Thank goodness the debacle in Cincinnati is behind us. Without drudging up too many nightmares, the Bolts were manhandled by a more talented and better-coached Bengals team and now look to mend their wounds against an undermanned Minnesota Vikings squad on Sunday. So, as we shift focus to Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, the question becomes; what must the Chargers do in order to win in Minnesota?
Obviously, it would help tremendously if they could rush the passer, make a tackle or protect Philip Rivers (novel concepts, right?), but those are soft ball answers. After watching the Vikings defense on tape, I believe there are three offensive keys to a Chargers win in Minnesota and they are getting Melvin Gordon outside, forcing the Vikings linebackers to cover the middle of the field and mixing in the screen game.
The Minnesota pass rush isn't very good (thank God) and this deficiency often leads their defensive ends to become overly aggressive in their attempts to get up field. The resulting loss of assignment discipline doesn't help the pass rush very much, but what it does do is create gaping cutback lanes for opposing running backs along the edges of the defense.
We actually saw a lot of this in Cincinnati, most of which resulted in Gordon finding and winning one-on-one battles against safeties, linebackers and corners in the open field. The result was a handful of explosive outside running plays. Unfortunately for the Vikings, their defense isn't nearly as fast as the Bengals' group, which means winning those one-on-one match-ups at the second level could enable Melvin to take one of those runs to the house. If that happens, the whole offense opens up and things become much easier on the San Diego defense.
Much like their defensive ends, the Viking linebackers are very aggressive. They blitz quite a bit, excel at playing downhill, and play a key role in stopping the run. All that said, they tend to look heavy-footed when asked to cover running backs, tight ends and receivers in the open field and they struggle when forced to move laterally. I would expect Frank Reich to take advantage of these shortcomings by forcing the Minnesota 'backers to cover his receivers and running backs in the middle of the field.
With Ladarius Green suffering from a concussion, I wouldn't expect too much from the Chargers' tight end group this weekend. I would, however, expect to see a steady diet of shallow/intermediate crossing routes, and it wouldn't surprise me if Danny Woodhead caught a lot of check-down passes in hopes of forcing their linebackers into unfavorable coverage assignments. This should should lead to chunk plays for the offense in the middle of the field as the game goes on, which will lead to points and take some pressure off of the Chargers' defense.
Last but not least, the Minnesota defense is fairly young and inexperienced, which can often lead to fundamental breakdowns. This generally plays its self out in the form of over pursuing and missing tackles, as we saw when they played the 49ers in the first week of the season. There is no better way to take advantage of an aggressive and inexperienced defense than forcing them to defend a variety of screen passes.
With this in mind, I would expect Reich to design a variety of creative and well-timed screen passes for this game. I know you're thinking this should benefit Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon, but my guess is Stevie Johnson will be the biggest beneficiary from these calls. He's so slick, so efficient when he gets the ball in space that the team should be looking to take advantage of that as often as possible, and no San Diego receiver is better suited to take advantage of sloppy tackling than Stevie.
As discussed on the Lightning Round podcast, I'm expecting a big game from Melvin Gordon this week. In fact, I wouldn't be the least but surprised if #28 posted his first 100 yard game AND his first NFL touchdown, likely on a long run, on Sunday. But don't sleep on Stevie Johnson. If #11is used properly, which certainly isn't a given with this coaching staff, it wouldn't be a stretch to expect his first 100-yard game in lightning bolts.
That's it, those are your three offensive keys to a Chargers win in Minnesota. Each of these keys based around the desire to create chunk plays by using Minnesota's youth and aggressive tendencies against them. That's why I think the Chargers must get Melvin Gordon outside, force the Vikings linebackers to cover the middle of the field, and mix in the screen game in order to win in Minnesota. Now it's your turn, go to the comments section and tell me what you think...