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Updated: September 20th, 2011 10:34pm
Scouting report: Nate Burleson balancing perimeter for rising Lions

Scouting report: Nate Burleson balancing perimeter for rising Lions

by Sam Monson
Special to 1500ESPN.com
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After an 0-2 start in 2010, the Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the season with a 21-10 victory over the visiting Detroit Lions. This season has seen the same 0-2 start for Minnesota, but can they generate the same result over a fast-improving Lions team? Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down film from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Lions:

Scheme

The Lions have stuck with the same schemes they have been running since coach Jim Schwartz's staff took charge, and they're beginning to get pretty slick at running them.

Their offense features a traditional power-blocking offensive line with plenty of pulling guards. They don't have the running game to grind it out on the ground, and they like to pass the ball. Last week, 44 of their 61 snaps on offense (72.1%) were passing plays. They will keep tight ends at home to help in pass protection if they feel it is necessary, with TE Brandon Pettigrew (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) staying at home 18% of his pass snaps so far this season.

On defense, the Lions play a traditional 4-3 with some slightly unusual splits on the defensive line. It is a variant of the 4-3 "under" front, but the splits are unusually wide, and it requires a lot of downhill play from the linebackers to maintain gap integrity and avoid big plays. That means they can be vulnerable to the big run if one of those linebackers can't maintain his gap against a bigger-bodied blocker.

Notable players

MLB Stephen Tulloch (5-11, 240) was made for the scheme the Lions run on defense. Tulloch is a compact, thumping linebacker with the burst to roam the perimeter of the line of scrimmage but also the power and leverage to take on offensive linemen and lead blockers in the hole. He will likely get well acquainted with Vikings HB Adrian Peterson in this game, and you can be on the lookout for at least one major impact between the two.

WR Calvin Johnson (6-5, 235) gets all the press, and rightly so, but former Vikings WR Nate Burleson (6-0, 198) has started the season in great form, too. Burleson was a real weapon for Detroit last week against the Chiefs, beating six different players in coverage and making players miss after the catch all day long. The Lions aimed several bubble screen passes in the direction of Burleson, and that will be something for the Vikings to be on the lookout for. CB Antoine Winfield usually makes the safe tackle after the catch, but what about the rest of the Vikings defense?

The Lions are running out of patience with RT Gosder Cherilus (6-7, 325). After giving away a costly penalty in Week 1 -- and after several seasons of below-par play -- the Lions benched him going into their game with the Chiefs. The problem is his replacement, Corey Hilliard (6-6, 300), didn't fare any better and was beaten consistently in the run game, as well as allowing a pair of QB pressures. Vikings LE Brian Robison has had a fine start to the season and will provide a serious test no matter whom the Lions line up there.

Strengths and weaknesses

The Lions' front seven has been revamped in recent years, and even with no sign yet of top pick DT Nick Fairley (6-4, 291) -- still some way away from contributing after a foot injury -- they have become a formidable unit to face. DT Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 307) seems to have reverted to his rookie tendencies as far as trap blocks and play against the run is concerned, but he should be more than a match for Vikings RG Anthony Herrera and will likely have more than one highlight play on the day. The rest of the defensive line can both pressure the passer and stop the run, and in Tulloch and OLB Justin Durant (6-1, 232), they have added some downhill impact from the linebacker spots.

On the other side of the ball, the Lions are best suited to air it out. Johnson is a physical freak, but they've been adding weapons elsewhere, and players such as Burleson, HB Jahvid Best (5-10, 199) and Pettigrew are all capable of big plays through the air or on screen passes. They have been trying to run Best between the tackles to keep defenses honest, but it's not where he -- or they -- are best.

The weakness remains the secondary, although they have taken steps to improve there as well. CB Chris Houston (5-11, 178) has begun the year well, allowing passers to have just a 30.7 QB rating when throwing at him, but it would be a surprise to see that play continue for long given his past baseline, and the Vikings shouldn't be scared away from throwing at him.

Bottom line

This is a different Detroit team from the one that visited just 12 months ago, and the Vikings have only been playing for thirty minutes per game so far this season. They'll need to play for the full sixty to have any hope of maintaining their strong record against the Lions in the Metrodome.

Sam Monson is an analyst for ProFootballFocus.com.
Email Sam | @PFF
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