Preview: Pressure on Christian Ponder to handle Raiders pass rush
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Who: Oakland Raiders (5-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-7).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Mall of America Field at the Metrodome (capacity: 64,111), Minneapolis.
Line: Raiders by 1.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (1st year, 5-10). Raiders -- Hue Jackson (1st year, 5-4).
Series: Raiders lead 9-4. Vikings are 3-3 at home.
Last meeting: Chester Taylor scored three touchdowns and Raiders quarterback Daunte Culpepper was sacked and fumbled, wiping out an Oakland threat in the Vikings' 29-19 win on Nov. 18.
At stake: The Raiders own a half-game lead over the Denver Broncos in the tight AFC West Division, with San Diego and Kansas City a game back at 4-5. The Vikings are just trying to prove they're not as bad as they looked in Monday night's 45-7 blowout at Green Bay.
Vikings: CB Chris Cook (not injury related), RG Anthony Herrera (knee) and S Husain Abdullah (concussion) are out. LB Erin Henderson (hamstring) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) are questionable but expected to play. LS Cullen Loeffler (shoulder), WR Michael Jenkins (knee) and QB Christian Ponder (left hand) are probable.
Raiders: QB Jason Campbell (collarbone), WR Jacoby Ford (foot), CB Chris Johnson (groin/hamstring) and HB Darren McFadden (foot) are out. S Michael Huff (ankle), S Michael Mitchell (ankle), DT Richard Seymour (knee), RB Manase Tonga (knee) and CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) are questionable. TE Kevin Boss (knee), S Matt Giordano (quadriceps), PK Sebastian Janikowski (left hamstring) and C Samson Satele (knee) are probable.
Five things to watch
Starting off: The Raiders had extra time to prepare after their Nov. 10 win over San Diego. The Vikings had a short week after Monday's embarrassment. Things could get ugly if the home team starts slowly -- not only because the Vikings aren't built to come from behind, but because fans are restless about a lost season. Effort, execution and energy all fell short from the start against the Packers, in spite of coaches' emphasis about improving at the start of each half. How the Vikings come out of the tunnel will be telling against a team that has a whole lot more to play for.
Draw it up: It can be said every week, but the Vikings' chances ride on their ability to get HB Adrian Peterson going. The Packers appeared to set the template for derailing Ponder by blitzing him 28 times in 36 dropbacks (77.8%), thanks in part to a lead that took Peterson out of the game (four carries, 5 yards after the first five drives). The best way to combat such an attack is with draws and screens that use defenders' momentum against them. Oakland ranks 25th in rush defense (132.4 yards per game) and 31st in efficiency (5.2 per carry). If there ever were a day for Peterson to go off, this is it.
Balance the rush: RE Jared Allen needs help. He has accounted for half of the Vikings' 27 sacks and five over the past four games -- a stretch in which LE Brian Robison's impressive start has fizzled. UT Kevin Williams chipped in against the Packers with three pressures, including a hit on QB Aaron Rodgers that set up Allen's sack. But Robison probably played his worst game and is receiving decreasing attention from opposing protection units, allowing more help to be rolled to Allen's side. The Raiders' vertical passing offense will give the Vikings plenty of pass-rush opportunities, provided a secondary that will include newly signed CB Benny Sapp on at least some passing downs doesn't completely collapse. If Robison isn't doing the job, look for Everson Griffen and perhaps Christian Ballard to begin getting more time.
Ponder this: Sending pressure is a logical approach against a young quarterback -- especially one as athletic as Ponder, who had the worst of his three NFL starts on Monday. The rookie has proven effective when he can drop back, go through his reads and then take off if nothing's there. Dialing up pressure forces him to make decisions more quickly, and the Packers' diverse approach -- with 11 different combinations of blitzers -- caused plenty of confusion. Ponder has the physical tools, arm strength and touch to succeed if he avoids second-guessing himself and aiming the ball. His ability to identify and exploit the blitz, though, is a work in progress that surely will get another test from the Raiders.
Stop Bush: QB Carson Palmer has improved markedly over his three games, completing 14 of 20 passes (70%) for 299 yards, two touchdowns and a 125.0 rating against the Chargers. But the emergence of 245-pound HB Michael Bush over that stretch has been just as pivotal. He accounted for 242 offensive yards on 33 touches against San Diego and has run for 352 yards on 66 carries (5.3 average) in three games since McFadden's injury. The Raiders rank No. 4 in the NFL in rushing offense and the Vikings are No. 6 in rushing defense. Keeping Bush in check will put a lot of pressure on Palmer and a protection unit that has surrendered only 11 sacks, second-fewest in the league.
If the Vikings didn't come to play on Monday night against a divisional rival, it's tough to give them the benefit of the doubt in a nonconference game on a short week.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Vikings 24.