Don’t think for a second San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers won’t be targeting the Vikings’ outside cornerbacks in Sunday’s opener.
Cedric Griffin returned with one reconstructed knee last season and promptly blew out the other. Chris Cook was hobbled by two surgeries to repair meniscus tears. And the Vikings did little in the offseason to give themselves alternatives when veteran Antoine Winfield plays the slot in nickel.
“Those three guys have the ability to be what we’re looking for,” coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday. “They showed it when they were on the field.”
The trio only was together for four quarters in 2010, before Cook tore the second meniscus on Sept. 26 against Detroit. Fifteen days later, Griffin’s season ended with another torn ACL on Oct. 11 against the New York Jets.
Neither player did much in the preseason either. Griffin played only 32 snaps over two games as the Vikings eased him back into action, while Cook missed Thursday’s exhibition finale against Houston because of a hamstring tweak.
“I can’t stand here today and say they’re going to go out and play at what level,” Frazier said. “But I have confidence that they’ll get it done.”
The Vikings’ only significant offseason acquisition at the position was fifth-round draft pick Brandon Burton, a possible subpackage contributor who probably won’t even be active against the Chargers.
Cook doesn’t see any reason that will be a problem if he, Winfield and Griffin stay healthy.
“I talk with Antoine about that all the time,” Cook said on Wednesday. “I was like, ‘Man, we can go out and be the best three in the league if we all do what we know we can do.’”
It shouldn’t take long to figure out if Cook is right.
The Chargers ranked first in the NFL last season in total offense and second in passing. They boast a legitimate No. 1 receiving threat (Vincent Jackson), veteran secondary options (Malcom Floyd and Patrick Crayton) and a game-changing tight end (Antonio Gates), allowing them to spread the field and stretch the Vikings’ zone coverage.
“They are a challenge for any defense, let alone when you’re coming off of a situation we’re coming off of from a health standpoint,” Frazier said. “Terrific receivers. Terrific quarterback. Number one offense in the league a year ago. So, it’ll be a challenge for us. We’ll find out where we are in a hurry.”
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 5-5. Chargers are 2-1 in San Diego. In the team’s last meeting on Nov. 4, 2007, then-rookie Adrian Peterson broke the single-game NFL rushing record by amassing 296 yards on 30 carries (9.9 average) and three touchdowns to lead the Vikings to a 35-17 win.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
Coach Leslie Frazier didn’t even realize what was happening the last time the Vikings faced the Chargers.
Peterson went into halftime with 43 rushing yards. He gained the other 253 in the second half — including touchdown runs of 64 and 46 yards, the latter all but putting away the game with 7:44 to go.
“When you look at his numbers in the second half compared to the first half, it’s just mind-boggling that he could raise the level of play to the degree that he did,” said Frazier, the Vikings’ defensive coordinator at the time.
“The long runs, hitting the holes as crisp as he did — it was just a great day. What I remember is what he amassed that second half. He just took over the game much like what you see basketball players do when they get on a roll and no matter what you do, you can’t stop him. He was the same way every time he touched it, you almost felt like something good was going to happen.”
It was the second 200-yard game of Peterson’s young career and caught plenty of eyes, including some on the opposite sideline.
Frazier has made clear he wants to the offense to go through Peterson this year, too.
“It’s been a long time, but you don’t forget one like that,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said. “We just have to do a great job on him, and we have to tackle as well as we’ve tackled and we have to be disciplined. “They’re doing a great job of slowing you down a bit and keeping you from getting to the back, because they are doing a great job with all of the bootlegs and the misdirections and the play-action pass.”
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — Combined NFL starts for the five backup offensive linemen on the Vikings roster. Backup center Jon Cooper started one game last season when John Sullivan was hurt. Seth Olsen has appeared in three games as a backup, Patrick Brown has no regular-season appearances and DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco are rookies.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We’re fine where we are. I think we know the type of talent that we have in this locker room. We’re fine with playing the underdog role. We know it’s going to be a tough battle. This is a tough division, especially with the Super Bowl champs in our division. But we’re going to work and strive hard to get back to the top of the division.” — MLB E.J. Henderson, when asked if he minds the Vikings flying under the radar
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Vikings enter the season opener with plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball to go along with three new coordinators.
