NFL Wire News

Lions need to protect Stafford against Vikings

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions allowed eight quarterback hits to the Vikings in Week 2, and if they hope to beat Minnesota on Sunday, they know protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford would be one of the best ways to give them a chance.

Stafford was under duress constantly in the game and had a few free rushers disrupt plays, as happened too frequently in the first three games. The Lions have curbed that problem the past few games, and against the Bears in Week 6, the offensive line had its best game as the Lions gained 546 yards, though the game went into overtime.

The Vikings have the right defensive formula to limit the Lions as they did in Week 2, holding Detroit to just 323 yards. With a strong secondary to lock down the Lions receivers and enough pass rushing punch to test the offensive line, Minnesota won’t make it easy for the Lions to find a rhythm.

“They’re playing really well on defense,” Stafford said of a Minnesota team that ranks second in points allowed. “They’ve got really good players. We just have to continue to execute. That’s what we did better (against the Bears). We made big plays; that’s just from executing. It wasn’t anything other than that, so we just have to make sure we’re throwing and catching, blocking the right guys and making plays when they’re there to be made.

“This defense we’re playing does a great job of trying to limit those, so whenever we get the opportunity, we have to try and make them.”

The Lions had eight passes of 20-plus yards against the Bears. They had zero against the Vikings in the previous matchup as their longest play from scrimmage was just 19 yards.

However, the offensive line seems to be at full strength for this game. Right guard Larry Warford played in Week 2, but is healthier now after playing through a high ankle sprain, which forced him to miss Weeks 1, 4 and 5. And, rookie Laken Tomlinson is the starting left guard now, replacing veteran Manny Ramirez. Tomlinson played really well against the Bears.

“He’s really come along in terms of his run blocking, come along in terms of his pass protection,” head coach Jim Caldwell said of the first-round pick Tomlinson. “But those guys, for the most part, they’re going to see something different every week, so they have to manage different styles. And these guys that he’s facing this week have a little different repertoire, so we’ll see if he can adjust.”

And if the Lions can block the Vikings, they should be able to have some opportunities to throw deep to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who had a season-high 166 yards receiving against the Bears. Although he hadn’t exceeded 100 yards in the first five games, his confidence never waned.

“I’ve always been confident in the ability that I’ve had,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t lacking any confidence. Just got to take advantage of those opportunities when we get them.”

SERIES HISTORY: 109th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 70-36-2. The Lions lost 10 straight to the Vikings from 2002-06 and 13 straight from 1968-74. Besides wining the first five matchups from 1961-63, the Lions haven’t won more than three in a row against Minnesota.

GAME PLAN

–Against the Vikings, the game plan is always the same for the Lions: stop running back Adrian Peterson. The Lions couldn’t accomplish that goal in a Week 2 loss to Minnesota as Peterson gained 134 rushing yards and 58 receiving yards, helping take pressure off the passing game. If the Lions can force quarterback Teddy Bridgewater into passing situations, the defense will have a better chance.

On offense, the Lions have to test a tough Vikings secondary deep. They had eight passes of 20-plus yards in their Week 6 win, and creating big gains will open things up for the league’s worst rushing attack.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Lions WR Calvin Johnson, who had six catches for 166 yards last week, vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes, who helped limit Johnson to 83 yards on 10 catches in Week 2.

–Lions LT Riley Reiff, who has played well the past few games, vs. Vikings RDE Everson Griffen, who has three sacks this season.


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