PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Who knows? Maybe this is just a smoke screen being sent toward Detroit to worry the Lions coaches about the big-play potential of Jerome Simpson. But the Vikings have talked plenty this week about the extra dimension they expect Simpson to add to the offense.
Said offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: "We're expecting big things out of Jerome. ... He's quick off the line, good body control and a lot of top-end speed."
At various points, Musgrave, head coach Leslie Frazier and quarterback Christian Ponder have all asserted that Simpson will be featured this week. And last we checked, those are the three guys with the most say-so in determining Simpson's involvement.
The fifth-year receiver hasn't seen game action since an Aug. 17 preseason win over Buffalo. That was six weeks ago. So there may be some early hiccups as he works back into a rhythm with Ponder. But the mere threat of completing the deep ball should keep the Lions' secondary honest.
MOST PRESSING QUESTION
Can the offensive line continue to take strides forward?
Last week, against one of the best front sevens in football, the Vikings' O-line was the aggressor. First and foremost, they devoted extra attention to 49ers defensive end Justin Smith and prevented him from being the disruptive force he usually is.
Equally important, the line held up strong on three touchdown drives of 80 yards or longer.
That the Vikings amassed 146 rushing yards and 25 first downs against a normally feisty and physical San Francisco defense is a testament to the offensive line.
Icing on the cake: The 49ers never sacked Ponder, his first sack-free day in 13 career starts.
Now, the Vikings line will face another test against a Lions front spearheaded by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
KEEP AN EYE ON ... kickoff coverage
The coverage unit was doing a fantastic job through the first 2 1/2 games. On Blair Walsh's first 13 kickoffs, opponents had average starting field position at their own 20. Then, San Francisco's Kyle Williams busted off returns of 94 and 50 yards in the second half last Sunday, leaving special teams coordinator Mike Priefer a bit agitated.
The breakdowns were easy to assess.
"We did not do a great job with lane integrity," Priefer said. "We had guys on the ground, we got trapped."
On the 94-yard return, Larry Dean was overpowered out of his lane, Marcus Sherels couldn't get off a block, and Andrew Sendejo's late desperation dive failed. On the 50-yarder, Dean and Christian Ballard struggled to shed blocks.
Certainly, the Lions will try to capitalize on similar breakdowns.
Priefer doesn't think the problems that surfaced against the 49ers will persist. But he is OK with the wake-up call.
"We learned a lot about ourselves, that we're not quite where we need to be or where we think we are," Priefer said. "It was kind of a nice little kick in the butt."
Detroit leads the NFL in passing and blistered Tennessee for 450 yards through the air last week. Matthew Stafford threw for 278 yards and a touchdown before leaving with a muscle strain in his right leg. He missed Wednesday's practice because of what was listed as a hip ailment. But Stafford (probable on the injury report) should be full-go Sunday.
After throwing three interceptions in a season-opening win over St. Louis, Stafford has been better the past two weeks at not forcing throws. For the season, he is completing 68.9 percent of his passes.
INJURIES AND FINES
Don't read much into Ponder's inclusion on this week's injury report. Ponder is listed as probable because of some tension in his neck that Frazier said was minor.
Linebacker Erin Henderson, meanwhile, missed practice again Friday and will be out against the Lions as he tries to work back from the concussion he suffered against the Colts in Week 2.
Other Vikings starters on this week's injury report are Jared Allen (probable, neck), Kyle Rudolph (probable, quadriceps) and Marvin Mitchell (probable, ankle).
In the fine department, the Vikings came through Week 3 clean. They only had one penalty in their 24-13 upset of the 49ers.