NFL Week 4: 5 Minnesota Vikings To Watch vs. The Detroit Lions
Five Minnesota Vikings To Watch In Week 4 Against The Detroit Lions
The Minnesota Vikings are coming off a major upset in Week 3, as they handled the San Francisco 49ers 24-13. That may have been the biggest headline around the league from last week if not for this past Monday night's controversy, and another opportunity for an upset comes this week against the Detroit Lions. It is also the first divisional game of the season for Minnesota, and they can put a two-game gap between them and the Lions with a victory.
Lions' quarterback Matt Stafford suffered what has now been reported to be a hip injury last week against the Tennessee Titans, leaving his status for Sunday's game up in the air. We should get more clarity on Stafford's status as the end of the week nears, but if he is unable to go backup Shaun Hill would get the start. While he does not have Stafford's physical tools, Hill has proven to be a capable fill-in when called upon in the past when Stafford was sidelined. No matter who starts under center for the Lions, the Vikings defense will be challenged by the talented skill position players they have offensively. Detroit even appears to have a running game now, as Mikel Leshoure reached 100 yards on the ground in his NFL debut last week.
This may be the biggest test the Vikings have faced this season, even after taking on the 49ers in Week 3, with having to go on the road against a tough team within their division. Here are five players who I feel have to perform well to make that happen.
Christian Ponder played the best game of his young career in Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers, and now will get a good road test against the Lions in a division game. The Vikings’ debut of wide receiver Jerome Simpson will help Ponder challenge the Detroit defense downfield, and that big-play potential will be key if Minnesota intends to win what could be a high-scoring game on Sunday. Ponder can take another big step toward becoming one of the league’s elite quarterbacks if he leads the Vikings to another upset win.
Defensive end Jared Allen has generally shown up big against the Lions, with 12.5 sacks against them in nine career games. It does not matter if Matt Stafford or Shaun Hill starts Sunday’s game as Allen will be a key driving force for the Vikings’ pass rush regardless. Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus has struggled against Allen, so it would not be surprising to see them lend him some help quite a bit during the game. Allen’s overall performance stands to be one of the key barometers for who wins this game, as either he will be a dominating force or the extra attention he draws will neutralize his impact but perhaps benefit his defensive linemates.
Simpson will play his first game for the Vikings this week after serving a three-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He is expected to add a vertical element to the Minnesota passing game with his downfield speed, but just how much impact he will have remains to be seen in his first game of the season. Simpson’s snap count may be limited on Sunday as he gets back into game action, but if he can burn a vulnerable Lions’ secondary a few times the league may have to start to take serious notice of the Minnesota offense as a whole.
Cornerback Chris Cook will have an important matchup on Sunday against Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and if he can hold up physically against arguably the league’s best wide receiver the Vikings will have a much easier time defending the Detroit passing game and offense as a whole. Cook was given another chance after last season’s off the field issues largely due to his talent when compared to the other options Minnesota had at cornerback. He has had an up-and-down start to the season, as could be expected after not having played a regular season game since last October prior to Week 1, but this is one of the games he has to step up, perform well and justify the team’s faith in him.
Rookie offensive tackle Matt Kalil held up well against San Francisco 49ers pass rushing dynamo Aldon Smith last week, and now gets a another challenge against Lions defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril in Week 4. Relentless is a word often used to describe Vanden Bosch, so Kalil will have to match his intensity on every play if he hopes to have success blocking him on his own. Keeping Ponder upright and comfortable in the pocket was a key to success in Week 3, and a repeat of that in Week 4 starts with Kalil.