Vikings-Lions: Matchup of the day

Posted Sept. 22, 2010 @ 2:10 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Each day during the week we'll examine a key matchup leading up to Sunday's Vikings-Lions game.

Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Vikings secondary

Johnson remains the Lions’ best hope in the passing game despite two incomplete games. The Vikings’ secondary remains a work in progress, with three healthy cornerbacks likely to dress again on Sunday.

The Vikings have made do as best they can with only Antoine Winfield, Lito Sheppard and Asher Allen able to play. Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin, both dealing with knee injuries, are improving but might not be able to be counted on until after the bye week. Sheppard has been the right cornerback and has been targeted by opponents who respect a healthy Winfield, and both the Saints and Dolphins had success going after Sheppard. The Vikings do not flip their corners, so expect them to line up in the same spots: Winfield on the left, Sheppard on the right and Allen in the nickel.

Johnson had only seven yards receiving last week entering the fourth quarter, and he similarly struggled to catch passes early in the Week One loss to the Bears. The Lions know they have to get Johnson involved early; look for them to test whomever is covering him, and not just on deep routes, which has been common the first two games. Those have had a lower success rate to date, so Johnson could be involved in more tough plays inside the hashmarks. Johnson most often lines up on the offense’s right side, which would pit him against Winfield. Johnson has had some success against the Vikings in recent seasons, but some of that production — like this season — has come later in games once the outcome has been decided.

Lions QB Shaun Hill was looking for Johnson on one of his interceptions Sunday, a ball thrown behind his receiver. Although the tight ends became frequent targets in his 335-yard game, Hill knows the Lions’ best chance for success will come with hitting his best wideout early and often. No Lions player can replicate what Johnson can do.