Dissecting Best Individual Matchups to Watch in Minnesota Vikings' Week 1 Action
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Al Pacino said it best in Any Given Sunday as coach Tony D’Amato:
You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half-a-step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.
It’s the littlest things that make the difference in life. And it’s the littlest things that make the difference in football.
This matchup features two teams that know each other well, being NFC North division rivals. That means both have a good idea of what to expect from the other, which makes every inch battled for on the field that much more important.
Below are my three key matchups to watch as the game unfolds. Pay attention to the inches each team allows the other.
Chris Cook vs. Calvin Johnson
When the Vikings made Chris Cook a second-round pick in 2010, they had their twice-a-year matchup with the Detroit Lions in mind.
The reason: Calvin Johnson.
Last season, Johnson set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964 while the Georgia Tech product has also posted double-digit touchdown receptions and receiving yards in two of the past three seasons.
The game’s best wide receiver, Johnson is the epitome of freak performers. At 6’5” and 236 pounds, there are few defensive backs who can contain him.
Cook, at 6’2” and 212 pounds, has the physical tools to be among those few. The Vikings will look to him to shut down Megatron on Sunday.
The Virginia product limited Johnson to five receptions and 54 yards in a 20-13 Minnesota win in Week 4 of last season which featured Cook almost exclusively covering Johnson, as noted by Brian Murphy of The Pioneer Press.
Slowing Johnson isn’t a necessity to a Minnesota victory, as Johnson caught 12 passes for 207 yards in a 34-24 Minnesota victory in Week 10 last season, but it will go a long way toward securing it.
Riley Reiff vs. Jared Allen
In a spot start at left tackle last season against the Houston Texans, Riley Reiff had the pleasure of facing the likes of J.J. Watt.
In his debut as Detroit’s full-time left tackle in 2013, Reiff will combat Jared Allen.
Allen has recorded six straight seasons with 11-plus sacks and is one of the most revered pass-rushers in the league while Watt recorded 20.5 sacks last season en route to being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Talk about Reiff jumping straight into the deep end of the pool, but back to the matchup at hand.
Detroit’s offense is an aerial-driven attack with quarterback Matthew Stafford at the helm. The Lions ranked second in passing yards per game last season at 307.9. That means the pressure is on Reiff to give Stafford the time he needs to air out the ball.
To slow that potent unit, Allen will have to take the 24-year-old tackle to school early and often. For Detroit to continue its aerial assault from 2012, Reiff will have to keep Allen away from Stafford.
Reiff has plenty of talent, which is why he was Detroit’s 2012 first-round pick, and could prove a tough matchup for Allen. But he lacks experience and is an unknown at this point. He could be another Matt Kalil or Jason Smith. Only time will tell.
If Allen can get to Staffordm, then the Cook-Johnson battle is that much less meaningful. A quarterback can’t get the ball to his receivers if he’s sacked.
Brandon Fusco vs. Ndamukong Suh
Regardless of whether or not you consider Ndamukong Suh a dirty player, it’s impossible to deny his talent.
And that talent could be an overly disruptive force on Sunday.
After a down 2011 with four sacks and 36 tackles, Suh bounced back in 2012 with eight sacks and 35 tackles. Those numbers dwindle in comparison to his rookie campaign of 66 tackles and 10 sacks, but Suh is a playmaker.
Brandon Fusco will see the most of Suh on Sunday from his right guard position.
Fusco is considered by most as Minnesota’s second-weakest offensive lineman behind left guard Charlie Johnson.
Luckily, Fusco will get some help from center John Sullivan.
Even with infrequent double teams, Suh has the ability to throw off Minnesota’s passing attack by quickly getting into the backfield and Christian Ponder’s face. He also has the ability to stop Adrian Peterson before he hits the open field.
Fusco may not be able to stop the beast, but he has to contain him or else Suh could disrupt plenty in the Vikings' backfield before it even starts.
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