By Curtis "Concudan" Egan
The Chargers 2011 season opens with a bang on September 11, 2011 when the Minnesota Vikings come to town with a team that is very different than the one that took the field for the purple and gold last season.
Both teams come into the week 1 meeting with some big questions to answer. Both teams have some big question marks on Defense. Both teams have big question marks on offense. For the Chargers can they implement a running game to take pressure off of the passer? For the Vikings, can their passing game keep the Chargers from focusing on the run?
Vikings on Defense:
Key Question: Can the Vikings maintain the pass rush they have been known for in the past?
The Vikings Defensive Line took some hits this off season with the defection of pass rush specialist Defensive End (DE), Ray Edwards to the Atlanta Falcons. Edward’s exodus leaves star DE Jared Allen in a position where teams can focus on him. The Chargers have not typically in the past run a lot of double team plays; instead they have relied on help from the Running Backs (RB), Tight Ends (TE) or Full Backs (FB) to slow difficult defenders.
The Vikings also received some bad news this week in regards to their defensive line. Defensive leader, former all-pro and starting Defensive Tackle Kevin Williams will begin serving a two game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. If you recall Williams was involved in a long court battle over a positive tests for the banned diuretic bumetanide in 2008. With that case put to bed, the DT starts his suspension this Sunday. However this actually gives him time to rest, as he is suffering from a bad case of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
The Vikings will have to get some help from the Line Backers (LB) and secondary players to put pressure on the Chargers passing attack. They cant rely on their make shift defensive line to control the line of scrimmage as they have in the past, when the Vikings ranked fist and second against the run in the past two seasons respectively.
Chargers on Offense:
Key Question: Can the Chargers implement a running that that will support the pass?
It is imperative for the Chargers to keep the defenders for blitzing Quarterback (QB) Philip Rivers as if there was no tomorrow. While the Chargers have a very good short passing attack which can help take some of the pressure off, they will have to establish the run and get their offensive backfield, and second year RB Ryan Mathews in particular involved to keep the Vikings defense honest. Mathews has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. Just this preseason he outran the 49’ers defense for a 56 yard touchdown. He will need to be able to move the ball when called upon to help support the pass. RB Mike Tolbert, and Jordan Todman will be called upon for a change of pace to help establish and maintain the run.
The Chargers offensive line will have to run some double teams at Allen in order to prevent him from disrupting the backfield as the plays develop. Look for the Chargers to put two bodies on Allen when they look to go down field deep, in order to give Rivers the opportunity to allow the play to develop.
Chargers on Defense:
Key Question: Can the Chargers stop the run?
The Chargers enter the season with a revamped Defense themselves, and a new Defensive Coordinator (DC). Last seasons DC, Ron Rivera left to take the Head Coaching job with the Carolina Panthers. In his place the Chargers brought back Greg Manusky who was the teams Linebackers coach in 2006. Manusky is known to favor a more attacking style of defense. He and his unit will have a challenge this week with showing that they can stop the run as well as disrupt the Vikings passing attack.
San Diego will look to their big defensive line to plug the holes and force the Vikings rushing attack to go horizontal to allow their line backers a chance to run down the play and hold the Vikings to short yardage gains.
Manusky loves the blitz. He will blitz from the secondary often. The Vikings signal caller is not the most mobile passer out there, but he is a skilled veteran and if the blitz does not work he has the ability to get the ball down field.
Vikings on Offense:
Key Question: Can the Vikings establish the pass?
The Chargers will look to stop the run, and challenge Vikings QB Donovan McNabb to beat them through the air. McNabb has had problems holding on to the ball in his last two seasons, fumbling ten times in each. The Chargers will have to pressure him and try to create turnovers to keep McNabb off rhythm. McNabb has thrown ten or more interceptions in the last two seasons, however what really stands out to me is the number of sacks he has taken. Throughout his career he has always suffered a lot of sacks, his lowest season total is 19, and that came in 2005. Since then he has suffered an average of 35 sacks a season with a high of 44 in 2007, and 35 and 37 in the last two seasons respectively.
McNabb is a gun slinger; he will stand in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball. Look for the Chargers to try and put a lot of pressure on McNabb with outside blitzes. The short off season did not help McNabb any with getting used to the new Offense. The Vikings will have to rely on the run to set up the passing game.
The biggest challenge offensively the Chargers will have to deal with is the running attack of RB Adrian Peterson. Peterson played sparingly in preseason and will be very fresh. In his rookie season he gashed the Chargers defense for 296 yards on 30 carries for a 9.9 yard per carry average. While he has never been able to duplicate that performance he did have three games in 2010 where he ran for over 100 yards, and seven where he had an average yards per carry over 5 yards. He is a dangerous player who if allowed to get to the second level of the defense can easily break long runs.
This game will truly be won or lost in the trenches. The Chargers Offensive line will have to maintain the pocket and develop lanes for the Chargers RBs to exploit. Conversely the Chargers Defensive line will have to plug holes and hold up the Vikings blockers to allow the line backers to move down the line to keep Peterson to short yardage gains.
Battles to Watch:
Without a doubt the best battle will occur between DE Jared Allen and Offensive Guard Kris Dielman. Dielman is a strong mean veteran, going against Allen is still one of the best DEs in the game and has had eleven or more sacks in each of the last four seasons.
Allen: 6-6, 270 lbs, age 29.
Dielman: 6-4, 320 lbs, age 30.
These two combatants are very similar in size. While Dielman give up a little on height and reach, he has 50 pounds over Allen. Allen will not have the support of the linemen he had in the last two seasons when the Vikings ranked first and second against the run respectively. Still Allen is a dangerous player, going up against the player whose nick name is “Dirty Dielman”. Both play snap to whistle and don’t take plays off. This is the true clash of the titans of this game.
5Dimes.com has the odds as Vikings +9, and the Chargers -9.
I have a feeling this will be a closer game that some anticipate. However, I think the Chargers high powered passing attack, and new leadership on the defense will prove to be deciding factor.
Chargers 24, Vikings 17