Preview: Communication key as Vikings try to sort out Colts' pass rush
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium (capacity: 70,000), Indianapolis.
TV: Fox (Ch. 9).
Line: Vikings by 3.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (2nd season, 7-16); Indianapolis -- Chuck Pagano (1st season, 0-1).
Series: The Colts lead the series 15-7-1 and never have lost in 10 meetings on their home field, dating to their days in Baltimore.
Last meeting: Adrian Peterson ran for 160 yards on 29 carries and Ryan Longwell kicked five field goals, but the Colts rallied to beat the Vikings 18-15 on Sept. 14, 2008, at the Metrodome.
At stake: After surviving their opener in overtime against Jacksonville last week, the Vikings will try to stay unbeaten before entering a tough back-to-back against San Francisco and at Detroit the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Colts got pasted 41-21 last week at Chicago and need a bounce-back performance in their first regular-season home game of the post-Peyton Manning era.
Vikings: LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle) and WR Jarius Wright (ankle) are questionable. CB Chris Cook (biceps), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle), C John Sullivan (ankle), TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), HB Adrian Peterson (knee) and CB Josh Robinson (hip) are probable.
Colts: OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle), LG Joe Reitz (knee) and LB Pat Angerer (foot) are out. WR Austin Collie (head) is doubtful. WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) is questionable. RT Winston Justice (head) is probable.
Five things to watch
Keeping it together: This is the first road test for the Vikings' young offense, which includes two first-time starters (LT Matt Kalil and RG Brandon Fusco) on the offensive line and a second-year quarterback (Christian Ponder). The protection unit held up well against the Jaguars, but doing it in a raucous road environment is different -- especially against a hybrid Colts defense on which the Vikings have only one game tape. Freeney's absence takes away some punch from the pass rush, but veteran OLB Robert Mathis had two sacks in the opener and must be accounted for. Sullivan's presence will be key for the Vikings to communicate and pick up the Colts' overload blitzes as well.
Take it away: Rookie QB Andrew Luck threw three interceptions last week. The Vikings had only eight interceptions all of last season and none in Week 1, when they let Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert throw for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Luck figures to make some mistakes, especially if the Vikings' pass rush gets going against a Colts line that is banged up and allowed three sacks last week. But will the revamped secondary be in position to make plays? The Vikings mixed in a lot of single-high calls last week and got burned a couple times downfield to CB Chris Cook's side. Those are opportunities they can't miss to make a play.
Where's the rush?: The Vikings' defensive line failed to record a sack last week for the first time in 25 games. They did set up a pair -- WLB Erin Henderson cleaned up a pressure by LE Brian Robison and CB Chris Cook did the same off a pressure by NT Letroy Guion -- and had RE Jared Allen had one wiped out by a close offsides call. If the Colts follow the Jaguars' lead, they'll give LT Anthony Castonzo plenty of help against Allen. Castonzo's track record suggests he'll need it, and the whole line is in for a challenge, especially if the Vikings blitz as often as they did last week (30.1%).
Go to the air: Ponder's longest completion last week was a 29-yarder to TE Kyle Rudolph. He didn't complete a pass longer than 20 yards to a wide receiver until the fourth quarter, when he hit WR Devin Aromashodu for 26 to get the Vikings to the edge of field-goal position. That could change this week against Colts team whose starting cornerbacks, RCB Jerraud Powers and LCB Vontae Davis, each allowed 104 yards against the Bears. Davis, acquired from Miami on Aug. 26, gave up two touchdowns as well. Until WR Jerome Simpson's suspension ends, the Vikings lack a vertical speed threat. But there will be plays to be made and WR Percy Harvin figures to be heavily involved as the Vikings try to take advantage sooner than they did last week.
Keep it going: The Vikings' special teams got off to a strong start last week, with two forced fumbles, a blocked extra point and rookie PK Blair Walsh's heroics, including the tying and winning field goals late. But it remains to be seen how the coverage units will hold up over the course of the season, given the number of young players -- LB Larry Dean, S Andrew Sendejo, DL Christian Ballard, LB Tyrone McKenzie, TE Rhett Ellison -- being asked to play key roles. It's on S Jamarca Sanford and DE Everson Griffen to be the bell cows and make sure the energy and efficiency they showed against the Jaguars doesn't go away. The Colts' top return man is LaVon Brazill, a sixth-round draft pick from Ohio who ran the 40-yard dash in the mid-4.4 range at February's scouting combine.
Judd Zulgad: The Vikings should win this game, but Andrew Luck will take advantage of their secondary and Reggie Wayne will have a big game as the Colts win their home opener. Colts 21, Vikings 17.
Tom Pelissero: It's hard to believe the Vikings are favored on the road against anybody, given they're one of the NFL's youngest teams and have lost 17 of their last 21 games away from the Metrodome. The guess here is this one's ugly -- but they find a way, again. Vikings 31, Colts 27.