Vikings Seek First Win of 2010 vs. Dolphins

Even the most optimistic Viking fans had to agree, it was unlikely the team was going to begin 2010 the same way it started 2009.  Last year the Vikes were red hot out of the gate, winning their first 6 in a row.  Their first loss didn’t come until the 25th of October in Pittsburgh.  Their second defeat didn’t come until December 6th in Arizona.

Of course, last year the Vikings had the benefit of a favorable schedule.  Their first two games were on the road, but against abysmal Cleveland and feeble Detroit.  They then got the tough 49ers and formidable Packers at home, before facing the atrocious Rams in St. Louis.

2010 saw them again beginning their season on the road, but not against the Cleveland Browns.  Instead they faced the Saints, on the day New Orleans raised their first ever championship banner, ratcheting up emotions in the already hostile Superdome to a fever pitch.  The Vikings gave a valiant effort but were ultimately unable to put their offense together, and wound up on the short end of a tough, low-scoring game.

Now they have returned to Minnesota to make their home debut.  Last year, they rode into the Metrodome for the first time already 2-0.  This year, they limp in at 0-1, and riddled with issues.

The #1 problem would seem to be the receiver corps.  Sidney Rice is not there to give Brett Favre the tall target he likes, and none of the other wide-outs seem qualified to step into Rice’s shoes.  There are rumors of a coming trade for Vincent Jackson, but even if the deal goes down, Jackson won’t be eligible to join the team until Week 5.

The sad fact is, the Vikings are short-handed at the one position where, coming into the season, they seemed to be loaded.  Vincent Jackson and/or Sidney Rice may provide an answer down the road, but that’s down the road.  Right now, they need someone already on the roster to step up in a big way, and give Favre a target he can rely on.

Considering the amount of money he’s making, Bernard Berrian should be the main candidate to rise up and claim the #1 receiver spot.  But, as in the early going last year, he and Favre seem to have no chemistry whatsoever.  Percy Harvin did develop an early rapport with Favre last season, but this year he has been hampered by a lack of practice time, and now he has a hip bruise too.  Greg Camarillo has good hands and should provide a reliable short-range target, but he is new to the offense and hasn’t yet gotten into the flow.

With Sidney Rice gone, Percy Harvin out-of-sync and Bernard Berrian looking nothing like the player he was supposed to be when the Vikes signed him away from the Bears, the only home run hitter left on the team is running back Adrian Peterson.  AD’s year got off to a promising start with a good first half against the Saints, but in the second half, the offense flowed away from him, and he became frustrated.  Now, AD is calling for Brad Childress to give him the ball more, be it by hand-off or pass.  Considering the scarcity of other big-time options, Chilly would probably do well to heed Peterson’s Little Shop of Horrors-like demand and feed him Seymour, feed him all afternoon long.

Of course, the eleven guys on the other side of the ball will have some say in whether Peterson indeed gets to chow down like Audrey 2 the bloodthirsty plant.  The Dolphins sport a new-look defense led by blitzmeister Mike Nolan.  Given the make-up of that defense, particularly the secondary which is talented but inexperienced, trying to ram the ball down their throat may not be the best strategy.  All things being equal, the Vikes might be better off not leaning on the ground game, but should instead open things up and let Favre pick on some raw defensive backs.

Ah, but there’s the rub:  even if the Vikes want to open things up, they might not be able to do it.  Favre was simply not on-target against the Saints, and if things go the same way this year as they did in 2009, he won’t be fully in tune with the offense until four or five weeks into the season.  The lack of rhythm in the passing game may force the Vikings to once again resort to Chillyball, the ground-based, grinding, ultra-cautious brand of offense they employed before Brett Favre and his Wranglers came to town.

Chillyball may be boring as the man who invented it, but considering the state of the receiver corps, and the fact that Favre is, to borrow a baseball term, still in extended spring training, it may be the smart way to go, at least for the time being.  Pound the ball with Adrian and maybe Toby Gerhart, assuming he can stay healthy.  Use Visanthe Shiancoe, who was Favre’s only reliable target against the Saints.  Get the backs into the passing game (a tall order now that Chester Taylor is in Chicago).  And, above all, keep Favre upright.

If the Vikes do employ the Chillyball approach, much of the onus then moves to the defense, who certainly looked up to the challenge against the Saints.  Of course, the defense has some problems of its own, mostly in the secondary, where injuries and lack of experience are conspiring to make things a little more interesting than we had hoped.  This may not seem like a huge issue going up against Chad Henne – who, I don’t need to point out, is no Dan Marino – but remember that the Dolphins do now sport a legit #1 receiver in Brandon Marshall.  And remember also that, last year, we thought very little of Shaun Hill and Matt Moore…until Hill almost beat us, and Moore did beat us.

One aspect of the Dolphins’ offense that I don’t think will pose any kind of issue for the Vikings is the vaunted Wildcat.  In fact, given the kind of penetration the Vikings’ front four gets, and the way their linebackers pursue, I think the Dolphins would do well to shelve the Wildcat entirely for this week.  Even if Miami does work the gimmicky offense early, I think it will dawn on them pretty fast that they had better take things in another direction.  Oddly enough, given the Vikings’ reputation as a run-stuffing unit, their best bet might be to pound the ball up the middle with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown.  Maybe it was just an aberration last week, but the Saints had some of their best success running it straight at the Vikings.

Like most early season match-ups, this one is hard to pin down.  The Dolphins are somewhat of an unknown quantity defensively, with their new coordinator and scheme.  Their offense wouldn’t seem on paper to pose a big threat to the Vikings, especially the way the Vikes handled the allegedly state-of-the-art Saints offense, but we are all familiar with how things don’t always translate from the paper to the turf.  The biggest question mark of all though is the Vikings’ offense, which looked like the opposite of a juggernaut against the Saints, but for all of that, still sports a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, a top 2 running back, a well-respected array of blockers and some physically gifted receivers.  For all the problems the Vikings’ offense has had through the preseason and the first game, it wouldn’t shock me one little bit if they exploded Sunday in the Metrodome.

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Tags: Adrian Peterson Bernard Berrian Brad Childress Brandon Marshall Brett Favre Chad Henne Greg Camarillo Mike Nolan Minnesota Vikings New Orleans Saints Percy Harvin Ricky Williams Vincent Jackson Visathne Shiancoe

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