The celebrated parity in the NFL is nowhere to be found on the Vikings 2011 schedule. After finishing last in their division, it would be reasonable to expect a softer schedule than the previous year. Not so much.
They travel to San Diego Sunday to face a Chargers team that finished 9-7 last year and looks a lot different than the squad that was run over by Adrian Peterson in 2007. Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record and Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers could hardly complete a pass.
Many people expect Rivers to have a break-out year in 2011, making a name for himself as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. The Chargers ended last year as the most prolific passing offense in the league, averaging 296.6 yards per game through the air.
The Chargers have two big, six foot five, receivers in Vincent Jackson (yes, the same guy we flirted with bringing in last year) and Malcolm Floyd. That’s about an eight inch difference when lined up against Antoine Winfield. The good news is that their other receivers, Patrick Crayton and Vincent Brown have not participated in practice, so it’s a good possibility the Chargers won’t have much of an opportunity to try and expose our dime back.
Though they still have All-World tight end Antonio Gates, who will be a challenge for our linebackers. I’d look for them to test newbie Erin Henderson by trying to match him up against Gates.
Though LaDanian Tomlinson is no longer a Charger and they lost Darren Sproles to New Orleans, the backfield still boasts Matt Tolbert and second year back Ryan Matthews.
With Rivers at the helm, this team can score a lot of points.
Which is why it will be important to keep them off the field as much as possible.
And we can best do that by controlling the ball on offense and executing long, time-consuming drives with an effective running game. Leslie Frazier has stated loud and clear that this offense will be built around Adrian Peterson, that we’ll be a run-first offense and if defenses stack the box with eight or nine men, we’ll play-action and go over the top.
It should be noted that that has been the premise of the offense since the unfortunate Childress era. It appears, however, that we now have some coaches who actually know how to execute that plan and who know how to play to the strength of their personnel.
Just from the tiny taste of the offense we saw in the preseason, I am extremely excited to see what Bill Musgrave has in store for us and the league.
I really like the idea of the three-tight end sets we saw this preseason because, with the athletic players we have at the position, it gives us a great amount of flexibility to run or pass without the offense tipping it’s hand. It even gives the Vikings the personnel to run successfully even when defenses stack the box.
Fortunately for the Vikings, the Chargers would appear to have some issues against the run.
First, they chose to keep only six defensive linemen on the roster, so if the Vikings can pound the ball early, often, and for the length of the game (which is the recipe for victory against this team), they’ll likely wear down a line thin on rotations. The Vikings are capable of doing that, too, with Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker to spell Peterson.
Behind the D-line, the linebackers are battered (Stephen Cooper, biceps), inexperienced (Jonas Mouton is a rookie and is nursing a shoulder injury and Donald Butler hasn’t started an NFL game), or new (Takeo Spikes just joined the team, so it’s unclear how up to speed he will be).
The Chargers were “dead last in the NFL in both hits and hurries” last year. according to Shutdown Corner blogger, Doug Farrar, so it is questionable whether they’ll be able to mount an effectively consistent pass rush, especially given how we appear to have adopted a three- to five-step drop passing game on anything but play-action passes.
The Chargers picked up former Colts stand-out safety Bob Sanders, who is formidable against the run and the pass but he’s also fragile, so he at risk of breaking at any time. He is also very familiar to Frazier, who was on the Indianapolis coaching staff when Sanders was patrolling their backfield, so you can bet the Vikings have plan to account for him.
The Vikings travel to San Diego to play the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. Kickoff is at 3:15 PM CST and the game will be broadcast on Fox.
Your play-by-play guy will be Ron Pitts and Jim Mora will be your analyst with Drea Avent serving as the sideline “reporter.”
The radio broadcast is on KFAN-AM 1130/KTLK 100.3-FM locally with your usual crew of play-by-play guy Paul Allen, analyst Pete Bercich and sideline reporter Greg Coleman. Pre-game show starts at 1 PM CST.