Saturday, December 17, 2016

Vikings vs. Colts Preview

The Vikings will continue their important four-game close to the season as they square off with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Daniel House previews the game and provides his analysis of the Colts. 

Updated: December 17th, 2016 12:46pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings will continue their important four-game close to the season as they square off with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota still has a glimmer of hope for the postseason, but will need to win their final three games to have a chance. The journey continues by knocking off a reeling Colts team at home. Indianapolis enters the frigid Minnesota tundra after losing two of their last three games. Their AFC South hopes are still alive, but they face a similar must-win situation. The Colts are battered up front and the Vikings defensive line needs to take advantage. Not to mention, their defense is ranked 26th in the league and has allowed the fourth-most total yards to opposing offensive units. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is returning to the lineup after suffering a torn meniscus in Week 2. The hope is that Peterson can bring some life to a running game that has lacked any fire power this year. This is a game the Vikings can and should win if they execute well.

For more, take a dive inside my game preview:

The Vikings defensive line against a depleted Colts offensive line
The Colts offensive line will be tested as they attempt to overcome the challenge of three rookies protecting quarterback Andrew Luck. Right guard Denzelle Good is out, Jack Mewhort was placed on IR, and Joe Reitz will miss this game with a back injury. Rookie Joe Haeg will move to left guard and rookie La’Raven Clark will likely start at tackle. Along with rookie first round pick Ryan Kelly at center, the Colts will be playing three 2016 draft picks on their offensive line. It probably isn’t the best timing for Indianapolis to have all of these offensive line injuries. The Vikings arguably have the best pass rush in football and have notched 35 sacks this season, including 13 sacks over the last three games. As bad as the Minnesota offensive line has been this season, the Colts have experienced just as much trouble up front. Indianapolis allowed 11 more sacks than the Vikings this season. They are going to be utilizing their seventh offensive line combination on Sunday. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The trio of Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Brian Robison will be feasting on a Colts offense line that has limited talent or experience. Not to mention, the duo of Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen will have a favorable matchup advantage against a shuffling Colts interior offensive line unit. The Vikings need to get after Andrew Luck and wrap him up. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the league at keeping plays alive and creating opportunities for his playmakers. As a defensive line, you have to be sure he is wrapped up and unable to extend plays. Luck’s 34 rushing yards this season are just 84 yards behind Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon. Taking good angles on defense and ensuring defenders don’t over-pursue Luck is going to be critical in this game.

Andrew Luck has a sore shoulder/elbow
Early in the week, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck missed a practice with a sore shoulder/elbow, but he practiced at the end of the week. Hopefully, he is well prepared to handle life with a depleted offensive line in front of him. It seems like Andrew Luck has never been provided with a solid offensive line during his career in the league. He takes a consistent beating and getting after him is going to be the key in this game. Placing the Colts within third-and-long situations is something that will allow the Vikings to tee-off on the pass and bring more rushers. Luck can’t have time to find his receivers up the field. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is one of the most underrated route runners in football and can open in a variety of ways. He is the highest targeted player in the Colts offense and is a master at taking the top off of a defense. Without Harrison Smith in the backend, the Vikings need to be sure there aren’t any loose ends in the secondary. Anthony Harris was beaten on two occasions last week, including a touchdown pass in the red zone. The pass rush needs to get after Luck, so these passing situations aren’t available for the Colts.

Peterson is making his return
Can the Vikings running game be fixed with Adrian Peterson returning? Well, I’m not convinced. The blocking up front hasn’t provided many opportunities, but Peterson should help the team in short yardage situations. The Vikings left so many opportunities inside the five-yard-line in Jacksonville. The coaches ran formations that packed all of the players into jumbo sets and didn’t spread the field. There wasn’t much doubt about their play-calling in these situations because there was no motion. Having Peterson back will help because of his running style, but the coaches need to start looking at how they can spread the field and be more creative in these goal-line situations.

Peterson can also take advantage of some rushing lanes that the other running backs have failed to take advantage of. Having a future hall of fame running back in the backfield is an asset no matter what. Even if blocking up front isn’t adequate, Peterson’s ferocious running style allows him to create some many yards after contact. I don’t expect Peterson will see a full workload in his return, but he will still actively contribute to the overall game plan in a limited capacity. It would seem like the goal is to have Peterson at full strength as the Vikings travel to Lambeau Field for a matchup with the Packers next week.

The Minnesota offensive line shuffles again
With Brandon Fusco out with a concussion, the Vikings will be entering the Colts game with their seventh starting offensive line combination. That doesn’t even count in-game injuries they sustained throughout games this season. There has been limited continuity for the team up front and as I noted earlier, the Colts are facing similar issues. Indianapolis has just one sack per game in their last three matchups and their defense has allowed the fourth-most total yards to opposing offenses. The Vikings need to protect Sam Bradford and allow him to deliver the ball to his targets against a Colts secondary that is in ruins. Reports indicate Joe Berger may play right guard with Brandon Fusco out. The team would just keep Nick Eason at center for this game. This offensive line combination makes sense and will provide the team with some stability as injuries strike again. As a whole, the offense needs to put up some points and yardage against a leaky Colts defense.

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