There's been a lot of build up and anticipation to the 2014 edition of your Minnesota Vikings. It started the Monday after the season ended, with the firing of Leslie Frazier, and it's only built through the off season, training camp, and the pre-season. The Vikings have what appears to be a competent coaching staff, and good, young talent mixed with veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. It still remains to be seen how the season unfolds, but what should we be looking for come Sunday about noon?
Hey, Adrian Peterson is going to play: For all the things said about pre-season meaning something--and to an extent, it does--the fact that it's ultimately meaningless was crystallized by Adrian Peterson not being on the field for a single play. Obviously, that's going to change on Sunday, and it's going to be interesting to see how the Rams defend the Vikings offense. Minnesota looks like they have a bona fide passing game, and the Rams are going to have to defend it. Let's face it, they probably won't early, and it's going to allow Greg Jennings and/or Cordarrelle Patterson to make their mark early. Once that happens, and the Rams go into a standard seven man front, it's going to be AP time. Or, if the Rams bring a lot of pressure, expect AP to get some swing and screen passes in the flat, and make the Rams pay that way.
So, tell me about this new defense: It's going to be a lot different than we're used to. And by 'different' what I mean is they won't sit back on their heels and look like they're trying to give away football games like clowns give away candy from a parade float anymore. In the pre-season, we saw a defense that showed a lot of different looks, brought heat from both sides and at almost every position, and was actually pretty stout against the run. And that was just the tip of iceberg. They're going up against the ultimate journeyman quarterback in Shaun Hill, so one of two things are going to happen--Hill will be harassed and hammered the entire game, and this new look Vikings defense will produce at least three turnovers, OR...the Vikings defense will fulfill Shaun Hill's adult Make A Wish dream, and let him be Joe Montana for a day, picking apart the Vikings defense like an NFL Hall of Famer.
If this were the Vikings defense of the last several years, I would go with the 'or' scenario here, and I'd feel pretty confident in making that call. When you look at the fact that the Rams have a dearth of playmakers, a questionable offensive line, and a backup quarterback, this game really sets up well for the Vikings to make an opening statement on defense. The only way this could play into their favor more is if it was a home game. I expect a very good game from this revamped defense.
If they don't play well, we'll know that it's still smoke and mirrors, and we'll adjust our expectations accordingly. And I'll hate everything forever just because. And God help this team if they lose the game in the last minute.
God. Help. Them.
Who on defense is going to be a difference maker? I'm going to single out two players, Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr. To help out a new look secondary, the Vikings are going to need to do two things: make the Rams one dimensional by stopping the run, and then bring some serious heat to pressure Hill. Joseph, who is returning after getting shot in the leg after the Vikings first pre-season game, should help do the former. Barr will help with the latter, with assistance from Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, and whatever defensive back coach Mike Zimmer dials up. Barr has looked ridiculously fast on the outside so far, and the potential that him and Griffen bring from the right side is tantalizing. Look for Hill to be under pressure early and often Sunday, and for the Vikings defense to create a few turnovers because of it.
Is it gonna be run, run, incomplete pass, punt again? Because if it is, I'm not watching. This isn't going to be the '98 Vikings or the Greatest Show on Turf, but it isn't going to be the Greatest Shitshow On Turf anymore, either. The Vikings have the best running back in football, and a set of very good receivers that can fill every role effectively. They have a classic possession guy in Greg Jennings, a serious deep threat in Cordarrelle Patterson, and a middle of the field guy in Kyle Rudolph that can get yards in big chunks. They also have a quarterback that will get them the ball on a consistent basis, and hopefully, once they get a lead, sustain some drives that will eat the clock and put the game away. There's also an offensive coordinator that's calling plays from a playbook that's bigger than a 3X5 card. If the Vikings offense sucks this year, it will never be good again ever and everything will suck for all time. Maybe.
This is all well and good, Mr. Homer McHomerson, but the Vikings do about as well away from their home in the North as the Stark family, remember?
Well, yeah...fair point. That really can't be argued, and if you look at the Vikings recent road record, you'll quickly understand why. Since 2010, the Vikings have gone a putrid 6-25-1 on the road in the regular season. If that's not the worst in the NFL, it's awful close, but one of those wins was in 2012, against the Rams. Does that that record or that game mean anything in particular? For the individual game, no, other than it was the the last time the Vikings won on the road, save for Houston a week later. As for the record itself, probably not, because there's been a huge roster turnover and a new coaching staff hired. That said, if the Vikings are going to go to the playoffs, or at least challenge for a spot, they need to win on the road.
If there is a road game the Vikings can win, though, it should be this one. The Rams have a backup quarterback facing a new look defense, in a venue that has in attendance fans that might tilt 40% towards the Vikings, against a coach that has waited his entire adult life for this moment. In 2009, Vikings fans seemed to own the entire lower bowl, and we made as much noise as our Rams counterparts. This is a tepid fan base that seemingly lost all hope when Sam Bradford went out, and there just isn't a lot of energy about this team amongst the faithful right now. They have a very strong defense, but this is a game the Vikings need to use to set the tone for the rest of the season.
The Vikings are going to be ready, and they should win this game.