The newspaper version of the Star Tribune allows us to point out three potential keys to each game, but Access Vikings gives us unlimited space in which we can try to break things down. Thus, here are five things to keep an eye on Sunday as the Vikings play host to the Colts.
1) Blitz show: The Vikings and Bears both use the Cover-2 scheme known as the Tampa-2 as their primary defensive look. One principle of the Tampa-2 is that the front four must generate a consistent pass rush without a lot of blitzing help. But anyone who watched the Bears open the season with a 29-13 victory over the Colts last Sunday knows Chicago showed blitz against Peyton Manning for much of the game. One reason for this was because Bears defensive coordinator Bob Babich knew that with veteran center Jeff Saturday out he could take advantage of inexperienced rookie Jamey Richard. Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier showed a willingness to send blitzes at times last season and is likely to borrow a page from the Bears game plan. The only catch is that Saturday (knee) practiced all last week and might return against the Vikings. Having the Manning-Saturday combination back in place could be huge for the Colts.
2) A second chance: Give Jared Allen credit. The Pro Bowl defensive end did not attempt to make excuses or place blame elsewhere after recording no tackles (forget about sacks) in his Vikings debut on Monday night in Lambeau Field. Allen made it clear he expects far more out of himself and he will get the opportunity to redeem himself today. One thing working in his favor is that Manning, unlike Aaron Rodgers, is not a mobile quarterback and won’t be able to move out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble. The Packers provided left tackle Chad Clifton with help against Allen and the Colts could do the same for second-year left tackle Tony Ugoh. The issue for Allen – and the Vikings defensive line as a whole — is that just because Manning’s isn’t mobile doesn’t mean he’s a sure bet to get sacked. According to STATS Inc., Manning has been sacked on 3.4 percent of his pass plays since entering the league in 1998. That’s the lowest percentage among active quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts. The Bears, by the way, sacked Manning twice.
3) Picking on a rookie: Safety Tyrell Johnson, the Vikings’ second-round pick in last April’s draft, received positive reviews for his play against the Packers. But Johnson’s second NFL start is going to be much tougher. Manning is as well prepared as any quarterback in the league and he certainly knows that with veteran Madieu Williams (neck) still out there is a chance to go after a young defensive back in Johnson. If Johnson can hold his own today, it will be an important step in his maturing process in the NFL.
4) On a run: Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had to like what he saw last week as he watched film of the Colts defense trying to stop Bears rookie Matt Forte. Forte rushed for 123 yards on 23 carries (a 5.3 average) and had a 50-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. As a team, the Bears rushed for 183 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per touch. And that was with Ed Johnson starting at defensive tackle for the Colts; Johnson was released last week after having legal issues. Peterson ran for 103 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown against the Packers and one would figure he could substantially improve those numbers against Indianapolis’ defense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Peterson exceed the 20-carry mark today, assuming the Vikings don’t fall behind and have to air it out.
5) Speaking of the pass game: Maybe it was just me – although a few colleagues in the press box agreed — but it seemed as if Bernard Berrian struggled at times on Monday to get separation from the Packers defensive backs. Brad Childress and Berrian downplayed any talk that the receiver’s big toe still might be bothering him. Today, Berrian gets a chance to prove it. He tied for the team lead in receptions on Monday, but that isn’t saying much considering the number was three. Tarvaris Jackson’s longest pass play of the night was a 24-yarder to Berrian — Sidney Rice’s score on fourth down went for 23 yards. The Vikings need to get more from Jackson, Berrian and everyone else in the pass game if they are going to begin giving defenses a reason to worry.