Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lions Pose Test for Vikings' Offensive System

This Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings will face the first challenge of the season to their offensive philosophy. That philosophy, which head coach Brad Childress describes as predicated on the run with a catch-and-run passing game, could well be called upon to score more than one touchdown against a Detroit offense that favors spread options and deep routes.

What the Vikings' offense is required to do, of course, will be determined by what the Vikings' defense is able to control. Last week, the Vikings' defense held the listless Atlanta Falcons' offense to a meager three points, including 199 yards passing. That performance was aided by the presence on the field of Joey Harrington, Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and Joe Horn.

This week, the Vikings' defense will face a much greater challenge to its new-look pass-defense as it travels to Detroit. Led by quarterback Jon Kitna, the 2007 Detroit offense already looks leagues better than its 2006 predecessor, both on paper and on the field. In addition to Kitna, the Lions boast a receiving corps of three potential 100-plus reception receivers in Roy Williams, Mike Furrey, and rookie Calvin Johnson. With an upgraded offensive line and the addition of former Bronco running back Tatum Bell, the Lions ran off 36 points and 392 yards of offense against an Oakland Raiders' defense that was among the league leaders in 2006.

Absent another week of multiple defensive touchdowns, merely slowing down Detroit's improved offense probably will be insufficient if the Vikings do not also find a way to score more than one offensive touchdown. If the Vikings' defense does not reproduce last weekend's performance, however, and the Vikings' offense is called upon to perform, we will have our first indication of whether the Vikings' offense is capable of playing to win rather than merely not to lose.

As good as the Lions' offense has the potential to be, its defense is loathsome. If ever there was a week for the Vikings to take the shackles of off its offense, this would appear to be it. If the Vikings can move the ball on first down and those calling the plays opt to take some shots into the endzone if and when the Vikings find their way into the red zone, this could be a very good week for the Vikings' offense. If not, it could be a very long week looking up at the Lions in the NFC North standings.

The keys for the Vikings on defense will be to put pressure on Kitna and to bump the tall and strong Detroit receivers off of the line. How difficult that will be is demonstrated by the fact that the Lions last week had three receivers with at least five receptions and fifty yards receiving, Williams failing to make that a foursome.

By contrast, the Vikings had no receiver with more than two recepitons and only one receiver with over twenty yards receiving. While Detroit's top three wide receivers were accumulating 212 receiving yards, Minnesota's top three--Bobby Wade, Troy Williamson, and Sidney Rice--were accounting for fifty-seven yards on five receptions. Though Adrian Peterson is a nice option that helps take pressure off of the quarterback and the receivers, if the Vikings don't take advantage of this relief valve, teams will soon take it, and the Vikings' entire offense, away.

Up Next: Postgame. Plus, around the NFC.

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