NFL Week 5: 5 Minnesota Vikings To Watch vs. The Tennessee Titans
Week 5: Five Minnesota Vikings To Watch Against Tennessee
The Minnesota Vikings are one of the surprise teams in the NFL thus far in 2012, as they are tied for first place in the NFC North with a 3-1 record. They pulled up a second straight upset victory by beating the Detroit Lions in Week 4, as wide receiver Percy Harvin’s return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown set the tone right off the bat. Quarterback Christian Ponder still has not thrown an interception this season, and his continued avoidance of turnovers and negative plays in general will be a big key to success down the road.
The Titans will turn to veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck with Jake Locker out for at least this week with a shoulder injury. Running back Chris Johnson got on track last week against the Houston Texans with 141 rushing yards on 25 carries, and stopping him will certainly be a key to success for the Vikings’ defense. But Tennessee may be without wide receiver Kenny Britt (ankle) for a second straight game this week, meaning rookie first round pick Kendall Wright would be the number one option in the passing game for Hasselbeck. Tight end Jared Cook will also present a challenge for a Minnesota defense that has struggled defending tight ends at times, and he appears to have shaken off a prior shoulder injury.
Here are five Vikings who need to perform well in Week 5 for the Vikings to have a chance to extend their winning streak to three games.
A lot of eyes will be on Williams when he lines up across from former Viking and current Titans’ left guard Steve Hutchinson on Sunday in a matchup of two of the best in the league at their position over the past decade or so. Williams has not been incredibly productive so far this season, with zero sacks and just eight total tackles, but if he can dominate the Titans’ interior line life could be difficult for both facets of the Tennessee offense with the relatively immobile Hasselbeck under center. Williams himself is no longer in his prime at age 32, but he can re-assert himself as a dominant force with a noticeable performance in Week 5.
Kalil has been very good through four games of his rookie season, and this week brings another challenge against another good pass rusher in Titans’ defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley has not been that productive so far this season, with just one sack and one quarterback knockdown through four games, but his career sack production (42.5 sacks prior to this season) should not be ignored. Kalil has struggled as a run blocker at times this season, but he should be able to push an undersized Wimbley (245 pounds) around easily and build some confidence in that area this week. Keeping Ponder upright is always a key to success for the Vikings, and that again will start with Kalil protecting his blindside this week.
Simpson was able to make an impact in his first game for the Vikings last week, with four receptions (on five targets) for 50 yards against the Lions. He was also able to draw two pass interference penalties in the game, so it’s fair to say he gives the Minnesota offense a vertical threat it has lacked over the last couple years. He may see more targets from Ponder against the Titans in his second game back, and even if they are unable to connect on deep passes the Tennessee secondary will have to account for Simpson when he is on the field. Simpson has a long way to go before being an elite NFL wide receiver, but the Vikings don’t really need him to be if he is able to allow the other playmakers on offense to be more effective.
Ponder did not have a great game last week against the Lions, going 16-for-26 for 111 yards along with one carry for five yards. But he again did not thrown an interception and he completed passes to seven different receivers in the game. Cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are arguably the two best players on the Titans’ defense, and their aggressiveness could be something Ponder can take advantage of or it could be something that gets him in trouble if he is not decisive with where he is going with the ball. Ponder’s performance has been a big reason why the Vikings have a 3-1 record right now, and he remains a fixture on this list each week.
Harvin started off last week’s game with a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but only had three catches for 22 yards along with three carries for 12 yards in the game. The Lions clearly had a gameplan to take away the short passes Harvin makes a living catching, and it can be assumed the Titans will attempt to do the same on Sunday. A big key to the Vikings’ success this week will be to find ways to get the ball in Harvin’s hands along the lines of the way they did during the first three games this season. With all due respect to Adrian Peterson, Harvin is the most versatile and dynamic offensive player the Vikings have and getting him double-digit touches has to be a priority in Week 5.