NFL regular season football is back! This season, the Minnesota Vikings have the honor of kicking off the Monday Night Football double-header at home against the New Orleans Saints. The atmosphere in US Bank Stadium will be electric as over 66,000 fans join in the Skol Chant and the Gjallarhorn bellows. A strong rookie class headed off by running back Dalvin Cook and center Pat Elflein will make their debuts against a Saints team led by Drew Brees and a returning Adrian Peterson. Many so-called experts are picking the visitors to upset Mike Zimmer’s team in their own house. The team needs to execute these Vikings keys to victory in each of the game’s three phases if they want to defend their home turf.
Week One Minnesota Vikings Keys to Victory
1) Win the battle for hidden yardage
Last season, the Vikings combination of Cordarrelle Patterson (now with the Oakland Raiders) and Marcus Sherels combined for three return touchdowns. The team’s yards per kick return was the best in the league. They ranked eighth in yards per return on punts.
The Saints were one of the better teams in defending returns last year, but were not as successful returning kicks. The Vikings struggled in kick coverage, allowing the second most yards per kickoff return in the league. Facing a high powered New Orleans offense, the return groups must do their part to limit the opponent’s field position while maximizing their own.
The Vikings will need a big game out of Sherels, both as a returner and as a gunner. If new punter Ryan Quigley can live up to his billing as a directional kicking specialist, Sherels is more than capable of eliminating return yards.
Third year running back Jerick McKinnon won the starting kick return job with a 106 yard return touchdown in preseason. He needs to show that his preseason success can carry over to the regular season. McKinnon is short in stature, but he is a patient runner with blazing speed, quick lateral movement, and suppression power. If McKinnon and Sherels can win the field position battle, it will make winning the game a lot easier for the offense.
2) The new look Offensive Line must set the tempo
Last year the Vikings offensive line was simply abysmal. They could not protect the passer or open running lanes. Fortunately for the fans, Sam Bradford‘s health and Mike Zimmer’s blood pressure, last year’s line has been nearly completely rebuilt, and it should be better.
Of last year’s week one starting line, only Joe Berger remains on the roster. He will start at right guard after spending most of last season at center. Jeremiah Sirles, whose play ranged from average to unacceptable is no longer in a position where he will be expected to start games. Nick Easton, who came on late in the year last season, will start at left guard after transitioning from center.
The only other lineman left over from last year’s team is Rashod Hill, who was picked up off of the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad late last season. He flashed serious potential at tackle in camp, and will be the primary backup at both spots. Gone are the likes of Matt Kalil, Andre Smith, Jake Long, and most recently both T.J. Clemmings and Alex Boone.
Newcomers make up the rest of the line. Riley Reiff, the team’s prized free agent and new left tackle is best described as tough but average. After missing almost all of camp and the preseason, he has a lot to prove Monday night. Right tackle Mike Remmers has as much if not more to prove than Reiff. Remmers has proven both his durability and his strength in run blocking. Unfortunately, Remmers has struggled in pass protection. The final piece to the new starting five is rookie Pat Elflein. Despite some snapping issues, he looks like the kind of lineman the team can count on for a decade.
The new line in far from perfect, but they should still be far better than the horror show the team trotted out week in and week out last year. A strong game (or even an average one) from the line should allow Sam Bradford the time to take some deeper shots. It would also allow for a big game from Dalvin Cook. If the line can get Cook going, protecting Bradford will grow far easier.
3) Don’t let the night be about Adrian Peterson
Whenever the media, coaches, or players talk about the upcoming game, one name inevitably comes up: Adrian Peterson. Everyone knows that Peterson wants to stick it to the Vikings. Everyone knows the Vikings defenders want more than anything to put Peterson on his back. Mike Zimmer said it best though, the game is not about Peterson, it is about the Vikings and the Saints.
Of course, one can’t ignore Peterson, and no one can blame the defenders who want to tee off against the running back they were never allowed to tackle, but the Vikings cannot afford to let this game turn into the Adrian Peterson bowl. First, Peterson is a old, washed up, over hyped back from a bygone era. He simply is not the same player who carried the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012 with 2000 rushing yards. Second, Peterson is playing in an offense that works from the shotgun as much as any team in the league. Any Vikings fan can explain why that is a bad match. Third, Peterson is not the only threat in the Saint’s offense.
The Vikings cannot afford to hone in on Peterson because he is not the entire Saints offense. New Orleans is led by a future Hall of Famer at Quarterback in Drew Brees. The offense features two other backs, both are definitively and inarguably better than Peterson at this stage of their careers. The Saints will be without the suspended Willie Snead for this game, but Michael Thomas is coming off as strong of a rookie season as rookie receivers not named Odell Beckham Jr. have in this league.
There will be plenty of chances for the Vikings to show Peterson why he should have retired years ago. If they are truly intent on spoiling his homecoming, their path is obvious. Rush the passer, stop the run, win the game and make Peterson realize he cannot carry a team to victory anymore, especially not against the Vikings.
Skol Vikings, let’s win this game,
Skol Vikings, honor your name,
Prove the doubters wrong, defend the North.
Go get that first down,
Then get a touchdown.
Come out and get in an offensive rhythm.
Rock ’em . . . Sock ’em
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Go Vikings, run up the score,
You’ll hear us yell for more. . .
Humiliate Adrian Peterson and the team that used bounties to win a Super Bowl.
Skol, Vikings, let’s go!