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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings-Lions: 5 Storylines To Watch

Mike Wobschall

It’s finally here. The regular season is upon us. The Vikings open the 2013 season this Sunday by playing the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in the Motor City, with kickoff slated for noon CT. This marks the first time the Vikings have opened with a road division game since 2008 and it’s just the second time in franchise history the Vikings have opened at Detroit.

The Vikings swept the season series against the Lions last year and seek their second consecutive regular season opener victory. In the 2012 opener, the Vikings beat the Jaguars 26-23 in overtime, thanks to a two-touchdown performance from Adrian Peterson and four field goals from Blair Walsh.

But that’s all in the past. Let’s take a look ahead at five things to watch this week as the Vikings prepare to face the Lions in Week 1…

1. Rule No. 76: No excuses. Play like a champion!
The Vikings offense boasts the NFL’s MVP and added two talented receivers – Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson – to help bolster the passing game. Following the preseason, though, many Vikings fans are less than inspired about the prospects for their offense. It should be noted that Adrian Peterson played just two snaps all preseason and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave wisely kept his best plays close to the vest. I favored that approach during the exhibition season, but now the regular season is upon us and it’s time to unleash without holding back. As Jeremy Grey, played by Vince Vaughn, said in Wedding Crashers, “Rule No. 76: No excuses. Play like a champion!” That’s what I anticipate the Vikings offense will do on Sunday, with Peterson and the offensive line setting the tone and opening up the passing game for quarterback Christian Ponder and his improved crop of pass catchers.


2. Vikings young secondary tested early
For much of the preseason I’ve proclaimed my excitement for how the Vikings secondary has looked. While Chris Cook is healthy and Harrison Smith is poised for a Pro Bowl appearance entering his second season, it’s Xavier Rhodes whom fans should be most excited about in terms of the potential to be a playmaker in the secondary. The group as a whole will be tested early in the season, with a Week 2 trip to Soldier Field to see Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall preceded by this week’s trip to Detroit to see Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Also, let’s not forget that Detroit added Reggie Bush to their offense. While he may not be a bell cow who can take over a game on the ground, he is an elite player in open space and I expect Detroit will use him in the screen game ad nauseam.  No team threw more times than Detroit did last season. In fact, no one was close, as Detroit threw it 740 times and the second-highest total after that was New Orleans with 671 attempts. Johnson – a.k.a. Megatron – cashed in by breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage record. Yeah, this week will be a tough test for our young secondary, but the good news is I think they’re up for the challenge.

3. Special teams will be a difference-maker on Sunday
Vikings fans have great memories of last season’s game at Ford Field. It was a victory, and along the way to victory the Vikings returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. While Detroit has a new special teams coordinator and they most certainly made this a point of emphasis during the offseason and preseason, the Vikings remain one of the top special teams units in the League and they’ve added a spectacular playmaker to the group in Patterson. The rookie from Tennessee put his playmaking skills on display right away in the team’s first preseason game, taking the opening kickoff back 50 yards and nearly breaking free for a touchdown. If Patterson gets his hands on a kickoff this weekend, he just may finish the job and get to paydirt. On top of that, Sherels is probably itching for another return touchdown in the Motor City, Blair Walsh will enjoy kicking in the controlled climate of Ford Field, and Jeff Locke seems poised for a solid rookie season after impressing in the preseason.


4. Sharrif Floyd steps in right away
The status of Kevin Williams remains unclear as he tries to make it back from the knee injury he sustained in San Francisco, but whether he plays or not it seems as if Floyd will see quite a bit of the field. The prevailing thought for many, including yours truly, was that Floyd would sit behind Williams for much of his rookie season and learn from one of the best defensive linemen in franchise history while playing 15-20 snaps a game. But after a great training camp and two productive and disruptive preseason outings, perhaps Floyd is ready for the big show right away. Detroit has a pair of disruptive game-changers at defensive tackle in Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, so it’ll be fun to bring one of our own to Detroit to see how he compares early in his rookie season.


5. Will Detroit’s dominant defensive tackles dominate?
Speaking of Fairley and Suh, they should be Topic A for the Vikings offense as they prepare this week to play the Lions. A lot of football followers believe in building a defense on the edges by investing high picks and free agency money on defensive ends and cornerbacks, but Detroit chose to spend – and spend wisely – on strong, physical tackles who can push the pocket into the quarterbacks face and blow up a running play before it can get started. Fairley was a first-round pick (No. 13 overall) in 2011 and Suh was also a first-round pick (No. 2 overall) back in 2010. Together, they form a formidable and disruptive tandem in the middle of Detroit’s defense and the Vikings offense must figure out how to avoid allowing them to ruin the game. The Vikings have the weapons on offense to strike against this defense, but scheme and protection will be key this week in order to neutralize the strength of this defense.

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