After opening their season on the road in Week 1, the Vikings return to Mall of America Field for their 2010 home opener to face another team that opened their season on the road – the Miami Dolphins. Sunday will mark the 50th home opener in Vikings history, and the franchise hold a record of 30-18-1 in the previous 49 home openers.
While the Vikings came out on the short end of a tightly-contested game in Week 1, losing 14-9 to the New Orleans Saints, the Dolphins came out on the winning end of their season-opener, defeating the Buffalo Bills 15-10. The Dolphins win did not come in great fashion – they scored just 15 points and had fewer than 300 yards of total offense, but any win on the road is good and any division win on the road is great.
But we can throw last week out of the window now. The Vikings have won 9 straight regular season games at Mall of America Field and they’ll look to make it 10 straight in an attempt to even their record at 1-1. It’s been a while since the Vikings have had a losing record and you get the sense that this locker room doesn’t quite like the feeling.
In order to get rid of that feeling, the Vikings need to defeat a Dolphins team that runs the dynamic Wildcat offense and features a 3-4 defensive scheme. Let’s take a quick look at both sides of the ball…
While Miami doesn’t use the Wildcat as its primary offense, the formation can still present problems for opposing defenses and teams who are unable to stop it are less likely to emerge victoriously after a game with the Dolphins. RB Ronnie Brown is the main threat out of the Wildcat, as he typically takes the direct snap from center. Brown possesses a nice ability to read the defense and then decide what to do with the ball based on his read. He can run with it, hand it off and even throw out of it; he’s a smooth athlete and he’s got the ability to gash a defense that isn’t gap and assignment sound.
Also keep in mind that Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sparano is a former OL coach, so he’ll take pride in trying to establish the run and move a talented and vaunted Vikings defensive line. LT Jake Long is the Dolphins best lineman, and while the Vikings defensive line is deep and is more talented than the Dolphings offensive line, don’t sleep on Miami’s ability to gain momentum by running the ball and keeping the Vikings off-balance with the Wildcat.
Speaking of off-balance, the Dolphins actually have a nice balance of run and pass in their offense. The perception of Miami is that they’re a run-dominated offense. While they have the ability to run the ball very well, Miami actually passed more than they ran in 2009 and in last week’s win they only had 2 more rushes than passes. The key for Miami’s passing game is of course the QB – Chad Henne. Entering his 2nd season as the Dolphins starter, Henne possesses a nice arm but he’s yet to settle into a reliable rhythm and establish himself as a dangerous passer. Miami gave Henne a nice weapon this past offseason, though, by trading for WR Brandon Marshall. The former Bronco is an elite WR capable of changing games and the Vikings must pay special attention to him.
On the defensive side of the ball for Miami, the Vikings will deal with another odd-man front. The New Orleans Saints actually came at the Vikings with an odd-man front (3 down lineman) last week, but more times than not they dropped 8 defenders into pass coverage. I expect the Dolphins to employ the opposite approach. While only 3 men will line up with their hand on the ground, I expect Miami to consistently bring a pair of LBs and maybe a guy from the secondary to try and apply pressure to QB Brett Favre.
The key for the Vikings will be Favre and his receivers. Against heavy pressure – the kind of pressure I think Miami will look to bring – Favre must be in-sync with his receivers in terms of audibles at the line of scrimmage and hot routes (where the WR breaks off or adjusts his route to counter-act blitzing defenders). Last week against New Orleans the Vikings passing game was not in-sync; this week I think it’ll be a different story.
Another key for the Vikings is going to be their ability to establish the run with Adrian Peterson. The Vikings were able to do that in the 1st half against New Orleans, but the run game got away from them in 2nd half because they only ran 18 offensive plays and found themselves needing a TD in the 4th quarter, at which point Favre became the primary ball-handler on offense. So, against this odd-man front, the Vikings will have opportunities to run the ball and they must take advantage of those opportunities. If Peterson is gashing Miami’s defense and Favre is mixing in an explosive pass here and there, the Mall of America Field crowd will be buzzing and the Dolphins will become overwhelmed.
One last thing to add is that Miami will likely be without 1st round pick Jared Odrick, who was injured in last week’s win against the Bills. He’s a talented defensive lineman who was replacing another injured starter (Phillip Merling). I’m not sure what the plan is for Miami at that position (RDE), but watch for the Vikings to attack that spot.
Over the past couple of seasons under the guidance of Bill Parcells and Sparano the Dolphins have become a more talented group. The development of Henne and the effectiveness of the Wildcat offense has given the Dolphins a nice identity on offense and then the 3-4 defense is an alignment that affords lots of flexibility and dynamic blitz packages. So, don’t sleep on the Dolphins. With that being said, Sunday’s home opener will provide the Vikings with a nice opportunity to bounce back from a season-opening loss and get the training rolling in the right direction.
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