Christopher Gates from SB Nation's Vikings blog, Daily Norseman, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his beloved team to kick off the first game day of the 2013 season. How will Minnesota's gluttony of talent fair against the boys in blue? Read on and find out.
1. Last year's first round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith both had fantastic debut seasons that had major transformative effects on offense and defense. What can we expect from the Vikings' three first round picks in this Friday's game?
Concerning the Vikings' three first round picks, they're all expected to make an impact this season, although in different ways. Sharrif Floyd is currently on the depth chart as the understudy to Kevin Williams (who's probably in the final season of a great Minnesota career), but he's likely going to see a lot of reps in nickel situations, so he'll be on the field a lot. Xavier Rhodes, who unfortunately won't be playing in Friday's game, is pretty much penciled in as the starter across from Chris Cook at cornerback, and gives the Vikings two tall, rangy corners to go against the great receivers in the NFC North. Cordarrelle Patterson is a bit of a wild card. He was expected to primarily impact special teams as a return guy as a rookie, but the team is apparently finding that he's a lot more advanced as a receiver than they thought he was immediately after the draft. It's possible that he fills the sort of "Percy Harvin" role from last year, where the Vikings will find ways to get the ball in his hands and use his outstanding open field skills, whether it's on quick passes, end arounds, or even lining him up at the tailback spot on occasion.
2. How is Christian Ponder progressing in this third year at quarterback? What are you looking for as he sees his first game action of the year against the tough Houston defense?
Honestly, it depends on who you ask. He came on at the end of last year when the team needed him, and got off to a bit of a rough start at camp, from all accounts. However, reports the past couple of days have shown him as being significantly better. It may be that he's finally started getting some chemistry going with his new receivers, such as Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, and maybe he's to that point where the game starts to "slow down" for him a bit. Granted, it's practice, but Ponder seems to be one of those weird cases that actually performs better under a lot of pressure than he does when there's less on the line. Everyone is hopeful that he's going to continue taking the leap that he started taking at the end of last season.
3. How will Minnesota's defense recover from the departure of Antoine Winfield? Are Josh Robinson and Chris Cook good enough to hold down the fort while Xavier Rhodes develops?
The loss of Winfield is going to be a tough one to overcome, but it's not impossible. Robinson has a lot of talent, but had never been asked to play the slot corner position before this year. With Rhodes and Cook penciled in as the starters, Robinson will be asked to play in the slot quite frequently. One of Winfield's biggest strengths was his experience, which is obviously something that Robinson can't replicate at this point, but he has the physical tools to make the transition a less turbulent one. The Vikings might also respond by bringing Harrison Smith and/or Jamarca Sanford (currently slated as the other starting safety) closer to the line on a more frequent basis, but we'll have to see how that develops.
4. Who is someone under the radar, either on offense or defense, that Texans fans should be worried about this Friday?
I think the big one is wide receiver Jarius Wright. He's a smaller receiver that the Vikings selected with one of their three fourth-round selections in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he wound up being inactive for the first nine games of the season. When he got on the field, however, he showed a spark, as he was responsible for the Vikings' two longest receptions of the season. By the end of the year, he was probably the Vikings' most reliable receiver. . .granted, with last year's receiving corps, that's not saying much, but it's something. He's apparently been one of the guys that's making a lot of hay in camp this year, so we'll have to see how that translates to the football field.
5. Imagine that your knowledge of the Vikings has drawn the attention of Gary Kubiak, who has hired you to tell him every weakness on this team. Not wanting to anger or mislead your new employer, you cast aside your fandom and spill the beans on the easiest way(s) to beat the Vikings. What would you say?
The easiest way to beat the Vikings, if last year is any indicator, is to score first. Last year, only the New England Patriots spent more time playing with a lead than the Minnesota Vikings did. If the Vikings have to play from behind, the run game (including Adrian Peterson) becomes less of a factor. Until Christian Ponder and the passing game show that they can consistently make up that sort of deficit, it's incumbent upon opponents to make Christian Ponder and the passing game beat them. For those same reasons, turnovers are incredibly crucial to beating the Vikings as well. Last season, when the Vikings were even or better in the +/- ratio, they were 10-0. When they were in the negative, they were 0-7 (including their post-season loss at Green Bay).
Thanks to Chris for stopping by. Head on over to the Daily Norseman to talk all things Vikings and make sure to check out my answers to his questions here. I hear they hate when Aaron Rodgers throws back shoulder fades just as much as we do.