Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
For the Vikings’ Week 2 matchup against the Patriots, we spoke to Ben Volin, Patriots beat writer for the Boston Globe, for this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked Volin about the Vikings home opener.
What happened to the Patriots offensive line in Week 1?
BV: They got pretty overwhelmed by the Dolphins defensive line, which is pretty good. That happened last year, too, actually. Part of the Logan Mankins trade was probably because what the Dolphins did to those guys last year, and we saw it again where the Patriots just couldn’t stop the strength of the guys on the inside.
They traded Mankins 2 ½ weeks ago and haven’t settled on an offensive line. They rotated a bunch of guys last week. Some was because of the heat in Miami and some was because to find the right combination. They put Jordan Devy at right guard, who played his first NFL game last week, and it didn’t go so great. Marcus Cannon at left guard wasn’t so hot and [Sebastian] Vollmer at right tackle wasn’t so hot. They all got pushed around and then [center] Ryan Wendell, who was the center last year, was a little banged up right now.
How did the Dolphins rack up 191 rushing yards against the Patriots defensive line?
BV: The Patriots moved back to a 3-4 defense this year with [Vince] Wilfork at the nose and none of those guys were getting off their blocks. They were just getting completely eliminated at the line of scrimmage and the Patriots were playing a lot of soft defenses. The Dolphins were taking advantage of the numbers game in the running game, blocking it well and [Knowshon] Moreno and Lamar Miller were running it well with huge holes. I think either they have to find ways to get the guys up front to get off their blocks and make some plays, or put an extra defender in the box this week; probably a strong safety, Patrick Chung, who does a lot of that anyway. They have to figure something out because they got run over. The second half was OK, but they didn’t get as much of a pass rush on Ryan Tannehill either.
How did cornerback Darrelle Revis look in his Patriots debut?
BV: They played him on the left side, and they’ve been doing that all camp. They played a lot of off coverage. They targeted him I think five times, two of them were catches. One of them was a touchdown, which was kind of lucky. Revis actually deflected it and it bounced off Mike Wallace’s knee and went right back up in his hands. He got burned one time on a double move really badly on Wallace but the throw was out of bounds. Revis was competitive. He did get beat a couple of times, but Mike Wallace is pretty fast. It wasn’t the best he’s ever played, but he’s not one of their problems. He was fine.
Outside of wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is quarterback Tom Brady’s third option?
BV: It’s Edelman, Gronk and Shane Vereen really. You go back and look at the game, it’s just those guys over and over. I think he was 0 for 6 targeting [Brandon] LaFell. [Danny] Amendola, once again, in the first half he’s not even looking his way. Amendola doesn’t even exist to Tom Brady. The same thing from last year, he just doesn’t trust him. …It’s really those three guys. It’s Edelman, Gronk and Vereen out the backfield. That’s who he’s looking for first and that’s who he trusts. The other guys maybe if they’re open in the progressions, he’ll look their way, but without good protection Tom is definitely going to struggle. He just doesn’t have a relationship with his receivers right now.
What must the Patriots do to avoid losing consecutive games?
BV: I think they need to run the ball more. Their run and pass was way out of whack last week. It was like 60-25 [plays]. I think they’re going to try and run more, but it comes down to the trenches. They got dominated in the trenches on both sides and that’s not a good recipe. They couldn’t slow down the Dolphins in the second half and they couldn’t block to save their lives. Protecting Brady, keeping him up right and comfortable in the pocket, establishing the run and creating more pressure with the front three or four, then I think the Patriots can pull off the road victory.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— WR Cordarrelle Patterson offers dramatic plays without the drama.
— OLB Chad Greenway had to choose between buying in and getting out.
— CB Xavier Rhodes and DT Sharrif Floyd have a “good chance” of playing Sunday.
— Which Vikings defender can match up with Patriots dual threat Shane Vereen?
— Blocking TE Rhett Ellison has become a valuable weapon for the offense.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— MVC Captains (@MVC_Kaylee) September 12, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— The Patriots should be worried about Patterson’s speed.
— Do-it-all Patriots OLB Jamie Collins is limited by a thigh injury.
