The Vikings got back to .500 after defeating the Lions in their home opener, and the general morale of the coaching staff and team seems (understandably) much higher than it did following Week 1.
Both teams are 1-1, and while the Vikings will be playing their second consecutive home game, this will be the Chargers’ second road game in a row. The Vikings, who have a 5-6 record all-time against the Chargers, last played San Diego in Week 1 of the 2011 season, a 24-17 Charger win. Before then, the teams hadn’t met since 2007, in which Adrian Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record with 296 yards en route to a win.
Heading into Week 3, what does the offensive match up look like between Minnesota and San Diego?
Although the offensive line has some weak spots due to injuries, previous-concern Matt Kalil has had a great start to his season.
— NFC North Bar Room (@AldoBarkeeper) September 23, 2015
Kalil did an excellent job against Detroit Sunday, and the difference it makes is clear: Teddy Bridgewater was sacked only one time throughout the entire game. The whole line played well, really taking responsibility for protecting its quarterback. Head coach Mike Zimmer felt the same way, as he offered praise for the unit Monday:
I think that going back and thinking of the 18 games that I’ve been here now, they played pretty much with a chip on their shoulder. That may be the first time I’ve really seen them say ‘hey I got you today Coach.’ You know when I go around and shake guys hands before the game about four of those offensive lineman said ‘I got you today Coach.’
Worries surrounded Brandon Fusco earlier this week, but it appears he might be okay for Sunday’s game. Fusco, who transitioned from right guard to left guard for 2015, suffered a concussion and did not practice Wednesday. However, ESPN 1500’s Andrew Krammer reported that Fusco participated in practice Thursday, albeit limited. If Fusco ends up sidelined against the Chargers, let’s hope the replacement can hold his own.
One thing I’m hoping will improve Sunday is the number of penalties the O-Line commits. The unit tallied 10 penalties against the Lions, which translated to 97 yards for its opponents. If Kalil and Co. can continue to block effectively and reduce the number of penalties received, the Vikings will be in a stable place.
Bridgewater looked much more confident last week, presumably because of increased protection from the line and feeling more settled with one game under his belt. Even after looking a bit rough in Week 1, his numbers still reflect a high-caliber quarterback. According to Vikings.com, Bridgewater has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in six of the last seven games. During that same span, he ranks No. 2 among all NFL passers with a 72.6 completion percentage.
If the offensive line can protect Bridgewater and once again keep the sacks at a minimum, I expect him to be confident in the pocket and attempt a few deeper passes.
The second-year quarterback will need to watch out for San Diego’s cornerback Patrick Robinson, who could prove a downfield threat. Over the first two weeks, Robinson has notched one interception and one forced fumble. The Chargers website also reports that outside linebackers Kyle Emanuel and Melvin Ingram have applied the most pressure to quarterbacks.
Thus far, San Diego’s passing defense ranks No. 14 overall, allowing an average of 26 points per game, and has notched two interceptions and only one sack.
One thing is for sure: Week 2’s rushing game looked drastically better than Week 1. Hopefully for Minnesota, the ground game will only get better against San Diego. Peterson rushed for 134 yards against a No.4-ranked Detroit rushing defense; the Chargers’ rushing defense is ranked No. 12.
Peterson historically plays well against San Diego, and establishing a threat early will be critical for the Vikings to grab a second win. While its probably unrealistic to expect another almost-300-yard game, Peterson could easily rack up 150+ yards against the Chargers.
The main concern coming out of Week 2, however, was Peterson’s fumbling. The running back fumbled twice (losing one), which offers flashbacks to past issues Peterson had hanging onto the ball. During 2008 and 2009, Peterson fumbled a total of 18 times. In 2013, he committed five fumbles. Hopefully, last week’s game was just a fluke and did not signify a repeat problem.
Minnesota’s receiving game looked okay last week, but I would like to see it stretch quite a bit moving forward. The fact that the team’s runningback (Peterson) and tight end (Kyle Rudolph) were the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers for the game shows that the Vikings aren’t actually utilizing their wide receiver corps effectively.
I can’t say it’s a negative thing that Peterson racked up 58 receiving yards, and Rudolph—when healthy—has always been a good target, but it’s been disappointing to not see any major connection with Mike Wallace or Charles Johnson over the first two weeks. Johnson drew lots of attention finishing out the 2014 season, but thus far he has just 37 total yards, and Vikings fans have yet to see the flashy plays they’ve been hoping for from Wallace.
Jarius Wright stood out last week with a couple of nice catches, and I expect Bridgewater to seek him out again against the Chargers.
Norv Turner and the Vikings’ offense made things work with primarily short plays and long drives last week, but it’s time for Bridgewater to use the arm, go out on a limb, and make some deep passes.
If the Vikings play like they did last week, especially defensively, they should hold the upper hand at TCF Bank Stadium Sunday. That’s not to say it will be safe to let down their guard, however. Philip Rivers is a dangerous quarterback, and you can rest assured that the Chargers have no intention of going 1-2 to start the 2015 season. They’ll be ready to keep the Vikings on their toes.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Chargers 21