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The Vikings will be soaking up the Santa Clara sunshine as they open the regular season Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers. Daniel House previews the game and provides five keys to victory.
Updated: September 13th, 2015 6:30pm
By: Daniel House
The Vikings will be soaking up the Santa Clara sunshine as they open the regular season Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers. There is plenty of optimism surrounding this Vikings squad and the expectation levels are very high among fans, coaches, and national analysts. However, those must be tempered as the team focuses on the first task at hand -- knocking off the 49ers. San Francisco has a relatively new nucleus of players as many of their experienced players retired. Four pivotal players retired because of concussions and age related issues. That doesn't mean the 49ers don't have talent, but it certainly leaves them vulnerable. Not to mention, they are trying to learn new head coach Jim Tomsula's system.
The Vikings are entering the season with Teddy Bridgewater holding the reigns at quarterback and have minimal questions marks surrounding their offense. That's something that hasn't been said for decades. The key to this squad's success will be how the offensive line performs and whether the defense can adequately cover the plethora of passing threats the NFC North has to offer. However, they are very stable entering the season and might have a chance to end their six-game Monday Night Football losing streak.
Here are my five keys to victory on Monday night:
Offensive line play will be critical
As training camp ended, offensive line play was one of the areas of weakness on this team. Many people hoped that a full slate of preseason games would help establish a sense of continuity among the offensive line. In a sense it did, but injuries sent that optimism away quicker than it arrived. Veteran Phil Loaholt tore his achilles and John Sullivan underwent back surgery. This means a heavy reliance will be placed upon the Vikings' depth to step up and produce. Rookie T.J. Clemmings will be playing right tackle and veteran Joe Berger will he holding down the fort in the middle of the group. Not to mention, Matt Kalil and Mike Harris will both need to perform better this season. There are plenty of question marks surrounding protection and we won't know how serious this is until more games are played.
Blocking will be the most critical key for the 2015 Vikings squad. If Teddy Bridgewater has adequate time to throw and Adrian Peterson has open rushing lanes, the playbook can open up significantly. 49ers defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey will be provide the interior portion of the offensive line with a challenge. In addition, second-year pass rusher Aaron Lynch will be looking to build upon a promising rookie campaign. San Francisco might have lost some weapons this off-season, but Dorsey and Lynch are some of the defensive threats to keep an eye on. Don't sleep on 49er linebackers Ahmad Brooks or NaVorro Bowman either. Each of them have the ability to cause havoc, as well. With all of that being said, the team who performs the best up front will come away victorious in this game.
Containing Colin Kaepernick in the 49ers offense
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 679 yards on the ground last season. The 49ers coaches use his legs as a pivotal part of their offensive game plan. The Vikings defense has never matched up with Kaepernick and must take into account his impact. Edge contain will be very important as the defense tries to prevent him from taking over the game. San Fransisco has many new and old pieces on their offensive line and their continuity will also be tested. The Vikings absolutely cannot let Colin Kaepernick get outside to stretch plays with his legs. This was a problem last season and it allowed teams to convert on third down way too frequently. If Kaepernick can extend plays, he not only is a threat on the ground, but through the air. Finally, it will be critical to keep him from finding weapons like Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin in the passing game. This starts by forcing him to stay inside the pocket, while closing on sacks when the opportunity arises.
Getting off to a good start on both sides of the ball
In this type of situation, adrenaline will be rushing and the players will be ready to get after it. Nerves will play a role in this, so it will important to get off to a good start. With younger players making their debuts, it will be important to relax, while starting quickly. The defense needs to make a few plays and stay off the field. Offensively, it will be important to control the time of possession, while keeping both sides of the ball relatively fresh. If the defense is on the field too long, they will wear down and the San Francisco team speed will eat the Vikings alive. Adrian Peterson will be unleashed to the world for the first time since his suspension. He's a caged animal that is ready to get back on the field. That alone is enough reason to be excited for the Vikings offense to perform on Monday night.
Winning in the spotlight on Monday Night Football
For some reason, the Vikings have had an extremely difficult time winning in primetime. Minnesota has lost six consecutive Monday Night Football games and have always seemed to falter under the bright lights. The 49ers have overhauled their roster and the Vikings need to take advantage. Chris Borland, Anthony Davis, Justin Smith, and Patrick Willis all retired this off-season. This means relatively inexperienced players will be making their debut on a bright stage. San Francisco still has weapons on both sides of the ball, but there will be growing pains as they transition to playing with a new personnel grouping and coaching staff. The Vikings are opening their season and a win on Monday night would not only be a confidence boost, but it would send a message across a national audience.
Special teams must get the job done
In the preseason, Blair Walsh didn't leave much room for optimism. He missed a frequent amount of kicks from all distances on the field. The Vikings offense will need to score as many points as possible and they certainly can't be leaving any opportunities on the field. Missed kicks can be the difference between winning and losing games in the NFL. This contest could be very close and if it is within a few points, Walsh's kicking could be critical. He needs to have a good game to start the regular season as he looks to re-establish his confidence.