Although they will be without starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie until Week 5, the Vikings still have a very formidable front five. And, given the way that the front seven for the Colts struggled against a Bears offensive line that has received fewer accolades, this unit presents quite a challenge for the four men up front.
Artis Hicks got the start for McKinnie against the Packers in Week 1, but left in the third quarter with an elbow injury, giving way to the far less imposing Marcus Johnson. Johnson was regularly beaten man-to-man and on stunts by Green Bay, but it looks as though Hicks will be ready to take the field on Sunday.
AP Photo/Jim Mone
That's bad news for Dwight Freeney, but lining up across from Hicks is far more attractive an option than battling McKinnie for 60 minutes.
The interesting part of this matchup is that it will actually be a tougher challenge for the Colts to get to Tavaris Jackson in the passing game than it will be to get to Adrian Peterson or Chester Taylor in the running game, provided each team plays to their strengths.
Jackson was only sacked once on Monday night and regularly had four or more seconds to survey the field, occasionally moving out of the pocket, but mostly sitting in the pocket, looking for the open receiver. While he did scramble frequently, this was due more to instinct — or seeing nothing open down the field — than escaping pressure then escaping the pocket.
The key to the pass rush will be attacking interior blockers Anthony Herrera, Matt Birk, and Steve Hutchinson. Herrera is more a of run blocker than a pass protection specialist, Birk is still an exceptional player, but has lost a few steps from his glory days, and Hutchinson, while no slouch in guarding the quarterback, is certainly more comfortable attacking the line of scrimmage and blowing defensive tackles off the ball.
Ed Johnson and Eric Foster need to work in concert with Freeney, Mathis, and Brock, stunting on known passing downs, in order to match the best Colts pass rushers up against the worst Vikings pass blockers.
In addition, the Colts need to bring pressure from the corners in the form of blitzing linebackers and cornerbacks. One of the shortcomings of the defense in the game against the Bears was that the heat was not turned up enough on Kyle Orton. The conventional method of pressuring the quarterback in this defense does not seem to be sufficient this season, so the Colts will need to deploy more blitzes and stunts in order to get to the quarterback.
In the running game, the Vikings actually deploy a fairly basic blocking scheme and rely on the athleticism and power of the players executing the plays in order to make them effective. For the most part, Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson are what make the running plays in this offense go. An analysis of how to stop them is included below.
The fact that the Colts will be so preoccupied with the run will, ironically, make them more effective at defending the Minnesota passing attack.
AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid
In order to properly fill the gaps that need to be filled and commit the appropriate number of players to stopping the run, the Colts will need to bring Bob Sanders up to the line, putting eight men in the box.
This will leave the secondary running a Cover 3 or Cover 1 defense for most of the game — provided Indianapolis does not jump out to a big lead and the Vikings are forced to pass every down. This will leave the deep areas of the field adequately covered and take away the first read that Jackson will have in the passing game.
The flaw in the Packers' game plan on Monday night was that they focused their attention on the running game, but left their defensive backs in man coverage against the Vikings receivers and tight ends.
This eventually opened up the deep passing lanes, as the Minnesota line held their blocks in pass protection and allowed the Vikings receivers to uncover deep, since Al Harris and Charles Woodson, talented as they may be, cannot maintain man coverage forever.
In the capable hands of Antoine Bethea, Marlin Jackson, and Kelvin Hayden, the deep area of the field will be taken away from the Vikings and Bobby Wade, Bernard Berrian, and Sidney Rice will be effectively neutralized.
The area of the field that needs to be zealously patrolled will be the area that was left unguarded against the Bears — the seam, where the tight ends and slot receivers will be free to run in routes and slants, unless the Colts cover those zones.
The men that the Colts defense needs to lock down on — and punish — are tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Garrett Mills. These two players must not be able to carve up Indianapolis underneath. And, at the very least, Jackson must be made to methodically work his way down the field with precision passing to Shiancoe and Milles, not with deep strikes to his speedy wideouts.
Adrian Peterson is one of the most explosive offensive playmakers in the NFL and must be game planned for. In Peterson's case, the deadliness of his approach lies in its simplicity.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
On a standard play, the guards and tackles pull and trap, tying up the line of scrimmage. The linebackers, seeing lanes of pursuit, close the the ball carrier and attack. On a successful play by the defense, the outside linebacker or safety stays at home, doesn't overcommit, and makes the tackle.
On a successful play by the offense, the linebacker or safety either overcommits or fails to make the tackle.
In the John Riggins days, the Washington Redskins ran a counter trey play that isolated Riggins against the other team's weakside cornerback. The thinking was that, for the most part, Riggins could beat any cornerback in the NFL.
The philosophy behind the Vikings rushing attack is that, for the most part, Adrian Peterson can beat any linebacker or safety in the NFL. The same thinking applies to Chester Taylor, though he is generally more patient and methodical, attempting to find a seam in the middle of the defense.
Peterson essentially comes to the line and makes a decision: He either tries to beat the middle linebacker in the hole by outmaneuvering, out-juking, or outrunning him, or he uses his absurdly explosive jump cut to bounce from the garbage in the middle of the field to an open spot in a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker or safety.
If he wins, he's gone. If he loses, they roll the dice and try again.
When a team has a player as gifted as Adrian Peterson, they can afford to play the percentages. Defending Peterson is similar to defending Barry Sanders. The rules are simple: Stay in your lanes, don't overcommit, and, when he comes at you, wrap him up. The theory is extremely simple, while the practice is maddeningly frustrating.
Though this is going to sound like an insult to both parties, Tavaris Jackson is no Kyle Orton. Orton is more comfortable with the offense, more comfortable with his role, and more comfortable in general than Jackson.
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
The key will be to make Jackson as uncomfortable as possible, hopefully forcing him into some mistakes — preferably early — and giving the Colts offense the short field they so desperately crave.
With an All-Pro running back at his disposal and a championship-level defense protecting him, Jackson has been saddled with the dreaded "game manager" moniker. If the team wins, Adrian Peterson and the defense are the stars — and the primary reason for victory.
If the team loses, Jackson is blamed for what are viewed — fairly or not — as "critical turnovers".
The point is that Jackson is in this situation and the Colts need to take advantage of it.
They need to take a page from the 2006 playoff playbook against the Chiefs: Stack the box, stay in your lanes, and force the quarterback to beat you. As difficult as this may be to believe, Orton is far more capable and experienced than Jackson and, if the Colts exploit that inexperience, they will prevail.
The Colts need to put eight men in the box, pressure Jackson, and force him to beat them. As strange as this may sound, the Colts are in the submissive position here and need to think strategically ... just like the Bears did on Sunday night. The Bears forced Peyton Manning to beat them and he didn't.
Think of how Tavaris Jackson would fare in a similar situation.