On offense, Donovan McNabb takes over at quarterback for Brett Favre, Charlie Johnson replaces for Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and Bernard Berrian reenters the starting lineup for Sidney Rice.
On defense, the Vikings will open the season with three new starting linemen — left end Brian Robison, nose tackle Remi Ayodele and undertackle Letroy Guion — while Kevin Williams serves a two-game suspension. They also have a new weakside linebacker (Erin Henderson) and strong safety (Jamarca Sanford) replacing departed veterans Ben Leber and Madieu Williams, respectively.
Schematically, the biggest change is new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s departure from Brad Childress’ rigid West Coast scheme. The Vikings appear to be moving away from zone blocking, too, incorporating more power plays in the running game.
New defensive coordinator Fred Pagac largely appears poised to stick with Frazier’s preferred Cover-2 defense, although there have been signs he’s more disposed to sending pressure in passing situations.
– CB Marcus Sherels will open the season as the punt returner after rebounding from his lost fumble at Seattle on Aug. 20 to beat out Jaymar Johnson for the job. “Oh yeah, number one rule is ball possession,” Sherels said. “So, I’m going to do a lot better job of that.”
– WR Percy Harvin may cede kick-return duties to HB Lorenzo Booker, in part because the new rule moving up kickoffs to the 35-yard line — resulting in higher touchback numbers league-wide — might make the risk outweigh the reward. “He’s still a great kickoff return guy,” Frazier said of Harvin. “We’re just looking at the rules and just trying to determine what’s going to be best for our team.”
– WR Greg Camarillo agreed to a restructured contract that lowered his base salary from $1.7 million to $900,000.
– SS Jamarca Sanford said getting the starting nod out of camp for the first time “means a lot. It just shows you hard work pays off. I put a lot of effort in this offseason. I took it serious, worked hard, worked on my weakness and just (came) back in better shape and just ready to go when my number’s called.”
– The Vikings adjusted their practice squad, signing DB Domonique Johnson and LB Tyrone McKenzie and releasing FB Matt Asiata and DL Cedric McKinley.
– QB Donovan McNabb was a surprise addition on the injury report with a right wrist problem. But he was a full participant in practice and the injury isn’t believed to be significant. McNabb didn’t mention the injury in his pre-practice media conference.
– TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) was a full participant in practice and continues to report no ill effects. “I guess that that work that I was doing this rehab was pretty efficient,” Shiancoe said, “because I’m feeling really, really quick out there.”
– CB Asher Allen (toe) was the only limited participant in practice.
– CB Chris Cook (hamstring) was a full participant in practice.
Offensively, the Vikings figure to play as they did all preseason — conservative, short passing game featuring a lot of bootlegs and rollouts, mixed with a heavy dose of the run game.
On defense, the question is whether they’ll send a lot of pressure at McNabb or stick with a lot of Tampa-2, dropping seven in coverage and hoping a four-man rush can create enough pressure to disrupt the Chargers’ passing game.
Asked if it’s dangerous to blitz Rivers, Frazier smiled and said, “Well, without tipping my hand, we’ve got to find a way to make (Rivers) uncomfortable.”
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
– Vikings SLB Chad Greenway vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates. Greenway has made significant strides in coverage but allowed 62 completions in 75 passes thrown into his coverage (82.7%) lasts season for 505 yards (8.1 average), a touchdown and a 99.2 rating. The Chargers surely will try to isolate Gates against WLB Erin Henderson when the Vikings are in the base defense, too.
– Vikings offensive line vs. Chargers defensive line. San Diego NT Antonio Garay can rag-doll even the most physical centers and he’s precisely the type of player who can give C John Sullivan trouble. The Vikings can run away from that matchup more than they could in their inside zone-heavy days, but it still will be a tall task for them to move the Chargers’ front as a whole, regardless of scheme.