Minnesota Vikings Week 1 Preview: 5 Keys for Success

Nick McAndrews@@NickMcAndrewsCorrespondent IIISeptember 9, 2011

Minnesota Vikings Week 1 Preview: 5 Keys for Success

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    The Minnesota Vikings open up their 2011 season in San Diego against the Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

    Though both teams missed the playoffs in 2010, the Chargers are heavily favored in the matchup despite being in a much weaker division with weaker competition.

    Sure, the Chargers have been a pretty consistent playoff caliber team in the last few seasons, but there is always the chance for an upset in the NFL. I mean, who thought with all the injuries the Packers sustained in 2010, that they could come out on top and win Super Bowl XLV?

    In every NFL matchup, there are certain things that could make any team vulnerable. It's just the capitalization of said vulnerabilities that give the opposing team a chance.

    The same opportunities exist for the Minnesota Vikings. Here are five keys to their success on Sunday.

Get the Most Possible Production out of the Run Game

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    For those of you who don't remember, the Vikings have been able to move the ball against San Diego in the past. In his rookie season, Adrian Peterson broke the NFL record for most rushing yards in a game with 296.

    Obviously, the offensive line had a much higher profile back then, but the Vikings run-game remains strong even as the team's production goes down.

    The Vikings have some fresh faces on their offensive line, which could be an issue in pass protection, but the front five can still be great when run-blocking.

    Because running the ball is Minnesota's greatest offensive strength, it will be imperative that the offensive line creates holes for their running backs, and for the running backs to capitalize on the given opportunities.

    The passing game may be difficult given the concerns surrounding the new offense, in combination with a new QB and a new left tackle. It is essential that the Vikings be able to lean on their run-game if they begin to struggle moving the ball through the air against an experienced defensive secondary.

Keep Donovan McNabb Upright

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    I'm going to start this slide by saying that I tried to search Bleacher Report's photo archive for a picture of the "Vikings Charlie Johnson," but no such image could be found.

    Considering that the player I just described is the Vikings' new starting left tackle, does not bode well for Donovan McNabb, or this team as a whole.

    In preseason, Johnson struggled a little bit to pick up his assignment when the defense stunts or brings multiple rushers. The Vikings would be fools to believe that the rest of the NFL doesn't know that and they WILL capitalize on it.

    That being said, the only chance the Vikings passing game stands is the improvement of their developing LT.

    In 2010, the Vikings offensive line was a complete sieve, ultimately providing the end of Brett Favre's career. Donovan McNabb was in a very similar situation in Washington, where he essentially saw the same production—barely any.

    If the Vikings want to produce through the air, they can't go with the usual cop-out of, "If the receivers can perform, we'll be fine," because the offensive line showed in the preseason how much work they really needed.

    The Chargers have a decent pass-rush lead by OLB/DE Shaun Phillips. The Vikings tackles will have to provide better protection against edge-rushes in order to not only allow McNabb time to move the ball, but to keep him from the same fate as our former QB.

The Corners Must Come Up Big Against Jackson and Floyd

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    One of the huge success stories for the Vikings this preseason was the return of CBs Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook. Those two, along with veteran Antoine Winfield, have the ability to be game-changers for the Vikings.

    San Diego has a very strong offense that specializes in moving the ball through the air. So essentially, they are built to beat the Vikings defense.

    Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates are all great offensive weapons for three-time Pro Bowl QB Phillip Rivers.

    This high-powered offense is designed to score a lot of points, but that doesn't mean the Vikings can't overcome them.

    Antonio Gates is the real star in the passing game; he is too big and dominant for corners to guard him, yet too athletic for linebackers. If the Vikings can isolate Gates in the passing game, they could force Rivers to make some mistakes.

    How, you ask? By eliminating Jackson and Floyd from the equation.

    This is where the Vikings corners come in. One-on-one, any of the three aforementioned CBs could match up with Malcolm Floyd, but Jackson is more difficult to cover.

    It will be up to, probably, Griffin to match up against Vincent Jackson. If he can keep up with the talented receiver, he may be able to give the Vikings a chance at isolating Gates in the passing game, allowing his teammates to make plays against the tight-end routes.

    If the Vikings can slow down the Chargers' passing game, they will completely level the playing field. This is simply because the Chargers run-game has fallen so far since the departure of LaDainian Tomlinson.

Pass-Rush Needs to Shake Up Rivers

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    The Vikings' front four has always, like since the beginning of the franchise, been the strength of their passionate defense. From the days of the Purple People Eaters to the days of the Williams Wall, it has always been difficult to run the ball against this team.

    For a few years leading up to last season, the Vikings defense had no problem getting to the QB either. Jared Allen was one of the league's most feared pass-rushers; however, his performance did not meet expectations in 2010.

    Jared Allen is not the only talented pass-rusher on this defense. Both Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have showed the ability to get after the QB while showing responsibility in containing outside rushes as well.

    There is no doubt in my mind that this defensive line will be back to their dominant play, where it's impossible to move the ball on the ground.

    That leaves things up to the defensive ends and outside linebackers to get after Phillip Rivers and create problems in the backfield. If they can accomplish that, they should be able to disrupt the timing in the passing game, creating opportunities for the secondary to make plays.

    This will be a true test for the Vikings defense—if they can put pressure on Rivers, who has a pretty strong offensive line, they should be able to swing the game in their favor.

Stay Healthy!

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    The Vikings were forced to sit one of their big offensive playmakers, Visanthe Shiancoe, through the preseason because of a nagging hamstring injury.

    It was right of the team's staff to keep Shiancoe from participating, but it will be difficult for the No. 1 tight end to build some essential chemistry with the new QBs on the roster.

    Fortunately for the Vikings, Shiancoe is presumed to be healthy now and should be available for Sunday's game. This doesn't change the fact, though, that the Vikings will need to continue to be cautious about injuries.

    Realistically, it should have been impossible for the Packers to win the Super Bowl last season because of how many injuries their roster sustained. Likewise, I guarantee the Vikings have no shot at a playoff berth if they sustain too many injuries.

    This means that they must be extra careful early in the season, because the players might not be up to the shape they need to after the abbreviated preseason.

    Making smart coaching decisions regarding injury will be imperative for the Vikings, not only for this week's matchup, but for the sake of the entire season. The Vikings simply cannot afford to have one of their better players go down.


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