The Vikings will open the 2014 home schedule tomorrow during a matchup with the New England Patriots. Daniel House provides five areas of emphasis to watch for during the game.
Updated: September 13th, 2014 8:06pm
By: Daniel House
Minnesota will be squaring off with the New England Patriots for just the 11th time in the history of the two teams. The Pats currently hold the season series with a seven and four record. New England has traveled to Minnesota just five times over the last four decades and the Vikings will be looking to develop a home field advantage early in the season. What will it take to knock off Bill Belichick and the Patriots? I provided five areas of emphasis to watch for in tomorrow's game vs. New England.
With Adrian Peterson facing charges for an injury to his child, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon will make the rise up the running back depth chart. Asiata has played within this role before and is more than ready to handle a high amount of carries on Sunday against the Patriots. He may not accumulate a massive amount of yardage, but he will run for tough yards and can quickly wear down an opposing defense. You can pair this style of running with a 'scat-back' like Jerick McKinnon during third-down situations. McKinnon can be used on the edge or out of the backfield as a pass catcher. He is an insanely athletic player who can cause headaches for opposing defenses. The Vikings signed Joe Banyard from the practice squad to active roster this afternoon and he will be used as the third running back during tomorrow's game. Norv Turner will find the best way to utilize both of these players and will have a gameplan established to attack the Patriots average front-seven.
Will Turner open up the offense for Cassel tomorrow?
If you eliminate some of the big plays from last week's game with the Rams, the Vikings didn't make any splashes on offense. The play calling was targeted to exploit the weaknesses St. Louis was experiencing in stopping the run off the edge. Miscommunication was an issue early in the game last week and with this matchup being at home, you have to believe Norv Turner will open the playbook more for Matt Cassel and the Vikings offense. Look for more passes being thrown in the vicinity of players like Kyle Rudolph and Greg Jennings, especially considering the team will be playing without running back Adrian Peterson.
Can the defensive line get to the quarterback again?
The Vikings defense notched five sacks last week and will be looking to build upon that trend this week against the Patriots. New England's offensive line allowed four sacks last week and every offensive lineman ranked negatively via Pro Football Focus. Last week, the coaching staff was dialing up blitz packages and on third-down were utilizing the 'Nascar' package on a frequent basis. The goal will be to place the Patriots in third-and-long situations, forcing them to block well up front, while completing tough passes to move the chains. Look for Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr to continue their pass rushing success, along with the likes of interior defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph. One of the keys to this game will be whether the defensive line can put pressure on Tom Brady and force him to make mistakes early and often.
Will the linebackers and defensive backs be able to handle the Pats running backs and Gronk?
The Patriots have a quietly solid tandem of running backs that continually catch passes out of the backfield. Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley both can be threats when they are able to catch passes in space. Tom Brady likes to find these players in early downs, while mixing it on third-and-long situations. The Vikings linebackers and defensive backs will need to handle dropping into coverage, while making the difficult tackles in space. Vereen and Ridley can cause headaches and if they aren't defended, Bill Belichick is able to open up the offense, making it difficult for any defense to handle. Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway will be heavily relied upon to be sure they are sound in their alignments, making swift tackles, and reacting swiftly in coverage. Not only will they have to handle the running backs, but the bigger duty may come when they try to stop the red zone whisperer, tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Can the team avoid the distractions and stay focused?
The Adrian Peterson distraction has dominated the headlines over the last 24 hours and the hope is that this won't provide any distractions in preparation for tomorrow's game with the Patriots. Mike Zimmer will have his team ready to play and the belief is that 52 other guys will go on like normal because they understand the business. Football will go on like usual and ultimately, that's just the nature of the NFL.
As a whole, the Vikings will need to rush the passer and create turnovers, in an effort to win the take/give ratio. The offense will need to make the plays necessary to win and complete focus will be required for the Vikings to knock off the New England Patriots.