OPPOSING VIEW: Explaining Vikings’ road struggles [DetroitLions.com soon to be .net]


This week’s Opposing View comes from Mark Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. This is Craig’s 13th season covering the Vikings beat. You can follow him on Twitter at @markcraignfl.

1. The Vikings are undefeated at home and winless on the road. What’s been the biggest difference for them home vs. away?


The most tangible difference is crowd noise and how it affects their pass protection. Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked 12 times in two road games and three times in three homes games. But we also should note that one of those games was in Denver, where the Vikings almost won while giving up seven sacks to the best pressure and coverage defense in the league.

As a younger team, they also seem more prone to mental lapses or just being out of sorts on the road. Their 20-3 season-opening loss at San Francisco was a perfect example. The defense and Bridgewater played so out of character that some are still wondering what the heck happened. The defense looked confused and weak, giving up 230 yards rushing. Bridgewater looked jittery and lacked his normal poise.

At Denver, the Vikings played well enough to win, but made too many mistakes, one of which was allowing the Broncos to turn a simple toss sweep into a 72-yard touchdown run.

The road struggles aren’t something that only Mike Zimmer has had to deal with the past two years. The Vikings are 2-15-1 on the road since 2013. They’re also 1-14-1 on the road against NFC North teams going back to their last division road game in 2009. The one win was at Detroit in 2012.

2. In what area does each team have the edge Sunday?

Clearly, the Vikings have the edge in the running game, not to mention a desire to run the ball in the first place. They’re coming off a rough outing in which Adrian Peterson needed 26 carries just to get 60 yards (2.3). He suffered a finger injury of some sort and was limited in practice on Wednesday. But we’re also heading into the time of year when the Vikings typically rest Peterson between games.

Kansas City was very stout and disciplined as a run defense last week. The offensive line couldn’t move anyone out of the way. But on one of the more critical plays of the game, Peterson slammed through for three yards on fourth-and-one at the Kansas City 42-yard line to extend a touchdown drive. In Week 2, Peterson looked like the Adrian of old with 134 yards against the Lions. But Detroit did contain Matt Forte last week, so perhaps it will be a different game this time.

As for the Lions, their advantage, I think, lies in being at home, where Matthew Stafford has a better chance to operate without getting clobbered every other play by a pass rush using crowd noise to its advantage. In that first meeting, Stafford was knocked down eight times, sacked once and hit twice while going out of bounds. If it’s a shootout, which it could be, the Lions clearly have the edge because the Vikings aren’t built for a one-dimensional come-from-behind attack.

3. Are we seeing a “sophomore slump” from QB Teddy Bridgwater or are his numbers simply a byproduct of a team dedicated to running the football at all cost?

I don’t think it’s a sophomore slump and I do think his numbers are more the byproduct of the kind of team he’s on. This is a run-first team whose identity is Peterson, defense and field position. People are complaining about the lack of balance between the No. 6 running game and the last-place passing attack. And granted, the Vikings would like to be more potent in the passing game when the need arises. But the first Lions game is a perfect example of how Bridgewater, at least early in his career, isn’t going to win people many fantasy games.

Teddy Bridgewater

The Vikings were dominating the Lions on the ground, but it’s not like Bridgewater played a bad game. He threw the ball only 18 times, completing 14 for 153 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. Considering what the Lions are going through turnover-wise, people also should take note of the fact the Vikings are tied for the eighth fewest interceptions (four), the sixth fewest turnovers (six) and are tied for eighth in turnover ratio (plus-3). And their six turnovers have led to only 10 points for the other team. So Teddy isn’t a good fantasy pick, but other than the 49ers debacle he’s been a good quarterback for this particular team.

4. Who is one Vikings player Lions fans might not know but could have an impact Sunday?

Rookie second-round draft pick Eric Kendricks is settling in as a playmaking three-down middle linebacker, something the Vikings haven’t had since E.J. Henderson was in his prime. When these teams met in Week 2, Kendricks was still a nickel linebacker. But the Vikings quickly saw that he’s capable of being an every down player. So they traded starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick and rookie center Nick Easton during the bye week two weeks ago.

Kendricks responded with a game-high 10 tackles, nine of them solo, in a very solid debut as an every-down linebacker against the Chiefs. He was a big reason the Chiefs went to halftime with only 51 total yards of offense and no points.

5. Peterson went off against the Lions in Week 2 (134 yards), but twice this year he’s been held under 60 yards. What were those teams able to do to limit him that Lions weren’t able to do?

It was two totally different games and situations. Against the 49ers, offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn’t get Peterson involved early and never really had the opportunity to correct it as the 49ers took control and the Vikings failed to convert third downs. Peterson didn’t touch the ball on the first series, which is atypical, and the Vikings went three-and-out. Everything went downhill from there. Peterson finished with just 10 carries for 31 yards.

Afterward, he talked about how uncomfortable it was getting used to taking handoffs out of the shotgun formation instead of a running start from the I-formation. In Week 2 against the Lions, Peterson was involved from the get-go and took most of his handoffs from the I-formation.

Last week against the Chiefs, it was a case of Kansas City physically dominating the Vikings’ offensive line. Peterson had 16 yards on 17 first-half carries because the Chiefs repeatedly made contact with him behind the line of scrimmage. Denver also did a very good job stopping Peterson, but Adrian was able to break one of those typical AP runs when he went 48 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-inches. His other 15 carries netted 33 yards. Through five games, Peterson looks the same as he did before missing 15 games last year. But even he needs help up front.


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