Vikings at Lions: Three pregame topics of note
- September 27, 2012 - 8:39 AM
1 The Packers weren't the only NFC North team to get hosed by the replacement refs in Week 3.
In a wild game in Tennessee, Detroit's 44-41 overtime loss included several officiating snafus. The most notable came on the Titans' overtime field-goal drive when an unnecessary roughness penalty against Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch was marked off 27 yards. Seriously.
Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker originally completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Craig Stevens. At the play's end, Tulloch delivered an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit, drawing a personal foul. Stevens' catch was then reviewed and questionably overturned as incomplete.
Yet instead of marching off Tulloch's 15-yard penalty from the original line of scrimmage at the Tennessee 44-yard line, the refs marched it off from the Detroit 44. That meant 12 free yards for the Titans on a drive that ended with Rob Bironas' 26-yard go-ahead field goal.
It also meant a migraine headache for Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
"We knew at the time that it was being administered wrong," he said. "But we really have no recourse there. There are officials, there are observers, there are people that relay information. The thing that is most disappointing is that was a play that was reviewed. It wasn't like it was a heat-of-the-moment mistake."
2 The Vikings won't dare try to handle Lions star Calvin Johnson with single coverage.
To date, no one has. Opposing defenses have spent much of the first three weeks against Detroit with two deep safeties, rolling coverage Johnson's way at every opportunity. That's what Megatron gets for vowing to have a 2,000-yard season.
So far, the heightened attention paid to Johnson has helped. Well, sort of. In the first halves of Detroit's past two games -- both losses -- Johnson has totaled only four catches for 42 yards. But overall he still leads the NFL in receiving yards (369) with 24 catches.
And Schwartz notes that the extra coverage sent Johnson's way has been fruitful for the Lions offense. Last week, for example, Nate Burleson's 3-yard TD catch was made possible because Tennessee had cornerback Alterraun Verner and safety Michael Griffin dedicated to Johnson while Burleson received single coverage out of the slot.
In Week 1, Detroit's game-winning TD pass to running back Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left came when two Rams defensive backs and a linebacker blanketed Johnson, leaving Smith uncovered in the flat for a 5-yard score.
3 Christian Ponder is returning this week to where his rookie season hit rock bottom.
Remember Ponder's last foray into Ford Field? You know, the one where he lost a fumble for a Detroit touchdown on his first snap. The one where he had a poorly thrown interception returned 30 yards for a touchdown. The one where he committed four turnovers in 10 possessions and was benched in the third quarter with the Vikings losing 31-14.
Yep, that was the low point in 2011.
Said Ponder: "After what I experienced in that game? I think it definitely hurt my confidence. ... It took a little bit to regroup after that and that's something I learned from. Everyone is going to have a tough game. It was obviously not my best performance but you have to move on."
Well, now Ponder returns to Detroit as the NFL's fifth highest-rated passer (104.9) with a dazzling 70.1 completion percentage and no interceptions. His pocket presence is better. His confidence is sky high. And he's making sure to not force anything.
© 2013 Star Tribune