1) Adrian Peterson is an absolute joy to watch play the game in my opinion. For those Broncos fans who don't catch the Vikings' games, is he really back and what makes him so dangerous on the field?
Even though Peterson put up a lot of yards in the Week 2 win over Detroit, last week's game against San Diego was really his declaration of "I'm back." He was barely used in the Week 1 Monday night game in San Francisco (or as we like to explain it away around Daily Norseman, the sixth preseason game) and he looked gassed at times against the Lions. But last week was vintage AP. He showed the quickness, speed and vision that has made him so dangerous throughout his career. The Vikings are also handing off to him out of the traditional single back sets he's used to instead of out of the shotgun, which they did with little success early on. With the offense tailored to his strengths, Peterson definitely appears to be back. Expect a healthy dose of him on Sunday.
2) Everyone seems to pay attention to your offense with a young promising QB and a great RB, but that is a pretty impressive defense you have. Who are the key guys on your defense we need to know about?
Mike Zimmer and his defensive coordinator have had the defense playing at a very high level after the Week 1 clunker. That side of the ball definitely carried the team for the majority of the home wins the past two games. It truly has been a team effort, but there have been a few standout players. Defensive end Everson Griffen made Matthew Stafford's and Philip Rivers' lives nightmares by creating constant pressure. Second-year linebacker Anthony Barr can blow up plays before they start. He has been great getting through the A-gap and around the edge. Xavier Rhodes is developing into one of the best young corners in the game. It looks like he'll play Sunday even after taking a scary hit from his teammate last week. And in my slightly biased opinion, there isn't a better free safety in the game right now than Harrison Smith. He does absolutely everything you can ask of the position. He's excellent at stopping the run and is great over the top against the pass. Chances are you'll see Smith make a big play or two Sunday.
I don't think Minnesota's defense is at the level of Denver's yet, but they have an exciting core to build around for years to come. They could make things tough on Manning & company for most of the day.
3) Several of us really liked Teddy Bridgewater coming out of the draft. How well is he looking now in his second year in the NFL? Do you think he has what it takes to be a top 10 QB?
If you only look at Bridgewater's statistics you'd be certain that he was mired in the beginning of a sophomore slump. He has only one touchdown pass, ranks 29th in quarterback rating, and the Vikings are last in the league in passing yardage. And make no mistake about it -- Teddy hasn't played great this year. However, it's not as bad as it looks at first glance. With Adrian Peterson in the backfield and early leads the past two weeks, Bridgewater has merely had to manage the game en route to victories. He has all of 74 pass attempts through three games, which is only two more than the injured Tony Romo has thrown. Overall he has shown good patience and awareness while the offensive line and receiving corps haven't done him a ton of favors.
That said, we're going to need to see a LOT more out of him this week if the Vikings expect to win. Bridgewater simply can't falter on some of the opportunities he has missed through the first three games. Nobody expects him to have a ton of time in the pocket this week, so he'll have to make some very quick decisions and very accurate passes. I think Teddy has all the poise, pocket presence, and passing skills necessary to become a top 10 quarterback in the future. He certainly isn't there yet, but I'm optimistic that it can happen.
4) We love talking about the trenches at MHR. What's your take on your lines and where, if any, are there holes in them?
I'll start with the good news--the defensive line. Mike Zimmer loves himself some defensive linemen and shows. The Vikings' defensive line might be the deepest and most talented unit on the team. We've already talked about Griffen harassing quarterbacks. Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd are a great 1-2 combo at defensive tackle, and there's no drop-off whatsoever when backup Tom Johnson rotates in to keep them fresh. Veteran end Brian Robison is having a nice season so far, and second-year backup Scott Crichton is showing why the team drafted him in third round last year. Defensive line is definitely one of the Vikings' biggest strengths.
The offensive line? Not so much. It was already one of the biggest concerns for the team heading into the season and then everyone started getting hurt. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is out for the season with an Achilles injury and was replaced by fourth-round rookie T.J. Clemmings. Center John Sullivan was placed on the IR with designation to return right before the season started, giving way to veteran backup swing man Joe Berger. Left tackle Matt Kalil has rebounded from an abysmal 2014 campaign to play pretty well, and right guard Mike Harris has been a pleasant surprise for the most part. Overall the offensive line hasn't been as bad as we may have feared, but it's still a pretty big question mark going forward.
5) What are your keys to the game and what do you predict the final score to be?
With both defenses playing at a high level and both offenses struggling to find their ways, I think points are going to be at a premium. Manning and Bridgewater are probably going to be under duress for most of the game--it might come down to the team that can keep their quarterback upright the longest. I think the Vikings will run a lot of 2-3 TE sets to facilitate the run and have extra blockers try and slow down Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. It will help, but moving the ball on the Broncos is easier said than done.
In the end I think Manning showed us last week that he still has enough wily old man tricks up his sleeve to cobble together the scoring drives necessary to win. The Vikings might be missing two of their top three receivers on Sunday, meaning Denver will be able to key in more on Peterson. So even with AP in the backfield I don't think Bridgewater has shown the sharpness or consistency necessary to be successful against a defense like Denver's quite yet.
Put me down for Broncos 20, Vikings 13.