Saturday, December 3, 2016

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The Minnesota Vikings’ defense pounded Philip Rivers with four sacks and held the San Diego Chargers to just 3.2 yards per carry. Adrian Peterson stiff armed, bounced and pounded his way to 126 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries as the Vikings took care of business for the second consecutive week at TCF Bank Stadium.

A relentless defensive effort slowed the Chargers passing attack and held River to 21 of 34 for 246 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. The defensive performance was so dominate that River was pulled from the game after a hit from Anthony Barr knocked the wind out of him. Eric Kendericks led the team with 9 solo tackles and Barr contributed a good game with 6 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

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Eight years in the making

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The Vikings return home a week after dominating division rival Detroit Lions, and the optimism that surrounded this team before the season began is suddenly back. Behind strong performances from Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater, and Mike Zimmer’s deep defensive line, the Minnesota Vikings turned their young season around at TCF Bank Stadium.

This week, they play host to the San Diego Chargers in what should be a competitive matchup between two potential playoff contenders. Lindsey Young thinks Adrian Peterson will have a big day on the ground — if he holds onto the footballBrent LaBathe, on the other hand, previewed the Vikings’ defense and thinks Philip Rivers could be in for a long day if Everson Griffen and Co. develop a consistent pass rush.

I also previewed a particularly intriguing matchup — San Diego’s pass-catching running backs versus Minnesota’s young linebacker corps. Both Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead are threats out of the backfield, and the Vikings will need to improve their play in coverage to be successful this afternoon.

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Phil Loadholt is already done for the season, John Sullivan won’t return to the field until at least the second half of the year, and before the release of today’s inactive list, fans worried left guard Brandon Fusco would miss the Vikings’ Week 3 matchup with the San Diego Chargers.

Fear not — Fusco has cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol, is active for today’s game, and will likely start. Seven other players, however, will not suit up against the Chargers. They include:

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The San Diego Chargers arrived in Minnesota with one of the league’s most potent offenses, a triple-headed attack led by wide receiver Keenan Allen, rookie running back Melvin Gordon, and veteran quarterback Philip Rivers. Their success starts with Rivers’s intelligence at the line of scrimmage and ends with his unorthodox throwing motion — a combination shot put, Tim Tebow release that’s led to a miraculous 81.2 percent completion percentage through two games in 2015.

Those three, however, are just a small piece of this West Coast puzzle. Next to Allen, Steve Johnson has solidified himself as the Chargers’ number two receiver with his quick feet and penchant for winning in the slot. Malcolm Floyd, San Diego’s deep threat, is averaging 28 yards per catch in 2015. And behind Gordon, Branden Oliver is contributing on special teams, in the passing game, and on the ground.

Even without veteran tight end Antonio Gates (lost to a four-game suspension) and his backup, Ladarius Green (progressing through concussion protocol and questionable for today’s game), the Chargers are finding ways to win, whether on the ground or through the air. More than that, they’re finding ways to win in all shapes and sizes, no matter how big or how small.

Danny Woodhead, for example, stands just 5’9″ and weighs 200 pounds. Next to Chargers left tackle King Dunlap, he looks like a child. But Woodhead’s ability with the football has been vital to San Diego’s success in 2015, and he’s one of the most important players to watch against the Vikings this afternoon.

If Woodhead’s streak of six-plus targets a game continues, and he continues to make linebackers miss in space, the trio of Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Gerald Hodges could be in for a long game.

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