Monday, October 6, 2008

Minny vs. N.O.: Monday Night

The Vikings head into tonight's prime-time matchup with New Orleans looking to stay competitive in what now appears to be a very mediocre NFC North. Chicago now inexplicably leads the division at 3-2, while the Green Bay Packers, who looked as good as any team in the NFL after two weeks, have lost three straight to fall to 2-3. And Detroit is, well, Detroit. The best thing that can be said about the Lions is that the Vikings still get two games against them, while their other divisional rivals only get one. So they'll finish with at least three wins on the season, guaranteed.

That said, falling to 1-4 with a loss to New Orleans tonight, while not the end of the world, given the divisional standings (but I guarantee you that the MNF opener tonight will label this game a "must-win" game for the Vikings), would still put the team in a hole it never expected to be in through the season's first five games.

On the bright side, the team gets back LT Bryant McKinnie, returning to action following his four-game suspension by the league. Following matchups with some of the best pass rushers in the league, the Vikings should be fairly satisfied with only allowing 10 sacks through four games with Marcus Johnson and Artis Hicks filling in for McKinnie. New Orleans' starting defensive ends, Will Smith and Charles Grant, have a combined five sacks, and the Saints as a team have dropped the opposing quarterback 10 times, so one would think that McKinnie's return will help give Gus Frerotte the time he needs to find his receivers (whoever they are -- see below) and help create holes for Adrian Peterson (averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 105 rush yards per game without McKinnie) to run through. The "run it left" offense is back!

Unfortunately, with the presence of McKinnie comes the absence of another Viking stalwart. MLB E.J. Henderson dislocated two toes in last week's game against Tennessee and is listed as doubtful for tonight's game. Worse, he may miss several weeks of action due to the injury. If there's any silver lining to the injury, it's that the Vikings have a bye in three weeks, so Henderson would likely, at most, miss tonight's game and the upcoming Chicago and Detroit games. Meanwhile S Madieu Williams is expected to need at least one more week before he recovers from the neck injury he sustained in the presason. Rookie Tyrell Johnson will get another start in Williams' place.

Of possibly greater concern is the injury status of the wide receivers. Also questionable for tonight's game are WRs Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice. If neither can go, Frerotte's top two targets will likely be Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson, which in itself should be enough to convince coach Brad Childress to run the ball about 40 times (but he probably won't). On the flip side, New Orleans will be without Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston, but that doesn't seem to matter to Drew Brees, who typically throws for about 350 yards a game anyway and could probably even make Troy Williamson look good.

With everything going against them -- multiple injuries, road game, a good opposing passing game, and the typical lunacy of Brad Childress -- the odds seem stacked against the Vikings this week. I'll be honest: In our office pool, I picked the Saints. But strange things can happen in the NFL, and if Miami can beat both New England and San Diego, then the Vikings can beat New Orleans, which, despite all its offensive weapons, is only 2-2, allowing 25 points per game. This might be the night that the Vikings, who haven't scored more than 20 all season, finally break through offensively, but it might take a creative playbook and ingenious playcalling to do it.

In other words, not bloody likely. But hey, there's always hope.


Cdub said...

Update: ESPN just said EJ Henderson is out for the season.

Jason said...

Yep, just saw that myself. Sucks hard.

Lester's Legends said...

They were lucky to escape with a win. Losing EJ is going to be tough. Chilly was miffed at Kluwe for not punting out of bounds. At least Berrian showed something.