The Vikings play the Colts this weekend in a match-up of teams with young, rising QBs and rebuilding defenses. Here are my five big questions about the game:
1. Can the Colts get a running game going?
Andrew Luck may be on his way to a Hall of Fame career but right now today he’s still a young QB trying to feel his way in the NFL. So the Colts know they’re not going to do him any favors by having him load up and throw it 45 times like he did against Chicago. The lack of offensive balance in the Bears game was of course largely a product of the Colts falling behind and being forced to throw but even before the Bears took the big lead the Colts were not running it enough, racking up only 1 rushing yard through the first quarter. My guess is that the Colts will make a concerted effort to establish a run game early and take some of the pressure off Luck. This will put the onus on a Vikings run defense that didn’t tackle very cleanly last week against Jacksonville. If I were the Colts’ offensive coordinator I’d try to attack the Vikes with the outside run, forcing the linebackers to play sideline-to-sideline, and forcing cornerbacks to make tackles. Antoine Winfield is normally great against those types of runs but his tackling is tailing off big time, and Chris Cook is at best average in run support. Generally, if you can get to the second level against this Vikes defense, you can make big plays. Safety Mistral Raymond is a brutally bad tackler and Harrison Smith, though a big hitter, is not necessarily yet a solid form tackler himself.
2. Will the Vikings bring the heat against Andrew Luck?
The Vikes blitzed a fair amount last week, probably a reflection of Blaine Gabbert’s inexperience and their desire to disrupt him by throwing lots of looks at him (an approach that resulted in 2 sacks by non-linemen). That same approach would seem to be in the offing again this week with the presence of Andrew Luck, a rookie playing his second game. Luck didn’t handle the pressure well against the Bears last week. According to PFF, Luck was pressured on 15 of his 50 dropbacks and went 2-for-10 for 35 yards. The Bears sacked him 3 times and forced him into 4 turnovers (3 INTs and 1 fumble). A big part of the problem was poor play at right tackle. Winston Justice got injured after 29 snaps and had to leave, and his replacement Jeff Linkenbach gave up four pressures and 1 sack in his place. Did I mention Winston Justice might not play again Sunday? Brian Robison, who tore up the Jaguars last week, should be salivating. The match-up on the other side, Jared Allen vs. Anthony Costanzo, would figure to be somewhat less favorable, but Jared should be jacked up after being stoned by Eugene Monroe. If the Vikes can work those edge rushes and get good push up the middle, with Everson Griffen rotating in at tackle in pass rush situations like he did last week, they might not need to blitz much. But selective blitzing might still be a good idea, especially early, to rattle the rookie. If they trust guys like Chris Cook in one-on-one coverage. Which is…iffy.
3. How much will Adrian Peterson play?
Adrian got 17 carries week one which was more than I expected. Obviously game situation will dictate a lot of it but I seriously don’t expect Adrian to get anything like 17 carries in this game. I’d say 12 would be about right. Toby Gerhart only got 6 last week and I think that ratio is out-of-whack. Ideally, I think the Vikings want to get Toby and Adrian around the same number of carries. Getting them both in the 12-to-15 range I think would be ideal. And getting a few in there for Percy Harvin in the right situations would also be fantastic. The excitement of Adrian’s return to the Metrodome maybe caused them to leave him in last week more than they intended, but with this game being on the road, that temptation won’t be there, so look for the Vikes to dial back the AD and come with more of the Toby hammer. The way the Colts’ new 3-4 played against the Bears last week, 12 carries might be enough for Adrian to rack up 150 yards anyway. That’s assuming the Vikings can block against the 3-4. They had some trouble with that in the preseason.
4. Can the Vikings get Percy Harvin involved early?
This is the big one everyone wants to know. Is Bill Musgrave going to make a concerted effort to get Percy involved early or is he going to wait until late in the second again like last week? I think we all know the answer. He SHOULD try to get Percy more involved early. Until Jerome Simpson comes back and gives the Vikings a real deep threat (maybe), Percy is the best way for them to soften up the defense and open up other things. Percy catching smoke screens and making them into 15-yard gains can force a defense to play off. That can make life easier for the run game and for the tight ends. Christian Ponder had some very open receivers to work with last week, and that was at least partly due to their fear of the Percy factor coming right at their faces. The sooner the Vikes can establish that threat, the more productive their offense can be.
5. Which no-name receiver is going to sting the Vikings this week?
Who the hell ever heard of Cecil Shorts? Nobody. Until last week when he torched Chris Cook and the Vikings for a go-head touchdown. Shorts was just the latest in a long line of no-name receivers who’ve burned the Vikings over the years. Nate Poole anyone? Which Colts wide-out will be the one to come out of nowhere and sting the Vikings in the butt? Maybe Donnie Avery…oh but wait, he already did it to the Vikings once before, when he was with the Rams in 2009 (he caught 5 balls for 87 yards and a TD in a Rams loss). Who’s this guy Kris Adams? You can worry about Reggie Wayne, I’ll worry about Kris Adams.