And on to Week 2, the home opener vs. Tampa Bay. Here’s some stuff to watch (it’s a suggestion not an order)…
1. LeGarrette Blount
This guy is an absolute tackle-breaking monster – the stat “yards after contact” should just be renamed “Blounts.” If the Vikings want to avoid giving up lots of Blounts to Blount, they need to wrap up a lot better than they did last week against San Diego and Mike Tolbert. Did I mention that E.J. Henderson has a knee issue and might not be able to play? So Blount against our crap defensive tackles with no E.J. Henderson roaming the middle at linebacker and guys like Jamarca Sanford trying to come up and make sticks? Yeah that sounds promising.
2. Tampa Bay’s Offensive Line
I’m looking forward to seeing our pass rush against Tampa’s offensive line. They’re not a great pass-blocking line and last week Detroit put a lot of heat on Josh Freeman (when he was actually on the field and not on the sideline dealing with cramps). The rush from Jared Allen, Brian Robison and various blitzers last week really frustrated Philip Rivers at least in the first half, and I expect a greater level of frustration for Freeman. The heat should be ratcheted up even more against Tampa because the game is at the Dome where it will be loud and where Allen/Robison will be that much quicker off the ball thanks to the turf.
3. Josh Freeman
I’m a tiny bit concerned about Josh Freeman’s scrambling ability. Running quarterbacks often give the Vikings problems and Freeman is certainly a guy who’s capable of breaking out of the pocket and picking up yardage with his feet. Limiting a guy like Freeman is all about discipline and keeping contain, and I don’t need to remind you that the Vikings last week had some issues with their defensive discipline. I expect Freeman to be flushed a few times and I hope there will be someone there to get him down before he runs around and gets a bunch of yards.
4. Tampa’s Pass Rush
The Tampa Bay defensive line is a work-in-progress, as evidenced by all the young guys like Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. I will be interested to see how our offensive line stacks up against this unit. Tampa didn’t get a very big rush against Matthew Stafford last week, allowing Stafford to complete passes all over the field. Donovan McNabb is hoping he has the kind of time Stafford did, but of course the Lions’ offensive line is better right now than the Vikings’. Tampa’s edge guys aren’t that scary yet so hopefully Charlie Johnson and Phil Loadholt will have a somewhat easier time of it than they did against Brandon Phillips and company last week. The big challenge could be for the inside guys trying to block Gerald McCoy who right now is Tampa’s best D-lineman.
5. Kellen Winslow and Earnest Graham
Tampa targeted these two guys 17 times against Detroit last week, so I expect them both to be heavily involved. Last week San Diego targeted Antonio Gates and Mike Tolbert 22 times, and those guys combined for 132 yards on 17 receptions, and Tolbert had 2 receiving TDs to go with 1 rushing TD. The Vikings usually do a pretty decent job limiting the damage from wide receivers, but the trade-off is a lot of open space for tight ends and receiving backs. The key there of course is to tackle those guys before they make small receptions into big gains. That was the kicker last week against San Diego: The Vikings just didn’t tackle well enough. They need a better performance this week or it could be another frustrating afternoon of dink-and-dunk slow-death.