It's up to the offensive line to make the offense click. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
The Patriots want to rebound from a lack-luster offensive performance with a bang against the Vikings. The defense wants to continue to play well in the red zone, but may also want to step up its game between the twenties. What match-ups deserve special attention?
3. Vikings Receivers vs Patriots Secondary - The Vikings will feature an offense with wide receivers Randy Moss and Percy Harvin, as well as tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. All three are extremely potent players who are big touchdown threats. We are all familiar with Moss and his vertical game. He still struggles as a multi-route runner and should be running down the field all day. Harvin, on the other hand, catches the ball all over the field. He's a smaller version of Brandon Tate, but is a tough and high performing player. He'll be featured in run packages and should be slanting all over the field. Shiancoe is a big tight end, which doesn't bode well for the Patriots. All season, the Patriots have struggled to contain opposing tight ends and Shiancoe is one of the better tight ends in the league. He should be looking at a 5 reception, 70 yard, 1 touchdown game.
So how do the Patriots counter this potentially potent offense? First, each player has to be evaluated. Moss is a vertical threat and not much else. In response, the Patriots should match Kyle Arrington on Moss with Brandon Meriweather at safety over the top. This match-up allows Arrington to play to his best skills (straight lines) and puts Meriweather in position to make plays on the ball. Harvin, on the other hand, is a strong runner who needs a strong defender to stop him- enter Devin McCourty. Shiancoe will do well just because of the nature of tight ends against the Patriots. Look for Pat Chung or, if he's injured, Sergio Brown to shadow Shiancoe all game.
Of course, all of this depends on the Patriots applying pressure on Brett Favre. Favre makes terrible decisions when he's under pressure and will give the Patriots a handful of opportunities to create turnovers. The Vikings are featuring a dinged up offensive line so Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Deaderick, Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren and Rob Ninkovich must flush Favre out of the pocket and force him to make bad passes. It's important that the Patriots secondary capitalizes on these errant throws and get the Vikings offense off the field.
Read the other 2 match-ups after the jump!2. Brandon Spikes + Jerod Mayo + Patriots Defensive Line vs Adrian Peterson - Adrian Peterson is averaging almost 5 yards per carry. He carries the Vikings offense and is a threat to reach the end zone. So far this season, the Patriots have done very well to contain opposing running backs. Here's the hit list:
Cedric Benson: 15 carries, 43 yards, 2.9 ypc, 1 TD, long of 10 yards
LaDainian Tomlinson: 11 carries, 76 yards, 6.9 ypc, long of 31 yards
Shonn Greene: 15 carries, 52 yards, 3.2 ypc, long of 8 yards
Marshawn Lynch: 13 carries, 79 yards, 6.1 ypc, long of 17 yards
Ricky Williams: 7 carries, 56 yards, 7.0 ypc, long of 17 yards
Ronnie Brown: 11 carries, 27 yards, 2.5 ypc, long of 5 yards
Ray Rice: 28 carries, 88 yards, 3.1 ypc, long of 8 yards
Ryan Mathews: 8 carries, 15 yards, 1.9 ypc, long of 5 yards
What stands out about this list? 1 Touchdown from a feature running back and it was all the way back in Week 1. They gave up a touchdown to a Chargers fullback in Week 7, but the track record is still stellar. Only 1 run of 20+ yards has been given up (Week 2 to Tomlinson) and the Patriots have done a good job of limiting first downs and big yards on first down, forcing opposing teams to throw the ball on second and third downs.
One large reason for this success has been from moving Vince Wilfork to defensive end and sliding Gerard Warren to the nose tackle position. Wilfork on the outside forces opposing running backs to run away from him, which means that Wilfork is eliminating an entire side of the offense for opposing running games. This allows the Patriots linebackers to shift accordingly to watch what games the running back will take. Rookie Brandon Deaderick has emerged as a solid player against both the pass and the run and looks to continue his success by breaking into the backfield and destroying pockets and blocking formations.
The main reason for the Patriots success against the running game, though, has been the tandem of Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. Mayo has been a fiend on the field, making tackles everywhere and stopping plays before they happen. Spikes, a run defense specialist, has a tremendous nose for the ball and sniffs out plays and is always in position to make a play.
However, none of the running backs the Patriots have played match-up to the talent level of Adrian Peterson. He's a complete player and is extremely dangerous. The Patriots cannot allow him to break any tackles or he's going to move the chains. The Patriots need to do their best to funnel Peterson to the middle of the field and into the arms of Mayo and Spikes, hopefully not too far from the line of scrimmage.
1. Patriots Offensive Line vs Vikings Defensive Line - The Patriots O-Line has struggled recently as Brady has been sacked 10 times over the past two games. They have struggled to stop the rush from the outside (Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light) and haven't been able to slow the rush from the inside (Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal). Luckily for the Patriots, the Vikings have struggled to generate a pass rush, only notching 6 sacks on the season. The defensive scheme of the Vikings is pretty simple as their four linemen are the only ones who really rush the quarterback, which means that the Patriots will be facing 4 man rushes all day.
Can Matt Light and Dan Connolly handle Jared Allen? Allen made Chad Clifton, the LT of the Green Bay Packers and notoriously bad pass protector, look like an All-Pro and handled him 1v1 the entire game. If Light can muster up enough skill and power to handle Allen one on one, Connolly will be able to watch the middle of the offensive line and will make the pass protection much more solid.
The Williams Wall in the middle of their defensive line hasn't registered a sack since Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins and Pat Williams is hampered with a quad injury. That said, Dan Koppen has been completely ineffective while facing 3-4 defenses- hopefully he'll play better against the 4-3 of the Vikings.
Finally, the Vikings feature Ray Edwards who will be lining up against Sebastian Vollmer. Edwards has been extremely quiet all season and hopefully Vollmer can keep him silent. Perhaps Rob Gronkowski or Alge Crumpler will see some time in support if it's needed.
This is a great opportunity for the Patriots offensive line to rebound from a string of terrible outings. Let's hope they keep Brady on his feet and give the offense plenty of time to develop plays on offense.