(Sports Network) - Two of the NFL's premier running backs will be on display
Sunday in Minneapolis when Adrian Peterson and the surprising Minnesota
Vikings host Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans at Mall of America Field.
Peterson and Johnson, of course, are regarded as perhaps the two best running
backs in the NFL. A.P. entered the league as the seventh overall draft choice
in 2007 and his 7,084 rushing yards since then are the most in the league.
Johnson, who was the 24th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, has rushed
for an NFL-high 5,831 yards over that period with Peterson a close second at
Both are coming off their first 100-yard performances in 2012. At Houston last
week, Johnson gained 141 yards on 25 carries, while Peterson rushed for 102
yards on 21 carries at Detroit.
Peterson's Vikings can surpass their win total from all of last season with a
third consecutive win this week. Minnesota got a kickoff return and punt
return for touchdowns last week as the team snapped a long winless skid in NFC
North play with a 20-13 win over Detroit at Ford Field.
Percy Harvin scored on the opening kickoff and Marcus Sherels returned the
first punt of the second half for a touchdown as the Vikings halted an 11-game
losing streak in the division. The last win in the NFC North for the team was
a home victory against Detroit on Sept. 26, 2010.
Christian Ponder went 16-for-26 with 111 yards for the Vikings, who have
already matched their win total from last season.
"It doesn't get a whole lot better than this," said Minnesota head coach
Leslie Frazier. "To come here on the road and get a win against a divisional
opponent is huge. Our guys never blinked and kept making plays when we needed
them to make plays."
The Titans, meanwhile, are coming off a setback at the hands of the undefeated
Houston Texans, who used a stifling defense, a potent running attack and a
crisp passing game to rout Tennessee 38-14.
Titans starting quarterback Jake Locker left the game in the first quarter
after dislocated his non-throwing shoulder for the second time this season.
Matt Hasselbeck came on and threw for 193 yards on 17-of-25 efficiency with a
pair of scores and interceptions for Tennessee, which was coming off a 44-41
overtime win over the Lions.
"It's frustrating because I feel like we're not that far away, but we didn't
play great," Hasselbeck admitted. "We had turnovers and I was a part of three
Locker won't dress Sunday and star receiver Kenny Britt remains a question
mark with an ankle injury. The Vikings will be without starting strong safety
Mistral Raymond (ankle) but could get back starting linebacker Erin Henderson,
who has been out with a concussion.
The Vikings lead their all-time series against the Tennessee franchise 7-4,
including a 6-1 mark in Minnesota. The Vikings won 20-3 in the most recent
meeting between the two teams at the Metrodome on Oct. 24, 2004.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Vikings need more from Ponder or this 3-1 start will quickly turn into a
mirage. Minnesota has obviously cut down on mistakes this season and currently
has the only starting quarterback in the NFL who hasn't thrown an interception
in Ponder (123 passing attempts).
That's amazing considering the former Florida State star still doesn't step up
or slide in the pocket all that well and hasn't progressed to the point where
he can move to his second or third options on any particular route. Ponder is
a checkdown machine rarely looking down the field before deciding to play it
safe. That kind of play generally works when you can get the lead but will
dissipate quickly if Tennessee can get things going early.
"We are always calling shots in every game that we're in," Ponder said. "It's
just to the point that if it's not there, I'm not going to force it
The Titans would like to force Ponder into some mistakes and the Vikings
signal caller must be wary of cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner,
who will be on the look out early and often for the smoke routes and bubble
screens to Harvin.
Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey isn't much of a pass rusher but he's
been a beast against the run at times and if he can help slow Peterson, the
Vikings will be out of their comfort zone. Casey could get some help with the
possible return of starting linebacker Colin McCarthy, who has missed the past
three games with an ankle injury.
The kick returns were huge for Minnesota last week and Peterson went over the
100-yard mark for the first time since returning from major reconstructive
surgery knee surgery 9 1/2 months ago, a truly amazing recovery. Perhaps the
biggest return for Minnesota, however, was receiver Jerome Simpson, who missed
the first three games of the season because of an NFL- mandated suspension
after a drug conviction. The former Cincinnati Bengals second-round pick
offers the Vikings offense size, speed and athleticism.
While Simpson's numbers against the Lions (four receptions, 50 yards) looked
ordinary, understand he also drew two downfield pass interference calls and
made a huge fourth-quarter catch on a sideline fade when Detroit was loading
the box to stop the run.
Ponder must utilize Simpson to loosen up the Titans' coverage. With Simpson
added to Peterson, Harvin, who is third in the in NFL with 30 receptions, and
emerging tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings offense should start humming if
Ponder can do his part.
For the Titans, Hasselbeck, a 14-year veteran, is certainly more than capable
and is probably still a better quarterback than Locker at this point, although
he provides a stationary target for the Vikings' strong pass rush. Offsetting
that a bit is Hasselbeck's quick release.
Titans left tackle Michael Roos is one of the NFL's best but the interior of
the line, which includes long-time Viking Steve Hutchinson, is under whelming.
Minnesota defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison, who is dealing with a
balky elbow, haven't broken out yet but Everson Griffen is really coming on
and nose tackle Letroy Guion has finally started to flash. Both of those
players had a career-best two sacks last week.
With Johnson, who has 29 career 100-yard rush games, finally rounding back
into form and Hasselbeck a better pure passer than Locker at this stage of the
game, this one will be tougher for Minnesota than most think. The Vikings
generally play close games by design and this should be no exception.
"It's so early in the season and we've all seen teams that have gotten off to
good starts and they're nowhere to be found when December rolls around,"
Frazier said. "We don't want to be one of those teams. We know we have a lot
of work to do."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 24, Titans 21
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