Vikings-Lions Preview

Posted Dec 7, 2011

A home game against the lowly Minnesota Vikings would seem to be just what the stumbling Detroit Lions need to return to their winning ways.

Of course, if they can't cut down on drive-stalling penalties and defensive lapses, they could be headed for another defeat.

The Lions, struggling to keep their composure in difficult situations, hope to break out of their funk and avoid losing a third straight game Sunday against the Vikings.

Detroit (7-5) was a media darling with its 5-0 start but has since dropped five of seven, and its players are being widely criticized for a lack of discipline. The Lions' last two games were in front of national TV audiences and they lost both in self-destructing fashion.

In a 27-15 defeat to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, Detroit was penalized 11 times and Ndamukong Suh was ejected for stomping on a Packers player. Suh was suspended by the NFL for two games, a ban he will finish serving Sunday. The Lions were again penalized 11 times in Sunday night's 31-17 loss to New Orleans, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew was called for a personal foul for making contact with an official trying to get between him and a Saints player after the whistle.

Coach Jim Schwartz doesn't think Pettigrew will be further disciplined, but realizes his team has got to clean up its act.

"Obviously, everything on the field is a reflection of the organization, it's a reflection of the head coach, it's a reflection of all the coaches, it's a reflection of the players," Schwartz said. "It's not a presentation we want."

Despite their struggles, the Lions are in a three-way tie for the NFC's two wild-card spots, although Chicago and Atlanta own the tiebreakers.

"Smart football teams are still playing in January," said Matthew Stafford, who has 10 interceptions in four games after having four through October. "Teams that make smart decisions don't beat themselves."

The Lions have a chance to redeem themselves against a Minnesota team they seemingly should be able move the ball on.

Stafford is fifth in the league with 3,527 passing yards and fourth with 27 TD throws, and the Vikings (2-10) have been vulnerable through the air with a depleted secondary. Minnesota is tied for 26th in the league in pass defense (252.2 ypg) and has allowed an NFL-worst 24 passing touchdowns.

The Vikings even allowed the pass-challenged Tim Tebow to throw for a season-high 202 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday's 35-32 loss to Denver.

"If we think it was hard Sunday, it could be much, much worse," coach Leslie Frazier said, eluding to the Detroit game and next Sunday's matchup with New Orleans.

In Minnesota's first meeting with the Lions on Sept. 25, Stafford passed for 378 yards with two TDs to Calvin Johnson in Detroit's 26-23 overtime victory. The Lions rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit to win their second straight in the series after losing 20 of the previous 22 meetings.

Stafford passed for a season-high 408 yards with a touchdown and an interception last Sunday as Detroit had little trouble moving the ball against the Saints, but penalties - including three offensive pass interference calls - again limited the scoring.

"Our offense continued to get derailed by penalties," Schwartz said. "We need to act accordingly. We need to be a team that doesn't beat ourselves. We have talent. We cannot afford to be selfish and put the team at risk of taking points off the board."

Schwartz also feels like the defense needs to step up.

The Lions have allowed an average of 32.5 points in their last four games, up from 18.4 in their first eight. Their average number of sacks has dropped from 3.0 to 1.8 in that span, and they haven't forced a turnover in back-to-back games after causing 23 though their first 10.

"We are capable of being a really good defense," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "At times we show that and at times we have big lapses."

Detroit could have better success against a banged-up Minnesota offense.

Quarterback Christian Ponder has a hip pointer after taking a hard hit against the Broncos, and Frazier said the Vikings will try to "put him through some paces" in practice Friday to determine if he'll be an option for Sunday.

Ponder set a Vikings rookie record with 381 yards passing last Sunday and threw for three touchdowns, but he lost a fumble in Denver territory and had two interceptions.

Adrian Peterson sat out his second straight game because of a sprained left ankle but could return against Detroit after practicing Thursday on a limited basis. The four-time All-Pro has been held to a combined 109 rushing yards in his last two games against the Lions after averaging 119.5 in his previous six.