The Vikings opened the 2014 season with a dominating 34-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday behind a total team effort in Mike Zimmer's debut as head coach. Defensively, the Vikings collected five sacks and two interceptions, and they didn't allow a touchdown. Offensively, the Vikings gave the Rams a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson, sprinkled in plenty of Cordarrelle Patterson and attacked through the air with efficiency and precision. Up next is a date with the New England Patriots, who will come to Minnesota angry and determined after dropping their season opener to division rival Miami.
What else can we take away from Sunday's win? And what's in store for this weekend's game against the Patriots? Here are three lessons and three questions as the NFL calendar nears Week 2.* *
1. Zimmer's defense is diverseThrough four preseason games and one regular season game, it's clear that you just never know what kind of look the Vikings defense is going to give. Case and point is the first 3rd down of the game for St. Louis. It was 3rd and 8 from the Rams 42, and the Vikings were in their nickel defense. Zimmer had Anthony Barr lined up at LDE, Everson Griffen at RDE and Tom Johnson and Brian Robison at DT. Chad Greenway and Gerald Hodges were the linebackers, and both were lined up over the A gap. Harrison Smith was lined up on the line of scrimmage showing blitz, and in total the Vikings had 10 players on the line of scrimmage and eight in the box. At the snap, Griffen dropped into coverage, Greenway and Smith blitzed, and Hodges dropped into coverage, redirected the receiver in his zone, and fell off his coverage to close on TE Jared Cook to make a tackle short of the 1st down marker. It's just one play and it was early in the game, but it illustrates how aggressive and diverse Zimmer's defense can be.
2. The threat of Adrian Peterson did open up other parts of the offenseDon't fall into the trap of concluding that the Vikings found a way to produce on offense despite not getting much from Adrian Peterson. Make no mistake about it – the Vikings offense was able to produce *because *Peterson was held in check. Yes, the Rams did a decent job of keeping Peterson in check, holding him to 75 yards rushing on 21 attempts. But while the Rams were ganging up to stop No. 28, other parts of the Vikings offense were getting loose, namely Cordarrelle Patterson. The sensational sophomore rushed three times for 102 yards and a touchdown, plus he added three receptions for 26 yards. Patterson's ability to press the edge of the Rams defense was enhanced by Peterson's presence as a downhill runner against the Rams defense. Most people look for the downfield passing game to emerge as a result of defense's respecting Peterson, and that may happen in time. But playing on the road against the Rams defensive front was not the place to bring out the seven-step drops and downfield passing game. Instead, Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner wisely looked for more conservative ways to exploit the Rams defense as it sold out to stop Peterson.
3. Gerald Hodges is coming into his own as a valuable role playerThe aforementioned play by Hodges on the first 3rd down snap of the game for the Vikings defense is just one of several examples of plays made by Hodges. He flashed on that play with his execution of a redirect on a passing route, falling off the coverage and then pursuing to close on a tackle. Hodges flashed a few other times during the game, too, including on the Vikings first kickoff of the game when he flew down the field to make a tackle.
"There's a lot of really good things about Gerald," Zimmer said. "Gerald is a very good athlete, he's got some physicality, he's got some pass rush, which I always look at, at that position, to see if they can blitz. He seems to be keeping his nose to the grindstone."
1. Will DT Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes be available on Sunday?The Vikings defense paced Sunday's win over the Rams, but two young, valuable parts of the defense came away from the victory with injuries. DT Sharrif Floyd and CB Xavier Rhodes are dealing with injuries, and their status will remain up in the air until another update is provided by Zimmer. On Monday, Zimmer described their status for now as "day-to-day."
2. Will Turner open up the downfield passing game vs. New England?The Vikings were wise to focus on the running game and the short passing game against the Rams. St. Louis was having a hard enough time stopping that, and asking Matt Cassel to drop deep in the pocket and wait for receivers to break open down the field may have been playing into the Rams hands. But will things change this Sunday against New England? The Patriots pass defense is nothing at which to sneeze, but the Vikings will be playing at home and the offensive line is coming off an impressive performance against a stout Rams defensive front.
View images from the regular season opener in St. Louis against the Rams.
3. Will Sunday be a record-setting day?Sunday's game against the Patriots marks the 2014 home opener for the Vikings, and it has the potential to be quite the notable home opener. Aside from being the Vikings first regular season game at TCF Bank Stadium in a two-season stretch while their new stadium is being built, Sunday's game is also an opportunity for Vikings records to fall and for a personal milestone to be reached.
-- Adrian Peterson needs 78 net yards to break Cris Carter's record (12,410) for the most combined net yards in a career for a Viking.
-- Peterson also needs three touchdowns s to break Randy Moss' record (93) for the second-most touchdowns in Vikings history. Cris Carter leads the franchise with 110 touchdowns.
-- Greg Jennings's next reception will be the 500th of his career.
-- Marcus Sherels' next punt return touchdown will give him three for his career and will set a new Vikings record for career punt return touchdowns.