Friday, October 10, 2008

Going for 11 Straight Against the Lions

Make no mistake about it--this game is a must win for the Vikings if they want to make the playoffs. The Lions are, quite possibly, the worst team in the NFL this year (and the only reason that’s not a certainty is because the Rams are just as bad). Yes, they’ve fired Matt Millen (the Kevin McHale of the NFL), but there’s only so much an interim GM can do during the season to turn around a team in the trade shy NFL, something the Lions’ embarrassing 34-7 home loss to the Bears last week only served to highlight.

It doesn’t even take a knowledgeable football fan to figure out that this might be the worst Lions team ever. They have a legitimate shot at losing every game. They’ve been outscored by 81 points in their first four games (an average of 20.25 points per game), which is the second worst in the league, topped only by the Rams, who have been outscored by 104 points in their first four games (see what I mean about the Rams?). They’ve given up 147 total points, tied with the Rams for the most points allowed and have only scored 66 points. That’s the third fewest points, behind the Rams (who sadly, are not on the Vikings’ schedule this year) and the Chiefs, who tried using Tyler Thigpen, who was cut by the Vikings’ last year, at quarterback for two games. Quite simply, their offense has been horrible, although, it’s probably not a good sign for the Vikings that the Purple’s offense has scored the same number of touchdowns in five games as the Lions have scored in four.

Defensively, they’re just as bad. I mean, what else do you need to know about a defense, other than the fact that they just allowed Kyle Orton to complete 70.5% of his passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns? They’ve yet to hold a team under 31 points, are allowing 180 rushing yards per game, have only four sacks so far this year and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67.5% of their passes. Quarterbacks have a QB Rating of 121.5 against them so far this year. Basically, they’re turning every quarterback they face into the 2004 version of Peyton Manning. And by every quarterback, I mean Matt Ryan,, Aaron Rodgers, J.T. O’Sullivan and Kyle Orton.

And yet, it seems likely that the Vikings’ offense will continue to sputter. They couldn’t run the ball against the Saints, who held the Vikings to 1.7 yards per carry, despite allowing running backs 5.22 yards per carry in their previous four games. The Vikings couldn’t move the ball through the air either, except when Gus Frerotte closed his eyes and chucked it deep to Bernard Berrian (or Aundrae Allison) and hoped Berrian would adjust and come back to the under thrown ball.

Of course, if Berrian continues to play as well as he did against the Saints, it may not matter that Frerotte and “accuracy” can’t really be used in the same sentence. Then again, he's still battling a knee injury and missed most of practice this week. There isn’t anyone in the Lions secondary that’s as good as Mike McKenzie or Terry Porter (which says a lot, actually, because neither is a Pro Bowl type). And Dwight Smith is still good for at least one blown coverage at safety a game. The Lions don’t have the same type of speed at linebacker as the Saints did either, which means they won’t be able to shut down outside runs the same way the Saints did either (though, if Childress had just, you know, made an adjustment and pounded the ball up the middle against the Saints’ small linebackers, that might not have been an issue). This week, the Purple might want to avoid running the ball to the right (more so than they normally do), because that’s where the Lions’ best player, linebacker Ernie Sims usually is, but aside from Sims, there really isn’t anyone on the Lions who requires a team to game plan for them.

Defensively, the Vikings will have to be careful of the Lions’ passing game. While their quarterback situation is up in the air (it doesn’t matter if the Lions start Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky or Drew Stanton, all three are liable to get yanked or hurt), they still feature the same quality wide receivers they’ve had the last two years (insert your favorite Matt Millen draft joke here). Calvin Johnson has started to play like the #2 overall pick (well, at least as much as he can within the Lions’ offense). Roy Williams remains a threat, although prone to dropping passes (he’s only caught 42% of the balls thrown his way) and Mike Furrey remains a capable third receiver. That’s about it for the Lions’ offensive talent though. Their offensive line has allowed four sacks a game and struggles to open up holes in the running game. While rookie Kevin Smith has shown some promise, he’s only averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Rudi Johnson has been better, with a 5.3 yards per carry average, but neither is a threat to break a big play and neither is a threat against the Vikings, even though they’re missing E.J. Henderson.

No matter which way you slice it, the Lions are an awful team and one the Vikings’ should beat easily. Add in the fact that it’s a division game (which will factor into possible tiebreakers for the division crown and the wild card berths) and it’s a game that the Vikings must win to keep pace. They’ve managed to get most of the way out of the 1-3 hole they dug themselves in just one game against the Saints (with some help from the Packers and Bears), but they have to capitalize on opportunities like this one if they want to see the postseason for the first time since 2004. Odds are it’ll be an ugly game, unless Adrian Peterson goes off for 250+ yards or the Vikings’ defense creates points off of turnovers, but the Vikings should come out with a 30-17 win, and in today’s NFL, that’s all that matters.

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