Adrian Peterson vs. Stephen Tulloch
On Sunday the Lions will head to Mall of America Field where they hope to corral the NFL’s third ranked rushing attack. This contest will largely hinge on the battle between perennial Pro-Bowler Adrian Peterson, and newly acquired linebacker Stephen Tulloch. If the Vikings hope to win this divisional opener, Peterson must be the best player on the field. If the Lions plan on leaving Minnesota victorious for the first time since 1997, Tulloch must be the best player on the field. In the most simplistic terms, whoever holds the edge in this matchup will be the catalyst for their respective team’s victory. As is the case in most aspects of football, this will hardly be an individual battle between two players. The offensive and defensive line play will determine the pace and flow of the game, however, the game-changing plays will be determined by the outcome when Tulloch and Peterson find themselves in isolation.
The Viking offense is designed to chip away at a defense slowly, and wear them down throughout the course of the game. Once fatigue sets in, it is only a matter of time before one missed, or broken, tackle leads to the type of explosive run that Minnesota thrives on. Throughout the first two weeks Detroit has unintentionally employed a “bend but don’t break” style, that has largely relied on opportunistic turnovers. For this success to continue in Minnesota, Detroit must tackle well and limit Peterson’s yards per carry from reaching his current rate of 5.3. If Tulloch can wrap up consistently, and not allow Peterson the yards after contact that have become his trademark, the Lions’ defense should be able to keep from breaking, and have plenty of opportunities to get off of the field. Peterson may be able to gain small chunks of yardage, but if the Lions’ attacking defense can limit the big plays, the Vikings will have their fair share of third down passing situations, which Detroit can take advantage of. Limiting the explosive runs should allow for easy taming of Donovan McNabb and this Viking offense.
Donovan McNabb vs. Lions’ Secondary
Each coach and player on the field Sunday afternoon will be fully aware of Minnesota’s desire to establish the run game early. Viking practices have undoubtedly focused on controlling the line of scrimmage, while Lion practices have certainly been devoted to stopping Adrian Peterson. The largest variable in each team’s ability to impose their will on the other will be Quarterback Donovan McNabb. Detroit will surely commit an extra defender, most likely Louis Delmas, to the box in an effort to stop the run, thus leaving three defensive backs committed to pass coverage. McNabb’s ability to take advantage of single coverage situations will affect the way Detroit defends the run, and consequently the outcome of the game. If McNabb is able to stretch the field, and force Gunther Cunningham to respect the passing game, the Lions will not be able to commit eight to the box, and Peterson should be able to find more running lanes. If McNabb repeats his performance from week one at San Diego, Detroit will be able to leave one safety deep and focus solely on stopping Peterson at the line of scrimmage.
Other Matchups to Watch
Most football experts agree that turnover differential is the statistic that is most indicative of success, and this will remain true in week three. Outside of turnovers however, time of possession will be the most important statistic for each team on Sunday. The Lions have been able to dictate to opposing offenses thus far. Tampa Bay rarely saw the ball during the first half in week one, and by the time Kansas City got into their rhythm, they were already significantly behind. This forced both teams away from their strength, and away from their game plan. The Lions will attempt to do the same against Minnesota. The benefits of controlling the ball are two-fold for the Vikings. First, Minnesota possession means that Stafford and the explosive Lion offense remain on the sideline. Second, controlling the ball will allow the Vikings to wear down the Lions’ defense, specifically the front four. The Lion defense hasn’t truly been tested yet, as they have seen minimal time on the field, and played much of the season with a significant lead. Whichever team is able to dominate possession will undoubtedly dictate what the opposing offense is able to do, and have a considerable advantage in the contest.