By this time tomorrow, we will have had some time to let the results of the first game of the 2012 NFL season sink in, and will likely have already started analyzing what went right or wrong. . .hopefully with much more going right from our perspective. . .and talking about some of the performances of the members of the Minnesota Vikings.
But first, we must have a preview of Sunday's action. That's exactly what you'll be getting here. So, let's get started with it.
1) Which young quarterback can maintain their composure?
Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were both selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, with Gabbert going 10th overall and the Vikings tabbing Ponder at #12. Neither of them got much of a training camp as a rookie, both of them were thrown into the fire way too soon after the original starters faltered, and both are thought to have a world of potential. If one of these two defenses can get to the opposing young quarterback, they might start hearing footsteps and getting happy feet.
It's my opinion that Ponder has a bit of an advantage here, as he has the home fans behind him and, with the addition of Matt Kalil on his blind side, should have the better offensive line as well. Jared Allen and company can make life tough for Gabbert if they can get the raucous Metrodome crowd into the game early on.
2) Which running back combination can make life easier for their quarterback?
A lot of what happens tomorrow afternoon is going to be predicated on the play of the running backs. Yes, we've done Adrian Peterson's knee injury to death over the past eight months, and the team is saying that he's a "game time decision" for Sunday. I don't buy it. I think Peterson is going to be out there, and though I don't know how many snaps he's going to get, he will have an impact on the game. Toby Gerhart, in his performance last season and during this pre-season (averaging 4.9 yards/carry last year and 4.6 yards/carry in the pre-season) has shown the ability to step in for Peterson with the offense not missing much of a beat.
Jacksonville has their own unique running back situation. Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the NFL in rushing last season, held out until after training camp and the pre-season, and will apparently be limited to third-down duties. The starter will be Rashad Jennings, who missed all of 2011 with an injury but had an impressive pre-season, finishing second in the NFL in rushing yardage in the four weeks of the pre-season.
If either of these running games can get going, it will make things markedly easier for either Christian Ponder or Blaine Gabbert. With both of these offenses expected to struggle to score points, the ability to move the chains on the ground will play a major role in who comes out with a victory.
3) Will injuries be a factor?
As we mentioned yesterday when we looked through the injury reports, the Jaguars will be missing two key starters on defense in linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Derek Cox. The Vikings, on the other hand, are relatively healthy. The only players listed as "out" on their injury report (linebacker Marvin Mitchell, safety Andrew Sendejo, and receiver Jarius Wright) are all back-ups, and they really have no injury questions going into the game. Now, given the current make-up of the roster, it's possible that the Vikings will be going into this game with only four wide receivers and, even more frightening, only seven offensive linemen (barring a change of heart about newly-acquired Mark Asper). Injuries are a part of the game in the NFL, but if the Vikings get a couple of folks bruised up at the wrong positions, they could be in trouble in a big way.
What are some of your keys to tomorrow afternoon's game?