PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
If you're worried about the confidence of Christian Ponder -- and at present, it seems three-quarters of the Twin Cities might be -- the quarterback's teammates and coaches are expressing no such concerns.
"I admire the fact that he rolls with the punches," center John Sullivan said. "I think he's just fine."
Added offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: "I sense that [Ponder's confidence] is OK. I sense it's right where it was at the beginning of the season."
Still, such endorsements will prove hollow if Ponder continues to falter. His 372 passing yards the past three games provide indisputable evidence of a slide. During that time, Ponder has seemed uneasy in the pocket and has misfired badly on several routine throws.
That ineffectiveness has been most mystifying given how productive Adrian Peterson has been.
As Ponder's struggles have mounted, the Vikings coaching staff has had to remind him not to grow tentative. Which means the 24-year-old quarterback may have to let loose more against Detroit.
"At our level, it's not going to be very often where guys are going to be completely wide open on a consistent basis," coach Leslie Frazier said. "So part of being a good quarterback at our level is throwing into tight windows."
MOST PRESSING QUESTION
What's the risk-reward in rushing Percy Harvin back?
Harvin, the NFL's leader in catches, sprained his left ankle last weekend in Seattle, was on crutches Monday and has been declared doubtful for Sunday.
His likely absence is a crushing blow to a sputtering offense, especially with the danger that a third consecutive loss could send the Vikings into a demoralizing tailspin entering the bye.
But in the big picture, having Harvin closer to 100 percent for the final six games seems far more important than having him hobble out and risk further injury this weekend.
Remember, the ankle isn't his only injury woe. He was also bothered in Seattle by a sore right hamstring.
With Harvin likely to sit, rookie Jarius Wright will be active for the first time.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
The Vikings run defense has clearly regressed. The Lions ground game, meanwhile, is picking up steam.
Since these teams last met in Week 4, the Vikings have allowed an average of 143 rushing yards over five games while Detroit has piled up an average of 115 yards on the ground during its 3-1 surge.
The Lions have found good use for first-round pick Riley Reiff, an offensive tackle who's assumed more of a blocking tight end role in recent weeks, giving Detroit six linemen to grade the road.
Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell are splitting carries and showing growth.
"Their running game is giving them that balance," Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "And the way we've gone against the run these last few weeks, you know they're going to come in here feeling good about themselves."
With defenses devoting extra attention to Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford has found his groove by spreading the ball around. During Detroit's two-game winning streak, Stafford has completed passes to nine receivers. The Lions have had six touchdown drives of 80 yards or longer in those wins, none more impressive than the 16-play, 80-yard march that produced a last-minute, 28-24 triumph against Seattle.
Johnson is still the Lions' headliner.
But Titus Young has 17 catches for 201 yards and two TDs over the past three games. And rookie Ryan Broyles (12 catches, 140 yards, two TDs in that span) is also stepping up. Overall, Detroit leads the NFL in passing, averaging 307 yards per game.