The Vikings make their 2008 home debut against the Colts today at 12 CT on CBS. Both teams are 0-1 coming in, having dropped their respective season openers. The Vikings had a bad first half offensively against the Packers, mostly thanks to Tarvaris Jackson, but rallied in the second half to make a game of it. The Colts, meanwhile, were manhandled at home by the Bears, whose rookie running back Matt Forte made mincemeat of them.
The Vikings need more consistency out of T-Jack and a big game from Adrian Peterson against a Colts D that lost starting nose tackle Ed Johnson to an arrest-related release. And they need a better performance from their allegedly All-World defensive line, and particularly Jared Allen, who tallied no sacks against the Packers. The nightmare scenario: Peyton Manning stands back there, unpressured, and totally picks apart the Vikings’ secondary. Of course there’s a good chance Peyton will be without C Jeff Saturday and TE Dallas Clark (both are game-time decisions). The Colts’ running game was MIA against the Bears and I expect the Vikings to stifle it again this week.
The match-up everyone will be watching: Colts DE Dwight Freeney vs. Whoever Plays Left Tackle. Artis Hicks is supposed to be the starter, but his elbow may keep him out, which means Marcus Johnson will have to handle Freeney (with a lot of help one would assume). The other guy to keep an eye on is rookie safety Tyrell Johnson who was out of position on Aaron Rodgers‘ big game-changing pass to Greg Jennings Monday night (thanks to a Rodgers play-fake). Rookie secondary guys scare me in general but especially when Peyton Manning is out there.
Special teams are also an issue for the Vikings after Will Blackmon‘s punt return for TD Monday night. The Vikings coverage guys looked like they were trying to dive on top of a runaway squirrel during that particular play, and special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro was rather bent out of shape about it. The Vikings clearly miss Heath Farwell who was the #1 special teams stud before he got put on IR. The punt and kick-off coverage has been terrific the last couple of years, and that has undoubtedly helped the defense. Peyton Manning is good enough as it is – we don’t need to assist him by giving him short fields.
The guy I’m watching closely: Garrett Mills. He led the Vikes in receiving yardage Monday night and I really think he’s on the verge of becoming a weapon. The Vikes’ offense has the capacity to really throw a lot of different stuff at the opposition – quarterback runs, screens to Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson, throws to tight ends, deep balls to Bernard Berrian – but it remains to be seen whether Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell are clever enough to take advantage of these possibilities. And of course Tarvaris needs to prove he can develop a reliable deep ball, otherwise Berrian will be a wasted commodity.
This game worries me. The Colts flopped against the Bears and ought to be fired up for this. The key question: Did they just have a bad game last week or did the Bears expose fundamental weaknesses in both their offense and defense? If the latter is true, then the Vikes are certainly equipped to take advantage of the same weaknesses. They can run better than the Bears and they can stop the run better than the Bears. I see a whole lot of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor today – hopefully with more screens and swing passes (I’ll never understand why the Vikes don’t throw to their backs more). I believe the Vikes will neutralize Joseph Addai entirely, putting the game in the hands of Peyton Manning – a guy who is of course perfectly capable of winning the sucker all by himself. I peer into my crystal ball and, unfortunately, see Peyton Manning having one those Peyton Manning games. Some 350 yard, 4 TD monstrosity. I see the Vikings falling to 0-2, probably by a big score – 31-14 or something in that realm. Fan angst is certain to elevate another notch after this one, and the heat will be on Brad Childress to make a change at quarterback.