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Vikings at Broncos Six Pack: What I'm Looking For

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Minnesota travels to the Mile High City to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Can they get out of there 3-1?

Let's replace Philip Rivers with Peyton Manning about six times Sunday.
Let's replace Philip Rivers with Peyton Manning about six times Sunday.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

After two straight convincing wins, the Minnesota Vikings look to build some serious momentum and head into their bye week at 3-1. The only thing standing in their way is an intimidating road environment, thin air, and a Hall of Fame quarterback.

No big deal, right? After back to back performances again Detroit and San Diego, I'm starting to believe that the Monday Night opener was an aberration, and what we've seen the last two weeks is more the norm for this team. It better be, because if the week one team shows up, Peyton Manning will carve up the Vikings like a Thanksgiving turkey. But if the week two and three team makes it to Denver...I really, really like their chances. So, how can they get out of Denver with a win? Let's take a look:

1. Hit Peyton Manning, all the time. Head coach Mike Zimmer said in his weekly press conference there isn't a coverage or a defense Manning hasn't seen, so the Vikings are going to have to bring pressure and make Manning uncomfortable in the pocket. Even in his prime, Manning was never a mobile quarterback; now he's like a tortoise wearing snowshoes in a pond full of molasses. If the Vikings can collapse the pocket, force Manning to move and disrupt his timing, they'll have a great chance to neutralize their passing game. Or, at a minimum, eliminate multiple big plays.

2. But Number one is incumbent upon...solid coverage in the secondary. It can't be overstated how important it is to have Xavier Rhodes back and expected to play, as he is emerging as a true shutdown corner. When you add in the solid play of Terrence Newman and an encouraging relief effort from Trae Waynes after Rhodes was hurt against the Chargers, you can talk yourself into believing this secondary can hold their own against any QB and receiving unit in the NFL. But if the pressure the front seven bring is going to get home, it's going to be because the secondary takes away Manning's first look (or two) consistently, and forces him to hold the ball longer than he wants to. Given all the talk about Manning's age and declining physical capabilities, he's still very good, and one of the best of all time. Give him time to make his throws, his receivers will eventually get open. And the Vikings will lose. It's pretty simple.

3. Teddy's going to have to make plays. The Denver defense is one of the best in the NFL, and are equally strong against the run and the pass. I fully expect the Broncos to start out by putting 8 or even 9 in the box to take away Adrian Peterson. I think AP will still get some yards, but this game falls on Teddy Bridgewater's to win or lose. He's been okay, but not great, in three games so far, and this will be by far his toughest test in 2015 so far. It might be the toughest test yet for him in his career, with maybe his 'oh hey go play because Matt Cassel just got hurt' debut in New Orleans last year. They're going to disguise their looks and bring pressure from everywhere, and Teddy is going to need to be aware of what's going on, and adjust accordingly. I think this is going to be a low scoring slugfest, and points will be at a premium. This game will be decided by Bridgewater's play. So, it will really help if the Vikings...

4. Win the turnover battle. Not have the same amount, not get a draw at say 2-2, but win by a +2 margin. I don't think any offense is going to drive the length of the field four or five times against Denver's defense, especially at their place. So getting a short field to work with, in terms of turnovers, is really going to help the Vikings out. And once that happens, the offense must capitalize and put the ball in the end zone, and not settle for field goals. The Vikings are also going to need to...

5. Get multiple explosive plays. last week, with Charles Johnson hurting, Cordarrelle Patterson saw the field more than he had in the first two games combined, and even had a couple jet motion sweeps. If Johnson's health is still in doubt, we might get to see the debut of rookie speedster Stefon Diggs, who has serious big play potential. As much as I'd love to see a bunch of 12 play, seven minute drives, I just don't see it happening. It feels like Minnesota will need to get yards in chunks, whether it's Peterson getting to the second and third level running the ball, or one of the receivers taking a quick screen pass and making a couple people miss. Still even if the Vikings do all that, this game could still very well come down to...

6. Special teams play. If Minnesota does the first five things we just talked about, they're going to win, and it might not be close. Which means, of course, they won't do at least one of those things and it will come down to the leg of Blair Walsh. After last week, I'm cautiously optimistic about Walsh, but this will be a full special teams effort. Walsh will kick the ball to Kansas on kickoffs, so I'm not worried about kick coverage. P Jeff Locke has been eyebrow raising good so far, and he'll need to keep pinning teams deep on his punts. Winning the field position battle will be critical in this environment. I mentioned earlier that I didn't think the Vikings offense could go on several long drives against the Broncos; I feel equally as strong about Denver being able to do that against the Vikings.