1. How has Adrian Peterson looked through the first two games? Is he a threat to once again go off against the Chargers?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that he runs for fewer yards than the last time he played the Chargers at home. That said, I think Peterson could be in for another good day against San Diego.
To be honest it was really difficult to get a read on how Peterson was playing in Week 1. The Monday night game in San Francisco was such an abject disaster in all phases that Peterson never really got involved. He had only 13 total touches and looked pretty rusty behind a terrible offensive line. Last week was much better for the most part. The run blocking for Peterson wasn't great but it was better, and he looked much more like the player Vikings fans are familiar with. He racked up 192 total yards on a much larger workload. His pass blocking and ball control still leave a lot to be desired--he fumbled twice last Sunday and whiffs on blocks way too much for someone with his athleticism--but he should be able to carve up the San Diego defense that allowed plenty of big plays on the ground over the first two weeks.
2. At least early, the Vikings haven't seemed to live up to the expectations they set up for themselves by playing well with Teddy Bridgewater last year. What has gone wrong?
After the promising finish to 2014 followed by a solid preseason this year, expectations were certainly raised heading into this season. Which is why the Week 1 clunker was so mystifying to Vikings fans. All that promise went straight out the window while Trent Dilfer screamed at us on ESPN. Thankfully the Vikings looked much more like the team we expected last week, so perhaps all is not lost.
The biggest aspect of the team that has gone wrong has to be the offensive line. It was already one of the bigger question marks for the team before everyone started getting hurt. The best three linemen from last year might not play on Sunday. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is out for the year with an Achilles tear. Center John Sullivan is out until at least Week 9 after having back surgery right before the season started. And now left guard Brandon Fusco might miss the game due to a concussion he suffered against Detroit, which means you may see your old pal Jeremiah Sirles in the starting lineup on Sunday. Thankfully Matt Kalil has rebounded from his terrible 2014 season and Mike Harris has been a pleasant surprise, but the offensive line is still a mess.
Another quick issue: something has gone terribly wrong with Blair Walsh. He was one of the most dependable kickers in the league for the first three years of his career until he came down with a serious case of the yips in the preseason. He went 5-for-11 on field goals and it has started to carry over to the regular season. Walsh has already shanked a field goal and an extra point in the first two games.
3. If you were gameplanning the Chargers offense to go against the Vikings defense, how would you do it? What are the weaknesses worth attacking?
Two words: Chad Greenway. He's one of the greatest people to ever wear the purple and gold, but he's the biggest liability on the defense at this stage in his career.
I think a big part of how I would attack the Vikings defense would be what kind of personnel I force them into. In Week 1, the 49ers went with mostly big sets and kept Minnesota in their base package most of the night, which includes Greenway (for now). Last week, the Lions spread things out and Minnesota played mostly nickel and dime, packages that don't include Greenway. It's probably not a coincidence that the level of play from the Vikings defense went up when Greenway's snaps went down (from 63 to 16). Of course it's oversimplifying to make Greenway the scapegoat of all the defense's woes, but I know most Vikings fans want to see Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Gerald Hodges out there at linebacker instead.
San Diego's hurry-up offense should present a few issues as well. The Vikings looked very fatigued and missed a lot of tackles in San Francisco when they couldn't get off the field. A faster pace could neutralize Minnesota's defensive line, which is probably the most talented and deep unit on the team. If the Vikings don't have time to rotate their capable D-line backups in (a staple of Mike Zimmer's defense) it could affect how the starters perform, especially down the stretch.
4. Name one player on the Vikings roster that most NFL fans don't know, but will play a big role in Sunday's game.
I'll give you on one each side of the ball.
On offense, it's probably backup center Joe Berger. The Chargers don't like to blitz a ton but when they do it's usually by disguising their pressure before the snap and flooding one side of the formation. The 49ers baffled the Vikings with similar tactics for most of the first game. If Berger and Teddy Bridgewater can diagnose the pressure and make sure free rushers aren't in the backfield all day, they should be able to consistently move the ball on San Diego.
On defense I'll go with Andrew Sendejo. He took over for Robert Blanton as the starting safety across from Harrison Smith this season, with mixed results so far. Sendejo is a hard-hitter who likes to fly around the field but can also get caught out of position against both the run and pass. With all the targets Philip Rivers has at his disposal, Sendejo will need to have a solid game to slow down the Chargers.
5. What's your prediction for Sunday's game between the Chargers and Vikings?
I think the Chargers and Vikings are pretty evenly matched teams. Both have lots of talent but are not without their major flaws. If the Vikings can get out to an early lead they'll likely be able to get after Philip Rivers before he has a chance to pick them apart. I think Minnesota can give Peterson another heavy workload to control the clock and shorten the game. I don't think it's reasonable to think that Minnesota will play mistake-free football or keep the Chargers' offense in check all day, but I think they'll do just enough to edge out a hard-fought home win. Put me down for Vikings 24, Chargers 20.