Despite what was a disappointing season for a team with high expectations in 2010, the defensive front seven of the Minnesota Vikings remained a force to be reckoned with. The defensive line, led by game-changers DE Jarred Allen and All-Pro DT Kevin Williams is one of the best in the business. Williams will be sitting out a two-game suspension and will not play against the Chargers next Sunday.
Minnesota will miss Williams who is also been battling through a plantar fasciitis suffered earlier on in the preseason. Still, Chargers LT Marcus McNeill should have his hands full with Allen and expect running lanes to be clogged, at least early on, for San Diego. The Vikings defense also boasts a solid core at linebacker led by OLB Chad Greenway. As a unit, this group is as good as any at staying in gaps and doesn't give up a lot of ground at the line of scrimmage on running plays.
Although the Vikings' relatively young secondary did come on strong towards the end of last season, they are outmatched for what is a very talented and deep core of wide receivers in San Diego.
CB Antoine Winfield is a physical player with excellent range and above-average cover skills.
But even with Winfield, the Vikings defensive backfield is ill-equipped to face Philip River's and his impressive stable of big, talented pass catchers.
Prolific running back Adrian Peterson led the Vikings No. 1-ranked rushing offense with 1,300 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. It marked the fifth time in Peterson's five-year career that he's rushed for 1,000 yards or more in a season. This could spell trouble for a Chargers club who is, at least at this stage, still very unsettled at linebacker—a fact that is evident in the signings of two veteran linebackers in the last week.
The moves are a clear indication that the Chargers' coaching staff is not comfortable going into the season with second-year man Donald Butler or rookie linebacker Jonas Mouton at the Mac position.
Na'il Diggs and Kevin Bentley will add solid, experienced depth, but will need some time to acclimate to the Chargers system and certainly cannot be expected to settle in in time for next Sunday's season opener.
Peterson can expect to find some running lanes against a Chargers defense that is still establishing itself under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. However, if the Chargers can force the Vikings into a couple third-and-long situations, they should have little trouble containing QB Donovan McNabb and the anemic Minnesota passing attack.
The Vikings offense ranked 23rd in passing and 22nd in scoring last season. McNabb also struggled, with an interception to touchdown ratio of 14/15 and a quarterback rating of 77.4 in 2010.
Key Matchups: Adrian Peterson Vs. Chargers Front 7
The Vikings best pass defense will be RB Adrian Peterson. If Minnesota can eat up the clock and keep San Diego's offense off of the field, it will go a long way towards nullifying the Chargers potent offense.
Key Matchups: Chargers Offense VS Minnesota Defense
Look for Norv Turner to use the pass to set up the run, especially if the Vikings defense comes out early with a lot of blitz packages. With Kevin Williams out, the Chargers can afford to give Marcus McNeill help with Jarred Allen, which should give Phillip Rivers the extra half-second he needs to be effective.
Peterson and the Vikings running attack could present some real problems for the Chargers on defense. That said, San Diego is a more balanced team on both sides of the football and is playing at home.
The absence of DT Kevin Williams is a huge advantage for the Chargers and may allow them to take Peterson out of the game by taking an early lead. San Diego would like to put the game in McNabb's hands if they can and if they're successful, it could be a very long trip back east for the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota 17, San Diego 27