— RB Adrian Peterson will be a tough test for the Patriots defense.
— Patriots WR Brandon LaFell has nowhere to go but up.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
As usual, the Vikings will finish the week off with an early practice, taking the field at 10:50 a.m. Head coach Mike Zimmer will debrief reporters at 12:30 p.m. and the locker room will be open.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The last thing you probably think of when it comes to Patriots QB Tom Brady is rushing touchdowns, but believe it or not, Brady has scored 14 of them in his NFL career, one fewer than Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Brady has a few years on Big Ben, but despite a 1.8 career yards-per-carry average, Brady has been able to get in the end zone so often because he is one of the NFL’s best at QB sneaks. Keep that in mind if the Patriots get inside the 1-yard line.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder) have a “good chance” of playing on Sunday against the Patriots. Zimmer said the team will have a better idea over the next two days.
Rhodes was limited in practice after not participating on Wednesday. Floyd was held out for a second consecutive day. Along with Rhodes, offensive tackle Mike Harris (shoulder), left guard Charlie Johnson (ankle), fullback Zach Line (ankle) and linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) were all limited on Thursday.
“He was all right,” Zimmer said of Rhodes. “We’re just getting him in some of the stuff.”
Linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) did not participate again. Running back Adrian Peterson was the only addition to the injury report. He did not participate, though it’s not injury related. Peterson was present at practice, however.
For the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski (thigh), defensive linemen Michael Buchanan (ankle), defensive tackle Chris Jones (ankle), defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (hand) and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (knee) were all limited for a second consecutive practice. Linebacker Jamie Collins (thigh) was a new addition to the practice report as he was limited as well.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes returned to practice today in some form or fashion, increasing hope that he will be able to play against the Patriots on Sunday.
Rhodes injured his groin in the third quarter of the season-opening win over the Rams. He missed practice yesterday and was non-committal about his status for Sunday yesterday. But he was back on the field, helmet in hand, during the portion of today’s practice that was open to the media.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was not participating in the open portion of practice.
I asked him before practice if he planned to practice today.
“Coach’s decision. It’s up to him. Not my call,” he replied.
But does Floyd think his shoulder will be good enough to play Sunday?
“Coach’s decision, not mine. I’ve got no word on that,” he said.
So there’s that.
Rookie outside linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) also appeared to be sidelined again today.
The toughest guy to cover on the Patriots might not be the man they call Gronk, the one who spikes footballs hard during the season and apparently slams shot glasses even harder in the offseason.
Yes, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is back in the lineup after last year’s ACL injury, will be a major threat to the Vikings defense. His sheer size and strength, in addition to respectable speed and a punishing style of play, have made him arguably the best all-around tight end in the league.
But Patriots running back Shane Vereen poses a potentially tougher challenge for the Vikings. He is New England’s answer to Darren Sproles, and the Vikings might not have a linebacker or safety capable of keeping up with him, especially if the Patriots go with a spread passing attack Sunday.
Vereen, now in his fourth season, has shown a knack for being able to get open whether he starts out in the backfield or lines up at receiver. He had 47 catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns in eight games last season, though he had just five for 35 against the Dolphins last weekend.
“He went out last week [against the Dolphins] and you could see they’ve really got him running a lot of routes — wheel routes and option routes and those kind of things,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “You can just tell they’re very comfortable with him in their package and getting him out in space and getting him against ‘backers and trying to get him one on one.”
Vereen averaged 2.14 yards per route run last season, second among running backs to only Sproles. Only 11 qualifying wide receivers averaged more yards per route run than Vereen.
The Patriots use Vereen, who is capable of running many of the outside routes NFL wide receivers typically run, to create matchups in the passing game. If defenses cover him with a linebacker or safety, the Patriots try to exploit that mismatch. Or if they put Vereen out wide and a cornerback lines up across from him, quarterback Tom Brady knows to look for a favorable matchup elsewhere.
“He’s an excellent back out of the backfield,” Edwards said “He has good hands. He runs good routes. He’s got the speed to take you vertical. His option routes and things, he does all the little nuances that you would want out of a back as far as leverage and coverage and being able to beat it. It looks like Brady has all the confidence in the world to throw him the ball.”
