Updated: September 6th, 2014 10:40pm
By: Daniel House
The Vikings will kick off the 2014 season tomorrow during a road matchup with the St. Louis Rams. A new era of football will begin in Minnesota with head coach Mike Zimmer directing his first regular season game for the Vikings. In 42 matchups with St. Louis, the Vikings have won 26 games and lead the all-time series. The Rams are a young team that has a talented group of defensive lineman who can rush the quarterback. They did lose starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season-ending knee injury and will revert to backup Shaun Hill this season. The coaching staff and the players have been preparing for the game over the last few weeks and have developed strategies for tomorrow's game. With a positive preseason, what will it take for the Vikings to translate success to the regular season? I provided five areas of emphasis to watch for in tomorrow's game vs. the Rams.
How will Adrian Peterson be utilized?
The new Vikings offense has been developed and with offensive coordinator Norv Turner at the helm, players will be used a wide variety of ways. Running back Adrian Peterson is one of the best players in the league and Turner has indicated they will be using him in different ways this season. Expect to see Peterson catching more passes out of the backfield, along with more runs coming out of the shotgun. The goal is to harvest some of the athletic skills Peterson has in his toolbox, while making it difficult for opposing defenses to predict the offense. When the box is stacked deep, Turner can call play-action passes that take the top off of the defense. We aren't quite sure exactly how Peterson will be used, but it seems his athleticism will be groomed more than we have ever seen before.
Can the offensive line handle the Rams pass rush?
The offensive line played well during moments of the preseason, but displayed some weaknesses against some premier pass rushers. The Rams have a notorious pass rush and added more pieces to the puzzle this off-season. Robert Quinn quietly notched 19 sacks last season and Chris Long adds a potent rush on the other edge of the defensive line. Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil will have their hands full this week and will need to prove they are ready to handle elite pass rushers in this league. The Rams added defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the draft, but it appears Michael Brockers will start, while Donald will rotate into the group. St. Louis can apply plenty of pressure and the Vikings offensive line will have their first major test of the 2014 season.
How will the defense be structured?
Mike Zimmer will be calling the shots on the defensive side of the ball and it will be very intriguing to see the packages he throws at the Rams offense. It may take quarterback Shaun Hill some time to become acclimated as a starter and Zimmer will be applying pressure early and often. Hill has thrown just 16 pass attempts over the last three seasons and he may need to shake some rust off of his tires. The team was working on plenty of sub-packages during training camp and the preseason and tomorrow will be the first chance to see how Mike Zimmer will use athletic skill sets on the defense. Anthony Barr will be lined up in a variety of ways and expect a heavy rotation among the defensive line and linebacker positions.
Can the Vikings win a game on the road?
The Vikings couldn't win on the road last season and finished 0-7-1 during games played outside of Minnesota. Mike Zimmer has been developing ways for the team to adjust to the rigors of playing on the road and wants to solve this issue. Winning on the road involves a different mindset and this coaching staff has been openly working to make players more comfortable in this situation. By communicating well, preparing for the game in a timely manner, and keeping everyone disciplined, this problem can be resolved in a timely fashion. Tomorrow will be the first test for the Vikings players and coaching staff as they travel to the Edward Jones Dome.
Which cornerback will show improvement?
The secondary has always been a problematic issue for the Minnesota Vikings and the focus this off-season was to improve this trend. Xavier Rhodes is entering his second season in the league and veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was signed to improve the group, as well. Aside from those two, we are unsure who can step up as the third cornerback. Will Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, or Jabari Price play well enough to see action with the starters in the nickel packages? The scheme is very physical and with the focus on fundamentals, it will be interesting to see how the defensive backs translate the coaching into live regular season action. The secondary will need to handle wide receivers Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin, which should be a great first test for the Vikings cornerback group.
As a whole, tomorrow will be the first chance we will have to see how both the offense and defense will be structured this season. With a talented group of young rookies, paired with the coaching that has taken place during the off-season, tomorrow's game will be a great measurable to dictate where the team is at early in the 2014 campaign.