The Vikings kickoff the season at US Bank Stadium at noon central on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. This game could provide some insights into what kind of season the Vikings will have this year.
With that in mind, here are some things to look for on Sunday that could foreshadow the rest of the season for the Vikings:
Is the Vikings Offense Able to Run Up-Tempo ?
One of the traits of a Kubiak offense that can help make it effective is being able to get out of the huddle and get the play off quickly. The Vikings did that successfully in the one drive they had to open the pre-season against the Saints, and it will be interesting to see if they can execute an up-tempo offense against the Falcons to open the season.
In the past, the Vikings offense has often been somewhat lethargic in terms of tempo, usually being more deliberate out of the huddle, taking time to scan the defense, and get the play off just before the play clock expires.
That hasn’t always helped them.
Being able to quickly get the play called and up to the line of scrimmage could put more pressure on opposing defenses, particularly big defensive linemen, and give the Vikings advantages in terms of preventing substitutions, wearing down defenses, and limiting defensive pre-snap communication. But getting plays off quickly in succession takes practice and good execution. Will the Vikings be able to execute up-tempo well?
Julio Jones vs. Xavier Rhodes
This will be the premier matchup in the secondary when the Falcons have the ball, and Rhodes will most certainly be shadowing Jones- who’s likely to be fresh after a monster contract extension by Sunday and wanting to provide a little return on that investment.
How Rhodes fares against the big bodied star receiver could foreshadow what kind of season Rhodes will have this year. Will he shut him down? Will Jones get the better of Rhodes? This matchup could be insightful.
Danielle Hunter vs. the Falcons Right Tackle
The Falcons have injury issues at right tackle, and it’s unclear who will start on Sunday for the Falcons. Whoever it will be is likely to struggle against Hunter, who was looking mighty good in August.
Most likely the Falcons will plan to give their right tackle some assistance with Hunter, but what kind of game Hunter has could also foreshadow his season. He should have a big game. If he doesn’t, that could temper some enthusiasm for the Vikings sack leader last season.
Grady Jarrett vs. the Vikings Interior Offensive Line
Jarrett was the 5th ranked defensive tackle last season according to PFF, and is fresh after signing a 4-year, $68 million contract extension this summer. How will the Vikings new interior offensive line fare against top competition ? The Falcons’ defensive front isn’t that fieresome besides Jarrett, so if Bradbury, Elflein and Kline can keep Jarrett at bay, the Vikings could have some success running the ball.
We’ll see how it plays out.
Game Plan and Adjustments
This first game could provide some insights into the new coaching staff and arrangements.
Offensively, there’s a lot more experience in the booth and on the sidelines than last season. Additionally, one of Gary Kubiak’s charges is reportedly game planning for opponents, so we’ll see what his experience brings to bear on Sunday. Kubiak also has favored scripting the first 15 or so plays each game, and adjusting off of that later on. Seeing how everything knits together between Kubiak and Kevin Stefanski should be interesting. Mike Zimmer said that listening to the communication between them during the preseason was ‘music to his ears,’ so hopefully that leads to both a good game plan and adjustments as necessary.
Defensively, will Mike Zimmer have anything new in store? The Vikings experimented with some 5-2 looks up front during training camp - with Anthony Barr being the 5th man on the edge - but it remains to be seen if that’s a look he’ll show against Atlanta. Or if there’ll be any new wrinkles beyond that.
With the offense being overseen by Gary Kubiak, Zimmer can focus on defense. How good will his game plan be? How responsive will he be in his adjustments?
Lastly, with all the turmoil on special teams, what kind of game will the Vikings special teams have to start the season? Will the new combo of Dan Bailey, Britton Colquitt, and Austin Cutting put all the kicking bugaboos to bed? How will the coverage units perform?
A solid performance on Sunday will calm a lot of nerves.
The Vikings have matched up well against Atlanta the past few years when they’ve met because the Vikings have Xavier Rhodes to slow down Julio Jones, while the Viking pass rush has disrupted Matt Ryan.
Defensively the Falcons haven’t been as strong, particularly up front, and that’s helped the Vikings be reasonably successful offensively against them.
And while many are predicting the Falcons to have a better season this year, this is a game and match-up the Vikings need to win without too much problem if they’re gonna be a top contender this year.
I expect they will. 31-17.
The Vikings are 4 point favorites against the Falcons at home. How would you bet?
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Vikings win, cover the 4 point spread
Vikings win, don’t cover the spread