Enemy Intelligence: Last week’s Minnesota Vikings game

 

Last week, the Minnesota Vikings went on the road and beat the Detroit Lions, 20-13, to improve their record on the season to 20-13. The Vikings opened the season with an overtime win against the Jaguars at home, lost a three-point game at Indianapolis, then knocked off the 49ers at home fairly comfortably before the divisional win. The keys to last week's win were two special teams touchdowns and a strong defensive performance that kept the Lions out of the end zone for the first 57 minutes of the game.
 
What I saw from the Vikings last week, and the other games of theirs I've seen, after the jump.
 
1. Adrian Peterson is back from his December ACL injury. Adrian Peterson is awesome. Adrian Peterson is not yet 100%. Adrian Peterson is still really good. In the game against the Jaguars, he scored a touchdown on a play where linebacker Russell Allen was unblocked by attacking the hole decisively and running with power. The place where that he's not 100% shows up most is in his lateral agility, as he probably doesn't have the same explosion when cutting he used to have. He'll still run through a few linebacker tackle attempts.
2. The lead draw seems to be a staple run of the Vikings offense. To some extent, this is a counter against the defense the other team is trying to run, but expect to see it a few times this week.
3. Christian Ponder is doing a good job of playing within himself, to use a terrible cliche. He's a pretty good athlete, not as fast as Locker, but he can scoot and showed it on a scrambling touchdown against the 49ers.
4. Percy Harvin is the man to watch on offense. He's officially a wide receiver, but will line up in the backfield and has looked good running between the tackles. He's fast, as he showed on the kickoff return he had to open the game last week, but he's not really a vertical target. They try to get him the ball in different ways, including carries, wide receiver screens, drag route on a bootleg, and more conventional routes.
5. Kyle Rudolph is this week's tight end who will undoubtedly burn the Titans. He was primarily a receiver last year and is more of a traditional tight end this year. He's not the same matchup threat a guy like Aaron Hernandez is and isn't in the same class as Rob Gronkowski, especially as a blocker, but he's not terrible. He didn't do much last week, only two grabs for eight yards on five targets, but has a couple touchdown grabs already. A couple of those incompletions were basically throwaways.
6. The offensive line is much improved from last season. Third overall pick Matt Kalil is a very credible pass blocker, and I'm not expecting too much from Kamerion Wimbley against him. Were Wimbley a stouter run defender, I'd say I expect him to do a good job on Kalil, but I don't think Wimbley is that player. Charlie Johnson is now playing guard, where he belongs. Phil Loadholt is the right tackle, and a good speed rusher can turn the corner on him. Fortunately for the Vikings, the Titans don't have one of those.
7. Beyond Harvin, the other receiver of note is Jerome Simpson, who had a touchdown pass against the Titans last year when he was with the Bengals and Michael Griffin as deep safety in cover-2 decided to just let him catch the ball instead of maybe making a play on it. He is this week's excuse to have at least one safety line up 20 yards downfield. Beyond him, the Vikings have Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. Yes, really. Now stop laughing, it isn't nice.
8. The Lions gave up the kickoff return score to Harvin, then pooched the next couple kickoffs. I haven't noticed other teams doing that to the Vikings, and expect the Titans to go ahead and kick it away to him. The punt return score, by corner Marcus Sherels, was a punt return touchdown, not much interesting about it.
9. The game situation, with the early special teams score and then the punt in the early second half to make it 20-6 dictated how the game went. The Vikings don't have an explosive offense or even a really good one, and they didn't look like one against the Lions.
10. I thought Matt Stafford did a good job of getting the ball out and avoiding sacks against the Titans. The Vikings brought him down a very respectable 5 times in 56 dropbacks. Some of those were coverage sacks, while defensive tackle Letroy Guion had one when he beat the right guard.
11. The star of the defensive line is still right end Jared Allen. Michael Roos will have his hands full, but should do okay in the passing game. On the ground, Roos will need to be smart and avoid getting overpowered.
12. On the rest of the line, the other end is Brian Robison, and he's eh to me. Kevin Williams isn't the same force he used to be in the middle of the line, but still isn't bad. The guy who intrigues me is Everson Griffen. I didn't have high expectations when he came out of USC, but he's lined up at D-tackle, D-end, and even some standing up as a rush end. He's a better, more versatile player than I thought he was.
13. Starting linebacker Erin Henderson missed this game, and Chad Greenway and Jasper Brinkley played almost every snap. Brinkley moves better now than he did coming out of South Carolina. He's not going to run with Jared Cook, but he can run with Craig Stevens. Chad Greenway's a nice but not outstanding WLB.
14. The front seven collectively did a good job of stopping Mikel Leshoure and the Lions running game, a lot better job than the Titans did. Both teams played conservatively on defense and were much more worried about not giving up the big play by CJ81, so don't use that to defend the Titans.
15. The defensive backs were terrible last year, especially Cedric Griffin, but now they're competent. There's no standout like Johnathan Joseph, but I'm not seeing obvious weaknesses. Antoine Winfield is Alterraun Verner's career upside, not a big corner but a physical one who does a good job in run support. Chris Cook is a somewhat bigger Jason McCourty with less speed-more a stereotypical Cover-2 corner. Rookie safety Harrison Smith is playing pretty soundly against both the run and the pass, from what I've seen (I haven't bothered with all-22 on the Vikings yet).
 
The Vikings are clearly not a great team. I'd rate them the Titans' worst opponent to date. Ponder is making few if any mistakes. If he does start making mistakes, the Vikings could be in trouble as the offense has struggled to make big plays. The Lions had some success moving the ball, more than 57 minutes without getting to the end zone would indicate, but again struggled to finish drives (a recurring problem for them). I think the line of the Vikings favored by about 6 points is a pretty good one. They're better than I thought they'd be, and better than the Titans, but not that much better. If the Titans can finish like +2 in the turnover battle, then they can win this game. More likely, they'll have to get big plays and come up with timely stops to win. I have no confidence in their ability to do either of those.
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