Vikings at Patriots
Today, 4:15 p.m., Channel 25 (Line: Patriots by 6)
When the Patriots runThe Patriots continue to get decent production in the ground game despite not having a true bell cow runner. BenJarvus Green-Ellis usually gets the first shot. Green-Ellis shows flashes of being a big-time back but is still too inconsistent to be counted on for large stretches. At 5 feet 11 inches, 215 pounds, he has solid size, runs hard, and generally falls forward. He has decent quickness and vision but too often is indecisive and will run into his own blockers. Call it the Laurence Maroney influence. Up next is Danny Woodhead. A little spark plug with a quick first step and excellent vision and instincts, Woodhead almost always makes the first man miss and is adept at avoiding big hits. Sammy Morris may get a couple of totes at best. The Vikings have a stout run defense, led by towering tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. Kevin (6-5, 311) has tremendous burst and strength but lacks stamina. Pat (6-3, 317) is hard to move and will occupy multiple blockers. He has deceptive quickness and will make plays in the backfield. New England’s interior three of center Dan Koppen (he’s smart and consistent) and guards Stephen Neal (he’s athletic) and Dan Connolly (he’s steady) will have trouble moving the Williamses. Linebackers Chad Greenway (he’s explosive), E.J. Henderson (he covers much ground), and Ben Leber (he has a nonstop motor) deliver big hits.
When the Patriots passAside from a few flashes here and there, Tom Brady hasn’t looked like Tom Brady this season. His passes have lacked zip, and too many end up at the feet of his receivers. He hasn’t been given a ton of time, hasn’t been able to get the ball to Wes Welker consistently, and the deep threat just isn’t there. That being said, he’s still Tom Brady and the Patriots are 5-1. Brady excels at getting everyone involved. His favorite target is the open guy, but he does have a special affinity for Welker and Deion Branch. Welker hasn’t been able to gain the quick separation that has been his hallmark. Branch is a tremendous route runner with consistent hands. He is fearless going over the middle and uses quick feet to gain separation. Brandon Tate has been a beast on special teams, but that explosiveness hasn’t translated to the offense. Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez (excellent hands, great after the catch) and Rob Gronkowski (a huge target) have been tremendous additions. Antoine Winfield is the Vikings’ most consistent cornerback. He has the strength to play press coverage and specializes in rerouting receivers. Fellow corners Asher Allen (confident and aggressive) and Chris Cook (raw but athletic) will make plays. Safeties Husain Abdullah and Madieu Williams are big hitters.
When the Vikings runAdrian Peterson has long been one of the NFL’s most consistent and toughest running backs. A 6-foot-1-inch, 217-pound mobile monster, Peterson is an aggressive runner who has the strength to break tackles and the power to run over defenders. He will consistently lower his shoulder and deliver a blow. He also has the quickness and speed to consistently turn the corner and break off long runs. He’s the rare back who is equally comfortable banging between the tackles and exploiting cutback lanes. Peterson runs upright, leaving him susceptible to big hits and fumbles. Toby Gerhart is a load. A 6-foot, 231-pound banger with excellent vision and patience, Gerhart looks like a fullback but runs like a tailback. He has good balance and vision but lacks quickness and speed. As long as Peterson is healthy, Gerhart’s carries will be limited. Left guard Steve Hutchinson (6-5, 313) is fun to watch. A rugged, smart, and consistent performer, Hutchinson has excellent quickness and pop. He can stun defenders with power and excels at pulling and trapping. Center John Sullivan (he has a powerful punch) and right guard Anthony Herrera (ditto) are above average. Massive Patriot space eaters Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren create room for linebackers Jerod Mayo (he’s everywhere) and Brandon Spikes (he’s instinctive) to blow up ball carriers.
When the Vikings passBrett Favre brings his considerable talent (and baggage) to Gillette today. How many acts this drama has left is anyone’s guess. Despite myriad bumps and bruises, Favre is still a productive quarterback. An old-school gunslinger, Favre makes great pre-snap reads, and his ball fakes are still among the best. Elbow woes have sapped him of his ability to fit hard spirals into tight spaces consistently but he still has above-average arm strength. Ankle woes have robbed him of his lateral quickness, but thanks to adrenaline, he can still buy pocket time with his footwork. But just as sure as there will be trick-or-treaters ringing your bell tonight, that ill-advised crunch-time pass is coming. Speaking of adrenaline, there will be plenty pumping through Randy Moss today. Moss’s combination of explosiveness, athleticism, and body control makes him a nightmare to cover. There isn’t a defensive back on the Patriots roster than can cover him one-on-one, so the safeties will have to play over the top and pound the enthusiasm out of their former mate. Vikings receiver Percy Harvin is an extraordinary and fluid athlete with the speed and moves to ditch corners and exploit the middle of the field. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is a smooth runner with great hands who has become one of Favre’s most consistent targets.
Vikings' key playerAdrian Peterson
Thanks to the ongoing soap opera that is Brett Favre, and the acquisition of Randy Moss, the league’s best all-around running back has been able to fly under the radar this season. Not today.
How he beats you: With power and speed. Peterson thrives on contact and will inflict as much punishment as he absorbs. When defenses wear down, he steps up and hits home runs.
How to shut him down: With multiple body blows. Big linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes must deliver the hits early and try to jar the ball loose. Peterson has battled fumble-itis throughout his career.
Vikings' keys to victory1. Smashmouth: Keep giving Adrian Peterson the ball until he begs off the field. If and when he does, give it to Toby Gerhart and see what he can do.
2. Bubble boy: It’s imperative to protect Brett Favre. If he gets battered early, it forces Tarvaris Jackson into play. That isn’t what the Vikings want.
3. Deep thoughts: Randy Moss will want to show off for his former friends. Target him early (he’s likely to draw rookie corner Devin McCourty) and see if he still has it.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Groove line: Tom Brady has to get into a rhythm early. This team can’t expect to get away with another poor start and escape with a victory.
2. Tackle football: Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer have to keep sackmeister Jared Allen off Brady’s back. Allen (who has struggled) is due for a breakout game.
3. Stay the course: The run defense has been a huge surprise. They will need another huge game (this means you, Vince Wilfork) to force the game into Brett Favre’s hands.