Detroit As The Vikings' True Test?

Marcus McCauley

With a Detroit Lions team with a deep receiver corps, they could actually be the perfect test for the Vikings' new defensive coordinator to gauge just how much progress has been made in the pass defense.

It wasn't that long ago that the Vikings defense was considered to be one of the most underachieving in the NFL. Coordinators and players came and went but not much seemed to change.

Those days appear to be gone.

A unit that ranked in the league's top-10 last year under Mike Tomlin didn't seem to miss a beat with new coordinator Leslie Frazier calling the shots in a 24-3 victory over Atlanta last Sunday.

The Vikings defense, in fact, seemed improved from a year ago, getting far more consistent pressure (six sacks) and turning two interceptions of Joey Harrington passes into 14 points.

There are two caveats, however. Harrington looked awful and this is a Falcons team that could be in for a long season. In other words, it might be a tad premature to get over-excited about one defensive performance.

Now, if the unit can repeat its success this Sunday against Harrington's former employer, the Detroit Lions, at Ford Field that might be reason for true optimism. Yes, we're talking about a Lions club that went 3-13 last season. And, yes the Vikings have not lost to the Lions since 2001.

But there is little doubt that coordinator Mike Martz's offense and its various weapons are going to test opponents on a regular basis and the Vikings will be in the line of fire this weekend.

The Lions' biggest threat will be a passing game that features first-round picks Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams, as well as Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey. Johnson had four catches for 70 yards and caught a touchdown in his NFL debut last Sunday as the visiting Lions beat Oakland, 36-21.

Martz could really test the Vikings if he can get Johnson (6-5, 235 pounds) matched up against rookie corner Marcus McCauley (6-1, 203 pounds).

This could be a possibility because veteran corner Antoine Winfield plays in the slot in nickel situations.

There is little doubt the Vikings defense will make every attempt to remain opportunistic against Lions quarterback Jon Kitna but Minnesota also is going to need more production from its offense than it got against the Falcons.

Under the guidance of first-year starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, the Vikings offense generated 10 points last Sunday. The lone touchdown came on a swing pass to Adrian Peterson that the rookie took 60 yards for a score.

Peterson also rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries in the victory in part because veteran Chester Taylor was forced to leave the game in the first quarter due to a bruised oblique. Taylor is from the Detroit area and certainly will make every attempt to play in this game. Especially after the only game he missed last season came against the Lions at Ford Field.

Jackson, for his part, will be counted on to continue to manage games and not make mistakes. He completed 13 of 23 passes for 163 yards with the one touchdown and an interception against Atlanta.

Coach Brad Childress has been stressing ball security with the young quarterback since day one and will continue to do so. But Childress also will need Jackson to make some plays and loosen the Lions defense up on occasion so the Vikings can move the ball effectively on the ground.

NOTES

Despite Adrian Peterson's 103-yard rushing performance in his NFL debut, coach Brad Childress made it clear that his plan is to split carries between Peterson and Chester Taylor once the veteran has recovered from a bruised oblique suffered Sunday against Atlanta.

What's not clear is the role that Mewelde Moore will have in the running game. Moore was inactive Sunday for the first time since his rookie season in 2004. Moore was expected to be used on punt returns, but that job went to Bobby Wade.

Moore will be a free agent after this season but if he's left on the bench, or inactive list, it definitely will have a negative impact on his value. The problem for Moore is that as the No. 3 running back on the roster he's probably too valuable as an insurance policy for the Vikings to consider trading him.

  • RB Chester Taylor was limited in practice Wednesday because of a bruised oblique muscle and it's uncertain if he will be able to play Sunday at Detroit. The official report lists Taylor with a hip injury.

  • FB Tony Richardson (bruised forearm) was limited in practice but should be able to play Sunday.

  • FB Naufahu Tahi (ankle) was limited in practice but also should be ready to go.

  • DE Erasmus James continues to recover from a knee injury suffered last season. He continues to practice but it's unclear if he will be active Sunday. He sat out last Sunday's victory over Atlanta.

  • S Mike Doss returned to the practice field after missing time with a calf injury that limited what he could do.

  • LB Vinny Ciurciu (hand) participated in all of Wednesday's practice.

  • WR Robert Ferguson sat out the opener because of an ankle injury but was able to take part in all drills Wednesday.

  • LB David Herron was signed to the Vikings practice squad. Herron had been with the team in training camp but was signed by New England after being released by Minnesota in the final cuts. The Patriots cut Herron from their active roster and the Vikings picked him back up. LB Brandon Archer was released to make room for Herron.

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