It is finally here: the Vikings regular season opener against the Detroit Lions is today. It feels like years since we’ve gotten to see Adrian Peterson run with a football. It seems like decades since we’ve seen Harrison Smith laying the smack down on someone. The Lions will be a tough first test for this young, hungry Vikings team, but let’s look at some of the keys to the game for the Vikings in different phases of the ball.
Offense: Many Vikings fans feel like the biggest question mark on this Vikings team is Quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder will have to improve by strides in order to harsh his critics and more importantly help the Vikings make a deep playoff run. His inconsistency sometimes leaves fans scratching their heads and calling for less talented players to take his place, whether it is Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson or even the now unemployed Tim Tebow.
In order for the Vikings passing game to flourish, Christian Ponder will need two things: time in the pocket and separation from Wide Receivers. Last year, the Vikings had mediocre play at best from the Guards in pass protection and possibly the worst Wide Receiving group in the NFL (post-Harvin, of course). The Vikings have done a lot this offseason to improve the pass catchers, but little has been done on the offensive line.
All 5 starters from last year are returning from last year. While that’s great news for Adrian Peterson, it means Ponder might be running for his life again today. The Lions feature a tough defensive line with stars like Suh, Fairley, Jones and rookie Ansah. The line will have to be at their best today to get the better of that defense.
Defense: The Detroit Lions feature on of the most dynamic passing games in the NFL. Last year, Detroit set NFL records in passing (Matt Stafford- pass attempts in a season, Calvin Johnson-receiving yards in a season) and they have only gotten more dangerous by adding the slippery Reggie Bush to their backfield.
While the Vikings secondary is going to have to step up from last year, the key to slowing down this passing attack rests upon the defensive line. Getting pressure and hits on Quarterback Matt Stafford should make life easier on the defensive backs and shake things up for the Lions. Their offensive line is shaky at best. They have two of the NFL’s worst starting Offensive Tackles in Reiff and Fox and could be vulnerable to attack in those spots.
The Vikings feature Jared Allen and Brian Robison at Defensive End and those two gentlemen will have to have good games today. Playing through injuries last year, that duo combined for 20.5 sacks and we should expect even better results with them healthy this year.
Don’t forget to add in a young Sharrif Floyd getting his first career start at Defensive Tackle and the high motor or Everson Griffen. These two guys will be doing their fair share of getting after Matt Stafford. If these guys can do their job disrupting the Lions passing game, it will make things much more difficult for Detroit.
Special Teams: Last year, the Vikings needed 2 touchdowns on special teams in order to put away the Lions in Detroit. This year, they are without exciting return man Percy Harvin who is replaced by the equally explosive Cordarrelle Patterson. The Vikings are hoping that Patterson can be close to as effective as Harvin was last year in the kick return game.
Marcus Sherels returns from last year as the punt returner. Last year, his punt return touchdown helped spark the Vikings in that Detroit victory. While this year’s Vikings offense should be better than last year’s, the Vikings need positive energy anywhere they can find it.