While Vereen typically only gets five to seven carries as a runner — he has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his career — he is a key player for their offense, especially when the Patriots go no-huddle.
“He’s a guy that can do it all,” safety Harrison Smith said. “So you have to keep your eye on him.”
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings respond when the Patriots put Vereen and Gronkowski on the field together. Rookie outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who has the size and speed to physically man up with Gronkowski, may take on that challenge when the Vikings use man coverage concepts. But who covers Vereen? Outside linebacker Chad Greenway? A safety such as Smith?
“I trust in Coach Zimmer’s scheme that he has put together,” outside linebacker Gerald Hodges said. “I think he has us well prepared — we’re not finished getting prepared yet, but we’re well on our way — and he knows offenses in and out. As long as we pay attention to detail, I think we’ll be fine.”
|Toronto - LP: M. Stroman||2||FINAL|
|Baltimore - WP: W. Chen||5|
|Washington - WP: S. Strasburg||4||FINAL|
|Atlanta - LP: E. Santana||2|
|Miami - WP: S. Dyson||6||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: J. Familia||5|
|NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley||0||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - WP: J. Peralta||1|
|Cincinnati - LP: P. Villarreal||0||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - WP: H. Rondon||1|
|Chicago WSox - LP: J. Petricka||3||FINAL|
|Kansas City - WP: W. Davis||4|
|Cleveland - LP: Z. McAllister||1||FINAL|
|Houston - WP: C. McHugh||3|
|Detroit - WP: K. Ryan||8||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: C. Fien||6|
|Los Angeles - WP: J. Wright||11||FINAL|
|Colorado - LP: C. Bergman||3|
|San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong||2||FINAL|
|Arizona - WP: W. Miley||6|
|Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma||1||FINAL|
|LA Angels - WP: M. Shoemaker||8|
|Philadelphia - LP: J. Williams||0||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: A. Cashner||1|
|Tampa Bay||9/18/14 7:25 PM|
|San Diego||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Dallas||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Washington||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Houston||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Minnesota||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Tennessee||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Green Bay||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Indianapolis||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Oakland||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|San Francisco||9/21/14 3:05 PM|
|Denver||9/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Kansas City||9/21/14 3:25 PM|
|Pittsburgh||9/21/14 7:30 PM|
|(5) Auburn||9/18/14 6:30 PM|
|(20) Kansas State|
|Connecticut||9/19/14 7:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Troy||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Georgia Tech||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Eastern Mich||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|(11) Michigan State|
|Iowa||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Bowling Green||9/20/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||9/20/14 11:30 AM|
|Tulane||9/20/14 11:30 AM|
|Hawaii||9/20/14 1:00 PM|
|Marshall||9/20/14 1:00 PM|
|North Carolina||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Army||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Virginia||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|(6) Texas A&M||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Rutgers||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Central Mich||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Utah||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Florida||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Louisville||9/20/14 2:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Indiana||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|San Jose St||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Texas State||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Massachusetts||9/20/14 3:00 PM|
|Georgia State||9/20/14 5:00 PM|
|Appalachian St||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Miss State||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Middle Tennessee||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Utah State||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Miami-Ohio||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Idaho||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Ball State||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|(14) So Carolina||9/20/14 6:30 PM|
|(4) Oklahoma||9/20/14 6:30 PM|
|Ga Southern||9/20/14 6:30 PM|
|UNLV||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|(22) Clemson||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|Miami-Florida||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|New Mexico||9/20/14 7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|California||9/20/14 9:00 PM|
|Louisiana||9/20/14 9:30 PM|
|(2) Oregon||9/20/14 9:30 PM|
|San Diego St||9/20/14 9:30 PM|
|Toronto||9/19/14 9:00 PM|
|Edmonton||9/20/14 6:00 PM|
|Calgary||9/21/14 12:00 PM|
|Ottawa||9/21/14 3:00 PM|
Poll: How do you feel about the decision to reinstate Adrian Peterson?