Vikings at Broncos - What to watch for

Last game prep of the year gang!  I'm sorry it IS the last game of the season, and I'm sorry it's the second losing season in the Shanahan era.

Like last week, there is plenty of bad news.  But unlike last week, there is more good news I can share.

I apologize for putting this story up later in the week than usual.  I came across some surprising tidbits while studying the Vikings, and I'll share them with you below.

Denver rushing

Denver faces a tough rush defense in the cover-2 that MINN runs.  In most cover-2 defenses the rush should be up the middle, since the LBs are typicaly zoned wide and are fast.  No such luck against MINN.

I have read descriptions of MINN being a Tampa-2 system team, but I think they are an odd variation of the cover-2 and not a true Tampa defense.  This was my first surprise studying for this prep.

First, they have strong, powerful DTs that do a great job stopping the run.  They are willing to penetrate to go after the QB, but from what I see they really shut down the run and protect their LBs.  At the same time, the LBs are speedy guys that zone the passes effectively.  The MLB in this system lines up in a classic cover-2, instead of the deeper Tampa-2.  In other words, they are a combination of the classic cover-2 and the Tampa-2.

Does it work?  Well, it covers runs better that the Tampa.  MINN has a solid rush defense from the DTs and the protected LBs.  How about the pass?  We'll get to that in a moment.

The wide runs are also endangered because of the fast LBs MINN uses.  The DEs are also a fast group.  Here is a case where missing Graham hurts us in terms of run blocking sweeps to the side.  

The key to the run game is our o-line.  We need the run to be effective because we use it to set up our play action passes.  Remember, misdirection and passes to the seams beat a cover-two.  We must establish the run.

But now comes my second surprise in researching MINN.  MINN's defense has another edge.  They practice against the zoneblock every week.  Yes.  The MINN o-line is a zoneblock system, and I was unaware of this until I started reading about them.  This leads us to our next section...

MINN rushing

Why does MINN have such a good rookie runner?  Well, it could be that zoneblock we were just discussing.  I haven't followed MINN much at all, and learned that they are in the second year of putting together a zoneblock.  When I discovered this, I dug further.

Remember the loss to HOU?  We aren't built to withstand the zoneblock right now with our weak rush defense.  MINN brings some special weapons to the fore for this game too.

They haven't completed the conversion to ideal linemen to run the system.  But the linemen they have are either built for the system or compensated for by pulling the bigger linemen into individual block assignments.  Most off the linemen will slant and block their zones, while the "oversized" guys will pull and run interference directly for the back (as a FB would).  This shows a level of sophistication that most sophomore zoneblock teams don't exhibit, in my opinion.

MINN (like SD last week) also likes runs to the weakside (most often the left).  We'll have the same dilemna for assigning our OLBs as last week.

Lastly, lost in the praises for Peterson is the fact that MINN's other back (Taylor) is a talent too.  MINN can rotate sets between combinations of any of the following two: Peterson, Taylor, and a FB.

I'm concerned about the ability of our DTs to stop any of the MINN guards or their center.  All are excellent, and have a very good shot at getting to the second level to block our LBs from making tackles.

Denver pass

Mixed bag.  In generic terms I like the DEN pass over the MINN pass defense.  But there are major strings attached.

  1. MINN has a very good pass rush, but not as effective against our system as the SD blitzing schemes.  Most pass rushes will be limited to the MINN front four.
  2. We will miss Graham in pass blocking, but again, not as much as against SD.
  3. I expect Cutler to pass from the pocket since (for reasons I listed above) I think we will have trouble setting up bootlegs.  I like Cutler outside of the pocket better.  But fortunately, the types of pass rushes MINN will use should force Cutler out, instead of keeping him in.  The key to protecting Cutler will be stopping the DEs, not the DTs for this very reason.
  4. Injuries.  Without a healthy Walker or a healthy Stokely we will rely on Martinez and Marshall.  This limits our options.  We need TE Scheff to hit the seem on the strong side, while Marshall drags coverage to the weak side.
  5. At least we can screen against a 4-3 defense.  We were all probably confused as to why DEN threw screens against the SD 3-4.  Screens to Selvin, FB Sapp or TE Mustard may be effective.
  6. Because MINN runs a 4-3, we can get away with one TE sets.  Mustard had a pretty good game filling in for Graham on passes, but nobody pass blocked well at all.
MINN pass

MINN does not feature a great QB.  They also don't have an elite WR corps.  Their best man is probably Ferguson, and either Bly or Bailey can shut him down.  The good news?  For once we can put Lynch in the box and leave Hamza alone in deep coverage.

~~~~~~~~~

Conclusions

  • Denver rush - even
  • MINN rush - favors MINN
  • Denver pass - even
  • MINN pass - favors DEN
The big intangible is that MINN has something to play for (a playoff spot) and should come out playing hard.

Questions and comments are welcome as always!  

Next week, I'll be replacing this column with a series called FOOTBALL 101.  I'll cover systems, formations, play calling and design, as well as tactics.  I'll also have a running "Ask the Coach" section that will be part of the same column.  I hope you have all enjoyed the game preps this year, and I look forward to doing it again in the '08 season.

Have a safe and prosperous New Year!

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