Fresh off of two games that were complete opposites of one another, most Vikings fans are asking themselves 'which Vikings team is the real one?' It's a legitimate question, because the two performances we've seen against the 49ers and Lions couldn't have been more different.
In Santa Clara, the Vikings seemed to be disinterested, unmotivated, and out of sync all night, as the 49ers pretty much pantsed the Vikings from the opening drive to the final whistle. Against Detroit, Minnesota completely flipped the script, scoring a touchdown on the game's opening drive and never taking their foot off the throat of the Lions, winning a 26-16 game that was never really that close.
So, what do the Vikings need to do to play more like the week 2 version of the team as opposed to the week one disaster? Let's take a look.
1. Intensity: Minnesota came out of the tunnel at TCF Bank Stadium focused, and played with intensity on both sides of the ball. They were fired up, but not overly emotional, and played about as sound a game fundamentally (except for several untimely penalties) that I've seen in the Mike Zimmer era. We've mentioned it here before, and it's also been said elsewhere, but this team isn't to the point where they can just walk out on to the field and expect the opponent to lay down for them, which is what I think part of the problem against San Francisco might have been. Take nothing for granted, stay focused, and do your job. As Urban Meyer would say, go from point A to point B in 4-6 seconds, and be pissed off when you get there.
2. Keep up the pressure on the quarterback: The Vikings only had one sack against the Lions on Sunday, but they punished QB Matthew Stafford on almost every play. They beat him up so bad he might not be ready to go this Sunday, and that's a credit to the defense. The constant pressure got to Stafford, as he became rattled, started hearing footsteps, and hurried at least half a dozen throws that I can think of, just off the top of my head. They need to bring that again Sunday against a great QB in Philip Rivers. If Rivers has time to throw the ball, the Vikings secondary will get torched, even though they've got a solid group of defensive backs. Rivers is no threat to run, but is deadly accurate. As Eric pointed out on Twitter earlier, San Diego's interior pass protection has been an issue early in the season, and they struggled against a Mike Zimmer-designed defense against the Bengals last week. So there's an opportunity to have another strong day for the line, and they have to take advantage.
3. Take away the running game. One of the reasons Minnesota struggled mightily against the 49ers was due, in large part, to their inability to stop Carlos Hyde. One of the reasons the Vikings largely controlled the Lions offense was because they stonewalled the Lions on the ground, holding them to 38 yards on 14 carries, a paltry 2.7 yards per carry average. That forced them to throw the ball 53 times, which led to the beatdown of Stafford. Rookie Melvin Gordon and vet Danny Woodhead are a very good tandem combination, with two different but effective skill sets, much like the Riddick/Bell/Abdullah backfield Detroit has. Gap discipline, disruptive line penetration, and stopping the play at the point of attack will be crucial.
4. Hold on to the football. Two things about Adrian Peterson's fumbles last Sunday. One occurred early in the second half, on the first play following a turnover the Vikings defense got. The Vikings had a near scoop and score by Andrew Sendejo, and a score there really puts the game out of reach early, I think. It set the Vikings up on the Detroit 6 yard line, and a touchdown there would have killed Detroit's momentum they gained with their TD drive at the end of the first half that closed the score to 17-10. But AP put it on the ground and Detroit recovered, ending a chance at even a field goal. The second one, a fumble as he was going into the end zone, was potentially even worse, but that was luckily nullified by a Lions offsides penalty. The Vikings capitalized on the next play, as FB Zach Line went in from the one. But if THAT fumble had been upheld, the score is still 17-10, and who knows how that might have affected momentum? And giving San Diego extra possessions on a short field, or turning it over in the red zone is just stupid and gives me heartburn anyway. So let's not do that.
5. Heeeeeeeee's LOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSE: In what's become radio play by play guy Paul Allen's signature call, getting Peterson loose and in open field only helps the offense. Peterson's running was a welcome sign after a year off, and his presence as a big play threat out of the backfield will only make Teddy Bridgewater and the passing game better. The Vikings ran an incredible 42 times on Sunday, while only passing on 18 plays. And it was no coincidence that the Vikings controlled the game from the outset. If the Vikings running game keeps amassing those kind of numbers, and they keep the defense fresh...this could be a very, very good football team.
6: Stretch the field: Maybe it's just me, but when the Vikings do pass, it's been, for the most part, nothing but short and intermediate throws. The only long throw I can think of is the week one bomb to Mike Wallace. A good part of me thinks NORV!!! has been playing a bit of a rope-a-dope with the long ball the first two games, by not really showing his hand and setting it up for games down the road. But another part of me thinks he either hasn't had to or hasn't been able to stretch the field yet. Think about it. In week one, the offensive line was horrendous, and Bridgewater was under siege from the first snap to the last. Against Detroit, the running game was so good, the Vikings didn't really need to run any high risk/high reward type plays. They played ball control, grind it out offense, and they wore the Lions down. I think this week, against what has been a susceptible rushing defense early, the Vikings game plan will be similar to Detroit. I see them pounding the ball early, and forcing SD into trying to stop AD. But this week, I think they'll take their shots hen they can, and reap a couple of big plays out of it.
Anyway, that's how I see things unfolding on Sunday. What say you guys?