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3 Matchups To Watch On Sunday

Posted Sep 11, 2009

Every Friday during the regular season, vikings.com will look at 3 matchups that will help determine the outcome of the Vikings upcoming game.

In addition to the 7 games that feature divisional matchups, including an NFC North battle between the Packers and Bears on Sunday night, there are also several noteworthy individual matchups across the NFL in Week 1. Jets OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson vs. Texans DE Mario Williams. Bears QB Jay Cutler vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. And 49ers CB Nate Clements vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald.

But there is one matchup that ranks above the rest, and it’ll be played out in Cleveland on Sunday. DE Jared Allen vs. OT Joe Thomas.

You could make a solid argument that both Allen and Thomas are the best players in the NFL at their positions. Adding even more intrigue to this matchup is the nature of DE vs. LT matchups – they are often truly 1 vs. 1 matchups with high stakes. On any given play, either the DE wins and sacks the QB, or the LT wins and neutralizes what could be the defense’s most lethal threat.

Thomas stands at 6-6, 312 pounds, and possesses the perfect blend of size, strength and agility. It is these physical traits, and his dominance while playing for the University of Wisconsin, that made him into a player worthy of the 3rd overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. Since being drafted, Thomas has done nothing but prove his billing. He’s been to the Pro Bowl in both of his years in the league and looks to be the type of cornerstone player a franchise will depend on for a decade.

The 2nd part to this outstanding matchup is Allen, who tallied 14.5 sacks in his 1st season with the Vikings in 2008 and also added another Pro Bowl berth to his impressive list of credentials. Allen is an outstanding speed rusher on the edge, but he also possesses a nice repertoire of pass rush moves to the inside. Because he’s effective going to the inside as well as the outside, and because of his power and strength, Allen is also a premier player against the run. The Browns face a game-planning dilemma of whether they should attack the Vikings defense behind their best blocker (Thomas), or stay away from Allen and attack somewhere else, which neutralizes Thomas’ Pro Bowl abilities to some extent.

This is a great matchup, and one scouts and coaches from across the league will probably take time to go back and look at for their own interest and curiosity.

C John Sullivan vs. DT Shaun Rogers

Sullivan is a 2nd-year player, but this will be his 1st year as a starting center after sitting and learning from Matt Birk in 2008. And like Jared Allen, Sullivan may see his toughest matchup of the season in Week 1. At 6-4, 301 pounds, Sullivan has the standard build and measurables of an NFL center. According to his teammates and coaches, Sullivan has done an excellent job preparing for this season, both physically and mentally. He’s displayed the headiness and blocking ability to anchor the middle of the line. But, just as Birk did for the Vikings, Sullivan has also shown the ability to get out and block on the run in screen pass and pulling situations. On Sunday, the Vikings will certainly be able to gauge Sullivan’s readiness to be the team’s starter at center in 2009.

Rogers, a 2-time Pro Bowler, is a dominating force in the middle of the line due to his sheer strength and massive size – he’s 6-4, 350 pounds. He can knife through the offensive line to disrupt run plays and he’s also quick enough to push the pocket and pressure the passer. Having spent 2001-2007 in Detroit, Rogers is familiar with the Vikings. But on Sunday he’ll go against a man he’s never faced.

Even with the additions of QB Brett Favre and WR Percy Harvin, make no mistake that the Vikings bread and butter is the run game with Adrian Peterson. Sullivan’s ability to fend off Rogers will go a long way towards determining the success of the Vikings offense.

Joshua Cribbs vs. Vikings Kick Coverage Units

After significant early-season struggles in the kick coverage units during 2008, due partially to the loss of kick coverage ace Heath Farwell, the Vikings began improving near the end of the year. And this past preseason, with the exception of a return by Dallas in the preseason finale, the Vikings kick coverage unit has been much improved. On Sunday, the Vikings will be put to the test as they try to contain Cribbs, one of the league’s best return men.

Cribbs, who returns both kickoffs and punts, has good speed. But perhaps the main reason for his success as a returner is his size and strength, which leads to his fearless style. At 6-1, 215 pounds, Cribbs is bigger than most returners, and therein lies the challenge of stopping him. Not only must you catch him, but then you have to bring him down.

The importance of this matchup manifests itself in field position. Being on the road in the season opener, the Vikings will want to establish the ground game and control the clock. Those tasks become much easier with favorable field position, something that can only be attained if the Vikings can contain Cribbs and make the Browns offense attempt to drive the ball on a long field.