely to play because of a turf toe injury, but considering his struggles a week ago against the Seahawks, the Vikings might be better off with veteran Fred Evans getting the start. The Vikings need to do a better job of tackling and being in the right gaps or their problems will continue.
A tall order: Johnson is listed as questionable on the injury report because of an issue with his left knee, and sat out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday before being limited on Friday. The Lions also were careful with Johnson in practice last week before the Jacksonville game and he had seven catches for 129 yards. The man known as Megatron might be looking for some payback against the Vikings. He had five catches for 54 yards in Week 4 but also took two huge hits in that game. Rookie safety Harrison Smith took a potential touchdown away from Johnson with a big hit in the end zone and linebacker Chad Greenway ended up being fined $21,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit that might have resulted in a concussion for Johnson. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing better than he was early in the season and the 6-5, 236-pound Johnson has the potential to create matchup problems for a secondary that is now without injured cornerback Chris Cook.
Judd Zulgad: Despite a two-game losing streak and a 1-3 stretch that has changed the mood around Winter Park, the Vikings have an opportunity to regain some momentum and enter their bye week with a 6-4 record. However, the Lions are playing far better football than they were in Week 4 when they lost to the Vikings at Ford Field. The other factor is that although the Vikings are playing at home, if Ponder gets off to a rough start, the fans are likely to turn on him and the team. That could create an ugly scene. Given how things have gone of late, it's hard to see the Vikings winning this one. Lions 24, Vikings 20.
Tom Pelissero: The Vikings had to do some soul-searching this week, particularly in the offensive meeting rooms. The organization knows, from the top down, this game may well tip the season one direction or another. Are they a playoff team? Probably not, and definitely not if they can't figure out how to throw the ball. Harvin's likely absence won't help. But this team has shown it is capable of playing a complete game before. Strictly a hunch here they rise to the occasion on their home field. Vikings 26, Lions 23.