The Detroit Lions have quickly built a reputation of being a tough, physical team, especially on defense, where the actions of players like Ndamukong Suh have earned them the reputation of being a dirty team.
Those who should know best how to deal with the Lions defense are the opposing offensive linemen. Detroit has earned 28 personal-foul penalties this year, the most in the league and seven more than any other team in the league, but the Vikings' offensive linemen aren't convinced that the Lions are cheap-shot artists or dirty players.
"They're not a dirty team," guard Anthony Herrera said. "They're not dirty. None of them. It's just football. It's a physical game."
The Vikings believe the best way to counteract the Lions aggression is not to get caught up in it. Phil Loadholt said that by mirroring Detroit's style, an opponent falls into their trap and can hurt their own team as much as the Lions have hurt themselves by picking up so many defensive penalties.
"You don't want to do anything to penalize the team," Loadholt said. "It's the second guy that gets caught a lot of times. You don't want to jeopardize what the team has going on."
Heading up the list of men behaving badly has been Suh, who is sitting out the second game of a two-game suspension for stomping on a Packers offensive lineman on the ground. While the Lions have been front and center in the media for their actions, Loadholt said they've never tried any of those shenanigans with the Vikings.
"They don't really do too much of that stuff when they play us, not that I've noticed," Loadholt said. "(There's) nothing that's stuck out. It is what it is. We try to be smart about it and not jeopardize the team. They can label (Suh) what they want to label him. We're not intimidated by any means. We just take care of business between the whistles."
The Lions will be without both starting defensive tackles – Suh is suspended and rookie Nick Fairley is out with a foot injury – but that doesn't mean Detroit will be horribly undermanned. A person who has a unique insight to dealing with the defensive tackles – center John Sullivan – said that, while the Lions depth will be tested without Suh and Fairley, they have one of the deepest defensive line rotations in the league and won't see a huge drop-off in talent, even without their young starters.
"Those guys are great players, but they are very deep across their defensive front," Sullivan said. "The guys that were backing them up and rotating with them throughout the season are doing a great job. It's a big challenge for us."
The Vikings have vowed not to get caught up in playing the Lions' newfound "tough-guy" style, but, once the game begins, it may be easier said than done. The Lions have built a reputation for playing Bully Ball and there seems to be two options teams have – turn the other cheek or fight fire with fire.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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