Hi kids. Sorry I've been scarce this week, me and the wife took a little mid-week getaway, and had a good time, thanks for asking. Anyway, with the Vikings at 6-2 and rolling, they face another hurdle that they need to jump over, and that's winning on the road outside of the division. The last time the Vikings had a West Coast game, it was against the
New Zealand All Blacks San Francisco 49ers on a Monday Night opener, and it was...not good.
Historically, the Vikings have only beaten the Raiders once in Oakland. Yes, overall history doesn't matter, but recent history does. We've all talked about and are aware of the Vikings road woes in recent seasons, but at the halfway point on the 2015 campaign, Minnesota is 2-2 on the road. The last time the Vikings finished at least .500 on the road was the 2009 Zombie Favre year, where they were 4-4. They started out 4-1 in road games before dropping their last three to Carolina, Arizona, and the Bears.
And those losses, it could be argued, cost the Vikings the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs...which might have cost them...ah, never mind. Damn it.
If you want the last time the Vikings finished above .500 on the road, you'll need to go back to all the way to the record setting 1998 season, when the Vikes were 7-1.
That's stunning, and at least in two of those seasons (2003 and 2007), late season road losses cost the Vikings a shot at the playoffs. So yeah, beating the Bears and Lions in their house were big steps...now the Vikings need to at least win half their road games. And this will be a big test. The Raiders aren't your Dad's inept team of old--they're young, have good to emerging great players at critical skill positions, and this will be a tough test for Minnesota. So, as the calendar turns to November, every game becomes even more crucial, especially games that are deemed winnable, even if they're on the road. So what do the Vikes need to do to get out of Oakland with a win? Let's find out:
Don't get caught up in the 'matchup' aspect of this game. Derek Carr vs. Teddy Bridgewater. Amari Cooper vs. Stefon Diggs. Anthony Barr vs. Khalil Mack. There are a lot of parallels between the Raiders and the Vikings, and both teams have great young players at key positions. One thing I find kind of odd when getting into these 'who is better' debates, is that if one player is deemed better, the other player is automatically deemed bad. It's not a zero sum gain, and it's okay to say both players are pretty good at their respective positions. I highly doubt players or coaches take these comparisons seriously, but at quarterback, for example, Bridgewater doesn't need to worry about matching Carr throw for throw. Play your game, run the offense, and don't make a mistake trying to do too much. The Vikings have found success with this formula, so keep doing it. Play within yourself, and the numbers will be there at the end.
Survive the first wave, then take control. This game is just as big for the Raiders, and Oakland-Alameda County Stadium (I don't care what the official title is, it'll always be Oakland-Alameda County Stadium) was always one of the most difficult places to play in the Raiders glory years. Even in the lean years, it was still tough to walk out of there with a win. Now that they're 4-4 and in the thick of the playoff race, it's going to be bananas. The Vikings have become very good at being able to shake off a slow start, and then counter punch. They'll need to do that Sunday, or better yet, get off to a quick start, take control of the game, and take the crowd out of the game early.
Can the Vikings stop the run this week? Normally, the key to stopping an opponent is making them one dimensional by stopping the run, and overall the Vikings have been really good at this. But the Raiders are also pretty good at running, and have a guy that's almost as good as Adrian Peterson, and vastly under rated. Latavius Murray is 7th in the NFL (second in the AFC) in rushing yards, and for all the publicity Derek Carr and Amari Cooper have been deservedly getting, if the Vikings can stop Murray, they'll be in good shape.
That might be easier said than done, though, as both Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are injured and questionable to play. If they can't go, the Raiders might feast on the Vikings via the running game. Chad Greenway has had a resurgence this year, but playing a majority of the snaps will expose him, I'm afraid, and whoever plays nickel if Barr and/or Kendricks can't go has to be considered a liability. I think we'll know early if the Vikings are up to the task. If the Raiders can move the ball throwing and running, it's going to be a long day.I like the secondaries chances to somewhat limit Carr and Cooper, but if this game is going to become a semi-shootout, the Vikings are going to have issues. Still, though, it's going to be imperative that...
Teddy Bridgewater and Mike Wallace need to get on the same page. It's a good thing Stefon Diggs has stepped up and filled the void the #1 receiver has left, because if not...yeah, let's not think how bad this offense would be. And this isn't all Bridgewater's fault, or all Wallace's fault. It seems that if Teddy throws a strike to Wallace, he drops the ball. If Wallace is open, Teddy can't throw him a catchable ball. The Vikings offense has been able to get buy even though these two aren't clicking, but if they're going to make the jump into the elite of the NFL, and not stay in the 'low rent' part, as Mike Zimmer has said, the #1 wide receiver and his quarterback need to figure it out. This Sunday would be a good time to get untracked, because if the Vikings have two legitimate targets to throw to...
Teddy can have a big day. The Raiders secondary is, statistically speaking, the worst in football, ranking last in yards allowed. part of that reason is that their run defense is really solid, ranking in the top 10 in football. But with Charles Woodson questionable with a shoulder injury, there will be a lot of opportunities for the Vikings passing game to get yards in chunks. Matching Carr throw for throw isn't necessary, but loosening up the Raiders defense is imperative. Because if the Vikings can get a lead, then they can...
Run the ball, eat the clock, and get out of there with a win. The Vikings offense ran the ball very well against a stout Rams defense last week, and if Adrian Peterson and company can move the ball, they can chew up time of possession and keep the ball out of Derek Carr's hands. If we've learned nothing else about this offense, it's that they will keep pounding the ball, even if they aren't getting great results early. They'll need to, because keeping the Raiders defense honest on second and third down gives the Vikings a lot of options, options that Bridgewater and company need to take advantage of.