Scouting report: Inside the Lions
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After an 0-2 start, the Minnesota Vikings will try to right the ship when they welcome their first divisional opponent to the Metrodome on Sunday. Sam Monson from ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down film from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Detroit Lions:
Detroit operates a traditional power-blocking scheme on the O-line, and in recent years, they have overhauled their personnel to get players best-suited to run it. This scheme has its advantages, but the major disadvantage is that, when there is a weak link, that link can be exposed. At the moment, former first-round pick RT Gosder Cherilus (6-foot-7, 325 pounds) is that weak link. With QB Matt Stafford (6-3, 232) likely still out of the lineup, the Lions will be led by former Vikings backup Shaun Hill (6-3, 220). That may seem like a downgrade at the position, but Hill is capable of efficient play, and WR Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236) can be a great safety valve.
On defense, the Lions have completely overhauled their roster and have a front four that can put pressure on the passer. RE Kyle Vanden Bosch (6-4, 278) is relentless in his pursuit, and the Lions use a lot of stunts and twists on the line to get him matched up on different linemen and take advantage of his motor. The movement of the defensive linemen should be at its most effective against a zone scheme like Minnesota's. Behind that front line, the Lions are still experimenting with personnel to find their best lineup. (In Week 1, they used 12 different linebackers or defensive backs on defense).
Prized rookie DT Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 307) is a physically imposing player. But he has been exposed early for his lack of experience and savvy, getting caught with trap blocks repeatedly against the Bears. He usually lines up over the right guard and will likely be more than a match physically for RG Anthony Herrera. Suh can be neutralized, though, if the Vikings get a little creative with their blocking scheme to account for him.
Detroit is starting a pair of new cornerbacks this season, and though Chris Houston (5-11, 178) is looking a capable starter on one side, Jonathan Wade (5-11, 200) seems anything but. Quarterbacks have a 118 passer rating when throwing into Wade's coverage, and even with the Vikings' wideout problems, they should be looking to exploit that side of the Detroit defense.
Rookie RB Jahvid Best (5-10, 199) has scored a pair of touchdowns in each of his first two games, but he is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry and is going to have a tough day running against the Vikings.
In previous meetings, the Vikings have matched up CB Cedric Griffin on Johnson, and the results have been mixed. Last season, Johnson was thrown at just six times when covered by Griffin, but all six passes were completed, for 61 yards and a touchdown. With Griffin and rookie CB Chris Cook -- the Vikings' only cornerbacks taller than 5-10 -- still recovering from injuries and an unknown quantity going into the game, how the Vikings plan to contain Johnson will be a big factor.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Detroit D-line has gone from one of the weaker units in the NFL to one of the strengths of the team. Vanden Bosch is back to his destructive best, and though Suh isn't a polished and complete player yet, he is physically dominant at times. Former Packer Corey Williams (6-4, 320) is a fine pass rushing defensive tackle, and there is also some depth to the unit. The Vikings have been struggling on the O-line, and Detroit's defensive front might have the edge in that battle.
As good as the defensive front has become, the Lions secondary still has holes. FS Louis Delmas (5-11, 202) is a good player, and Chris Houston is a capable cornerback, but the other half of the defensive backfield still has problems. SS C.C. Brown (6-0, 208) has actually played reasonably so far this season, but his coverage skills are a known weakness. Recently acquired CB Alphonso Smith (5-9, 190) has played better in two games for Detroit than he ever threatened to do in Denver.
Detroit's O-line wasn't a bad unit last season, but it has struggled at times so far this season and has yet to approach the form of 2009. Cherilus is a liability in pass protection at right tackle and should be well overmatched by Vikings LE Ray Edwards.
Hill is steady, but his effectiveness takes a nosedive when he is pressured. Against Chicago in Week 1 he was pressured eight times, completed just two passes, threw an interception and was sacked once. If the Vikings can get to Hill with their pass rush, they shorten the odds dramatically in their favor.
Minnesota has come to rely on games against Detroit as expected wins -- they've won seven of eight encounters under Childress -- but this is a different Lions team. Coach Jim Schwartz has the Lions moving firmly in the right direction, and they definitely have the ability to take down a faltering Vikings side. The Vikings can't be complacent. They need to bring their best game.