The Vikings face a watershed moment in their 2012 season today when they meet the Detroit Lions. Currently riding a two-game losing streak and having lost three of their last four, the Vikings can ill-afford to lose today at home. Having squandered several conference advantages over teams like Tampa Bay and Seattle, the Vikings can’t lose another tie-breaker edge to the Lions.
Furthermore, the Vikings are starting a four-game streak of divisional games. After the bye, the Vikings play road games at Chicago and Green Bay before hosting the Bears the following week. The Vikings have known this stretch of games was coming when the schedule was released in April and, with little margin for error, they realize this segment of the schedule will go a long way to determining how they finish the 2012 season – as a contender or a pretender.
“We understand what is ahead of us and what lies in the days to come,” linebacker Erin Henderson said. “We understand the situation that we’ve put ourselves in, but we still have a lot of control in what happens. We still have a say in how the rest of this season plays out.”
Facing the Lions will be a battle. Detroit has won three of its last four games (a backward image of the Vikings’ last four), but a loss may well end their playoff aspirations in one fell swoop. Defensive tackle Fred Evans said that desperation has created a playoff atmosphere in mid-November heading into this game.
“There’s more of a sense of urgency,” Evans said. “We were successful the first time we played them and nobody wants to lose to somebody twice. … We have to be ready for that and take very seriously.”
One thing the Vikings will have to face, especially on offense, is that the Lions have a reputation for being trash talkers. They try to get inside the head of their opponents and the Vikings’ offensive linemen aren’t going to bite. The Lions are adept at baiting offensive linemen into losing their cool and even throwing punches, something the Vikings have vowed they won’t do.
“You’ve just got to play your game,” offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said. “You try not to pay too much attention to it – just make sure you’re focusing up and doing your assignments. The ultimate goal is to win. If you get caught up in those kinds of things, you can cost your team yards. I just try not to pay much attention to it and just get my job done.”
That isn’t to say the Vikings aren’t above exchanging trash talk. Loadholt admits he’s guilty of it, but said he tries to keep in perspective. He’s prone to the bravado that backs up the physicality of playing the offensive line, but said he tries to keep his trash talking in check.
“I do a little bit, but not too much,” Loadholt said. “I try to stay focused on what I’ve got to get done, but I do say a little something every now and then. I’ve been known to say stuff first, but I definitely retaliate if they start it.”
Center John Sullivan will line up face to face with Ndamukong Suh, one of the game’s nastiest players and most prolific trash talkers. While Sullivan admitted incessant trash talkers can get under his skin, he rarely starts it … but doesn’t back down once the curse words start flying.
“I’ve said things before,” Sullivan said. “I usually don’t initiate, but, yeah, I will retaliate.”
If there is a key to today’s game, it will be the Vikings stuffing the Lions’ running game. In their first meeting, the Vikes did a masterful job of that. They held the Lions’ running backs to just 28 yards on 14 carries. Since then, however, much has changed. The Vikings have allowed four straight 100-yard rushers and have dropped from one of the top rush defenses to a pedestrian middle-of-the-road group.
When asked if he could explain how the Vikings could be so inconsistent in run defense, defensive end Brian Robison begged to differ with the phrasing of the question.
“I guess I would have to disagree with you on that,” Robison said. “I feel like we’ve been consistent – consistently bad in the run game the last three weeks. We’ve got to make sure we turn that into being consistently good. The only way we can do that is to go out against Detroit and try to stop them, because they’ve been running the ball well lately.”
With a win, the Vikings can effectively shovel the dirt on the playoff grave of the Lions. With a Detroit win, the Vikings will be behind the 8-ball in their own improbable playoff run. The only thing that is guaranteed is that Detroit will be chippy and trying to goad the Vikings into a fight.
A loss by the Lions may end their season. A loss by the Vikings won’t end it, but it will put it in significant jeopardy. A win, on the other hand, could be just what they need heading into their bye week to make a late-season run for a playoff spot.
VIKINGS-LIONS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 22nd-ranked offense (5th rushing, 30th passing) and the 11th-ranked defense (18th rushing, 9th passing).
The only teams with a lower-ranked passing offense are Seattle and Jacksonville.
The Lions have the 2nd-ranked offense (1st passing, 22nd rushing) and the 7th-ranked defense (8th passing, 14th rushing).
The Vikings are averaging 334 yards a game on offense (187 passing, 135 rushing). Detroit is averaging 411 yards a game (307 passing, 104 rushing).
Defensively, Minnesota is allowing 338 yards a game (221 passing, 117 rushing). Detroit is allowing 321 yards a game (215 passing, 106 rushing).
The Vikings offense is 26th in sacks allowed per pass play. The Lions are fifth in that category.
Detroit is tied for 19th in giveaway/takeaway ratio at minus-2 (10 takeaways, 12 giveaways). The Vikings are 26th at minus-6 (10 takeaways, 16 giveaways).
Detroit is eighth in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 60 percent of its red zone opportunities (18 of 30). Minnesota is 12th at 55.2 percent (16 touchdowns on 29 red zone trips.
