Scouting the Schedule: Vikings


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We’ve made it to Halloween now, and this is an area of no rest for the Patriots. Following Baltimore and a cross-country trip to San Diego, New England comes home to face a Vikings team that was a couple of slips away (and maybe even just one misguided throw-across-the-body) from the Super Bowl last year.

The big question is obvious, and the answer seems to be too. Chances are, Brett Favre’s playing a 20th NFL season this fall. To get more on that, and everything else Vikings related, we turn to Minneapolis Star-Tribune beat writer Judd Zulgad (check out his coverage here and his blog here) ….

Where they’re good: If Brett Favre comes back for a 20th NFL season, as everyone expects, the Vikings will return all of their starters from a team that went 12-4 last season and advanced to the NFC title game. This means the Vikings again will be loaded on offense, with Adrian Peterson (1,383 yards rushing) at running back, Sidney Rice (1,312 yards receiving), Percy Harvin (six touchdown catches) and Bernard Berrian (55 receptions) at wide receiver and Visanthe Shiancoe (11 TD catches) at tight end. Favre, who will turn 41 in October, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, having thrown for 4,202 yards with 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions.

The Vikings continued to be one of the NFL’s best against the run last season, finishing second (87.1 yards given up per game) to the Green Bay Packers. The defensive tackle duo of Kevin and Pat Williams anchors the middle of the line and makes it difficult for teams to run against Minnesota. The Vikings also have one of the NFL’s top pass rushers in Pro Bowl right end Jared Allen, who finished second in the league last year with 14.5 sacks. Allen also had 14.5 sacks for the Vikings in 2008, his first season with the team.

The big camp questions: Favre, of course, is the biggest question mark. He did not join the Vikings last season until after they had broken training camp in Mankato, Minn., and it’s expected there will be a repeat performance this year.


Up for debate is whether Favre will play in the second preseason game
or only in the third exhibition. Last year, Favre saw action in
preseason games Nos. 2-3 for Minnesota. However, the Vikings will play
at San Francisco on Aug. 22 and there is a feeling Favre might not make
that trip. That would mean his only tune-up would come on Aug. 28
against Seattle at the Metrodome. (As is the case around the league,
most starters will not play in the fourth game.)

On an un-Favre related note, it will be interesting to see what type of
progress Peterson has made this offseason now that veteran Chester
Taylor has left. Taylor, who signed with Chicago as a free agent, was
used extensively on third down and in two-minute situations because of
his ability as a receiver and in pass protection. Peterson definitely needs to make strides in the latter area and will
be expected to be much improved. Peterson also needs to prove he can
consistently hold onto the football.

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He has fumbled 20 times and lost 13 in his first three seasons,
including seven fumbles (six lost) in 2009. That doesn’t include the
two fumbles he had in the Vikings’ loss to New Orleans in the NFC title
game. Peterson also took responsibility for a third miscue that was
charged to Favre late in the first half deep in New Orleans territory. If Peterson continues to struggle with fumbles there is a chance
second-round pick Toby Gerhart (Stanford) could see an increased role.

It remains to be seen if cornerback Cedric Griffin (ACL) and middle
linebacker E.J. Henderson (broken leg) will be able to return for the
start of camp. Both are optimistic about their recoveries but it seems
a long shot either will be back that quickly. That means the newly
signed Lito Sheppard could open as the starting right corner and
second-year player Jasper Brinkley could be the middle linebacker.

This needs to happen to win big: Most importantly, Favre needs to
return. If Favre surprises everyone and decides to retire, the Vikings
could go from being one of the favorites in the NFC to being a middle
of the pack team.

Tarvaris Jackson almost certainly would be the starter if Favre
retires, and he has yet to prove he can be consistent in that role
since being selected in the second round of the 2006 draft.
Rice, who is still recovering from a hip injury suffered in the
playoffs, is going to need to repeat his outstanding performance of
2009 and Harvin is going to have to remain a versatile threat. Harvin
also was a standout as a kick returner (27.5-yard average and two
touchdowns) and was elected to the Pro Bowl for his contributions in
that area.

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Harvin, though, battled migraine headaches for much of his
rookie season and even missed a game because of the problem. Harvin
went to the highly respected Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., last
winter and came away with a plan that he and the team hopes can help
manage the problem.

The Vikings are going to need improved play from safeties Tyrell
Johnson and Madieu Williams, who combined for one interception last
season. The Vikings’ play a Tampa-2 scheme which frequently means the
safeties aren’t in position to pick off passes.

However, Johnson and Williams lack of aggressiveness at times was
probably the most concerning factor about their play. Jamarca Sanford,
a seventh-round pick in 2009, could challenge either Johnson or
Williams for a starting job.

Where they stack up: The Vikings will be looking to win a third
consecutive NFC North title but it’s not going to be easy. Minnesota’s
schedule is more difficult this season than it was in 2009 and the
Green Bay Packers look as if they could give the Vikings a real run for
the division crown. The Vikings swept Favre’s former team last year but
that’s going to be hard to do with Aaron Rodgers being a year better.

The Chicago Bears also should be improved. The Bears and Vikings split
last season with Chicago winning in overtime in the  second-to-last
game of the season. In his second season with the Bears, Jay Cutler
should be that much more comfortable at quarterback. Nonetheless, if Favre is running the show in Minnesota, the Vikings will be expected to make another run at the Super Bowl.

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SCOUTING THE SCHEDULE SERIES
Wednesday: Bengals
Thursday: Jets
Friday: Bills
Saturday: Ravens
Yesterday: Chargers

Today: Vikings
Tomorrow: Browns