The Detroit Lions vs. Lack of composure
Of all the significant factors that will play a role in the outcome of Sunday’s contest, the Lions’ inability to escape their own stupidity will be most crucial. Last week’s game in New Orleans served as evidence of how difficult it can be for a struggling team to overcome their own mental mistakes, especially when playing a superior team. It is debatable whether or not the penalties were the direct cause of the loss, but it is painfully obvious that a trend has started; one that will continue to plague this team if not corrected immediately.
I personally believe that the personal fouls, while grotesque and embarrassing to the organization, did not cost the Lions the game. With a quarterback like Drew Brees, and an injury depleted secondary forced to start the likes of Aaron Berry, even had Detroit taken the lead it would have proven difficult to keep it. That being said, this week’s matchup with Minnesota is a completely different story. The Vikings are not a superior team. In fact, they are one of the worst teams in the NFL, and by all accounts, have no business keeping this game close. A clean game from Detroit should easily lead to a 25 point victory. This is where the lack of composure can truly hurt. The constant battle to overcome long yardage situations, giving the opposition a new set of downs, all because of after the whistle penalties, can come with quite a cost. This is how good teams lose to bad ones. This is how playoff hopes are burned and buried, and progress is forgotten. A loss to the Vikings all but ends Detroit’s season, and Minnesota knows it. They have also undoubtedly watched the recklessness that Detroit has been playing with, and will use it to their advantage. The best chance the Vikings have of winning at Ford Field on Sunday is to sit back and let the Lions beat themselves.
Jeff Backus vs. Jared Allen
Beaten. Abused. Destroyed. Owned. These words don’t even begin to paint an accurate picture of what Jared Allen did to long time Lion Jeff Backus during their most recent encounter. In what was likely the worst performance of his career, the veteran left tackle was left chasing, lunging, and sometimes even diving just to get a hand on the speedy defensive end. Allen’s burst off of the edge was so explosive that Backus couldn’t even get enough of him to hold him, and spare his quarterback the pain of another crushing hit.
The effects of Allen’s three sacks on quarterback Matt Stafford back in that week three matchup have been felt ever since. The physical punishment taken that day is far outweighed by the psychological damage that is apparent each time Stafford sprints out of a perfectly formed pocket for no reason. It’s in his head, and has been ever since he left Minnesota. Whether it is a loss of faith in his left tackle, the pass protection in general, or the fear of taking a hit and risking injury, Stafford developed “happy feet” following that week three victory.
It will be interesting to see how this matchup plays out early. Stafford has settled down over the past two weeks, looking impressive in the Sunday night loss. Backus has also played strong over the past few weeks, even limiting Julius Peppers’ effectiveness in Chicago. If Allen has early success and is able to get in Stafford’s head, the quarterback may rush through his progressions, and make costly mistakes.
An important key in offsetting this pass rush will be the play of running back Kevin Smith (if he is able to go, and be effective). The Lions have had more success running the ball with Smith in the backfield than they have had since the Monday night explosion of Jahvid Best, who is resting on IR. Smith will play an integral role in keeping the defense honest, but more crucial to limiting Allen’s pass rush will be staying out of long yardage situations. The ones that are often caused by fifteen yard penalties.
Other Matchups to Watch
One of the most impactful matchups of this game will be between two players whose absence from the contest could cost their respective teams immensely. The Lions will be without Ndamukong Suh for a second straight game due to suspension, and with the apparent loss of Nick Fairley, this loss will be magnified. On the other side, the Vikings may be without standout running back Adrian Peterson, which will put much more pressure on rookie quarterback Christian Ponder (who is also questionable).
The Lions are in a must win situation this Sunday, and the Vikings would love nothing more than to be the team responsible for destroying Detroit’s playoff dreams. A loss is all but guaranteed with another mental performance like last week in New Orleans. The Lions must remain focused, poised, and confident to have success against Minnesota, and keep their post-season aspirations alive.