Defensively, the Lions are fifth in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just seven of 17 red zone chances (41.2 percent). The Vikings are 18th at 54.8 percent (17 TDs in 31 chances).
Only four teams have faced more defensive red zone series than the Vikings – Jacksonville, New Orleans, Kansas City and Tennessee.
Only two teams have faced fewer red zone series on defense than Detroit – San Francisco and San Diego.
The Vikings are 23rd in third-down offense, converting just 39 of 112 chances (34.8 percent). The Lions are sixth in third-down offense at 43.4 percent (46 of 106). The league average is 38.9 percent.
Defensively, the Vikings are 27th on third down, allowing conversions on 57 of 132 chances (43.2 percent). Detroit is 14th in third-down defense, allowing 39 conversions on 101 attempts (38.6 percent).
The Vikings are second in average starting position following kickoffs at the 25.2-yard line. Detroit is 25th at the 20.7-yard line. The league average starting position is the 22.1-yard line.
Matthew Stafford has four 300-yard passing games. Christian Ponder has one.
The Vikings have allowed just one 300-yard passer this season. The Lions have allowed two.
Detroit has five 100-yard receiving games, four by Calvin Johnson and one by Titus Young. The Vikings have three 100-yard receiving games, all by Percy Harvin.
Both Minnesota and Detroit have allowed two 100-yard receivers.
Adrian Peterson has four 100-yard rushing games. Detroit’s only 100-yard game came from Mikel Leshoure in Week 3.
The Vikings have allowed four 100-yard rushers, one each in the last four games. Detroit has allowed just two, one of them being Adrian Peterson in their first meeting in Week 4.
The Vikings have never had the NFL’s leading rusher and leading receiver in a season and, with Harvin expected out today, that may not happen, but, at this point of the season, it’s an impressive first for the Vikings.
If he can get back on the field in time, Harvin has the chance to be the first player in NFL history to have 100 receptions and a kick return for a touchdown in the same season.
Harvin has already put himself in elite company. Only he and Hall of Famer Gale Sayers have the distinction of scoring 20 offensive touchdowns and five TDs on kickoff/punt returns in their first four NFL seasons.
If Peterson scores four more touchdowns, he will join LaDainian Tomlinson as the only two players in NFL history to rush for 900 or more yards and score 10 or more touchdowns in each of their first six seasons.
Stafford is first in the league in pass attempts (346), first in completions (220), seventh in yards (2,393), tied for 25th in touchdown passes (8) and 20th in passer rating (83.2).
Ponder is 15th in attempts (284), tied for 13th in completions (182), 21st in yards (1,806), tied for 17th in touchdown passes (10) and 23rd in passer rating (82.0).
Stafford is fourth in fourth-quarter passer rating at 99.8, which includes six of his eight touchdown passes. Ponder is 15th with a passer rating of 86.4, including six of his 10 TD passes.
On third downs, Stafford is 11th in passer rating at 90.7. Ponder is 30th with a rating of just 59.9, with four touchdowns and six interceptions.
Peterson leads the NFL in rushing with 957 yards. Leshoure leads the Lions with 375 yards, which ranks 26th in the league.
Harvin entered play in Week 10 leading the NFL in receptions with 62. However, with Harvin expected to miss today’s game and the Vikings having their bye week next week, when he returns to action, he may be as low as 10th in the league. Calvin Johnson leads the Lions with 48 receptions, which currently ranks him 10th.
Johnson is third in the league in receiving yards with 767. Harvin is ranked 10th with 677 yards.
Peterson is tied for 12th in the league in scoring among non-kickers with 36 points (six touchdowns). Kyle Rudolph is tied for 18th with 32 points (five TDs, one two-point conversion). Harvin is tied for 20th with 30 points (five touchdowns). The leading Lions scorer is Leshoure with 24 points (four TDs), which ties him for 38th place.
Blair Walsh is fourth in the league in scoring with 76 points. Jason Hanson is seventh in scoring with 70 points.
Walsh is second in the league with 35 touchbacks. Hanson is tied for 18th with 16 touchbacks.
Peterson leads the NFL with 1,107 yards from scrimmage (957 rushing, 150 receiving). Harvin is 15th with 773 yards (677 receiving, 96 rushing). Johnson is tied for 17th with 767 yards (all receiving).
Peterson is second in the league in first downs gained with 48 (42 rushing, six receiving), trailing only New England’s Stevan Ridley (49). Harvin is tied for 10th with 42 (36 receiving, six rushing). Johnson is tied for 15th with 38 (all receiving).
Sunday’s game will feature two of the worst statistical punters in the league. Chris Kluwe is averaging 44.1 yards per punt, which is 24th in the NFL. Detroit’s Nick Harris is 30th, averaging 42 yards per punt.
Harvin leads the NFL in kick return average at 35.9 yards – six yards better than everyone in the league except Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones (33.5 yards).
Jared Allen is tied for seventh in sacks with 7.5. Allen has been involved in at least one sack each of the last seven games. Cliff Avril leads the Lions with 4.5 sacks, which, along with Minnesota’s Robison, ties him for 29th place in the league.
Allen is on pace to have 13 sacks, which would set a franchise record for having four straight seasons with 13 or more sacks.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.