The Vikings host the New England Patriots in the 2014 home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Mike Zimmer will make his regular season home debut and the Vikings will make their regular season debut in their temporary home while their new stadium is being built on the site of the Metrodome.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Patriots prepare to battle.
1. Vikings Pass Rush Looks to Stay HotThe Vikings pass rush got off to a hot start this season, pressuring Rams quarterbacks all game last week while collecting five sacks along the way to victory. The defense's next task? Defending Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. Brady has a career regular season record of 148-46 (.763), and a 3-0 lifetime mark against the Vikings. But the good news is you don't have to reinvent the wheel to get the job done against Brady. The best way to get Brady off his game is to pressure him. Two things happen when a quarterback is pressured – either he's sacked or he has to throw the ball earlier than he wants. Sacks are drive killers, and throwing earlier than desired can lead to lower completion percentages and lower yards per attempt. In wins, Brady completes 65.1% of his passes and averages 7.84 yards per attempt, while in losses Brady completes just 58.4% of his passes and averages just 6.29 yards per attempt.
Pressuring Brady does not necessarily mean rushing more than four defenders at him. Against the blitz in 2013, Brady had nine touchdowns and just one interception and a passer rating of 95.25. The Vikings may mix in blitz packages against Brady, but it's also important they find a way to pressure Brady with their front four so the back end of the defense can focus on coverage.
2. Will Adrian Peterson Get Loose Against Patriots Defense?
Last week in St. Louis, Adrian Peterson rushed for 75 yards on 21 carries. At first blush, some may look at that as an average day for the best running back in the NFL. A deeper look, though, reveals that while Peterson didn't surpass the 100-yard threshold, his rushing performance was key to victory. The Rams spent so much effort and dedicated so many resources toward neutralizing Peterson that other parts of the Vikings offense, namely Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, got loose.
Might thing be different this week? The Rams have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL, so it should come as no surprise that they were a good match for Peterson. The Patriots have a solid defense, as well, and a defensive mastermind in Bill Belichick calling the shots. But they did surrender 191 rushing yards, including 134 yards and a touchdown to Knowshon Moreno. This all sets the stage for a great showdown between a running back who is looking for his first breakout performance of the season and a defense stinging from last week and surely on the way to fixing some issues.
3. Record Watch – Jennings, Peterson, Sherels Chase Vikings RecordsFor those Vikings history buffs in the crowd, Sunday's game against the Patriots carries opportunity for a few records to be broken. 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.
4. Vikings Look to Establish New Home-Field AdvantageOver 32 seasons at the Metrodome, the Vikings and their fans established one of the most significant home-field advantages in the NFL. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, the Vikings have amassed the fourth-most home wins, with a 227-113-1 record in that span. Only Pittsburgh (245), Denver (236) and Miami (228) have more.
On Sunday, the Vikings will make their regular season debut in a new home stadium. While they will play at TCF Bank Stadium for just two seasons, developing a home-field advantage in the building is still important. A 2-0 preseason record represents a good first start for the Vikings and their fans, but Sunday's game marks the first regular season game in their new temporary home and it marks the first opportunity for fans to make life difficult for the opposition while cheering their team on to victory.
5. Cassel, Patriots Renew AcquaintancesThis is a storyline that has little-to-no actual impact on how Sunday's game will unfold, but it is a storyline that will be talked about in the days leading up to Sunday's Vikings-Patriots contest. Vikings starting quarterback Matt Cassel began his NFL career with the Patriots. New England selected Cassel with a seventh-round pick in 2005, and the 6-4, 228-pound passer spent four seasons learning behind future a Hall of Famer in Brady. The 2009 season was Cassel's last in New England, as he spent 2010-12 with the Kansas City Chiefs before joining the Vikings in 2013.