In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Browns preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As we sit here just hours before the Vikings home opener, the last home opener in the life of Mall of America Field, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Browns today.
-- For the second consecutive week we’ve heard the Vikings talk about their intention to get Cordarrelle Patterson more offensive snaps. He had five in Detroit and six in Chicago, and when you add in his return touches both in the preseason and the regular season, all we’ve seen from him is big-play potential. Consider this: In preseason and regular season action, Patterson has a total of 20 touches for 405 yards and one touchdown. That’s 20.25 yards per touch. Obviously that doesn’t mean that if the Vikings give Patterson a touch it’s a guaranteed 20 yards, but it does mean Patterson has already displayed an ability to pick up yards in big chunks, and right now that’s what this offense is missing. While the Vikings weren’t able to make good on their intention to get Patterson more snaps last week, I do believe we’ll see a significant increase in snaps for him this week, and that will be fun to watch.
-- This could be a big game for Blair Walsh. It’s a home game, so he’ll be kicking in the controlled environment of Mall of America Field, which should mean a bountiful amount of touchbacks, which puts the Vikings defense in a good position. The Vikings defense already has the advantage of going against a third-string quarterback and an offense missing Trent Richardson, so adding the advantage of field position will only help matters. On top of that, this is a team with a defense that is better than people realize, which means that it could be low scoring, which means excellence from Walsh in the field goal kicking department could give the Vikings the margin they need to pull out a close win. Remember, Walsh was a key player in last year’s home opener with a field goal at the buzzer and then a field goal in overtime to win it – and that, too, was a game many thought the Vikings would win with ease. There are no easy wins in the NFL, and having Walsh today could be a huge advantage for the Vikings.
-- One matchup to watch early in today’s game is that of Vikings center John Sullivan against Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor. Basically Taylor is a mismatch regardless of whom he goes against, so Sullivan will have his hands full. In watching back the Browns game last week at Baltimore, Taylor was dominant from the first snap to the final whistle. If the Vikings are going to establish the run early and protect quarterback Christian Ponder all game, it will be important for Sullivan and the guards on either side of him to control Taylor and not let him penetrate and disrupt.
-- Staying on the offensive line, it was awesome to watch Matt Kalil respond to a so-so outing in Detroit with a dominant outing against Julius Peppers in Chicago. The Vikings need another dominant Kalil performance again today if they are to move the ball. With the Browns 3-4 alignment, Kalil may see a different face across from him on a snap-to-snap basis, but regardless of which guys comes at him, it’s going to be a talented player. Most of the time it’ll be outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, a converted defensive end. He has 15.5 sacks the past two seasons and has led his club in that department in both seasons. If it’s not Sheard, it’ll be either right defensive end Desmond Bryant or rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Those two are very different players, but both are very talented. Mingo is an explosive edge rusher, Bryant is a nasty, gritty run defender who has carved his spot in the NFL after going undrafted out of Harvard.
-- Last one, and I want to point a spotlight on defensive tackle Letroy Guion. He had a great game in Chicago last week, even coming up with a big takeaway in the 4th quarter. He dealt with some pesky injuries in camp, but when he was healthy he was looking as good as I’ve seen him look since he was drafted here. Maybe he’s starting to put some things together.