The Vikings don't get to see much of the Oakland Raiders due to the alignment of the NFL and the scheduling process that has teams from the two conferences meeting just once every four years. Over the last seven years, most of the Vikings have seen the Raiders just once, so there isn't a ton of familiarity with them.
But, as the Raiders invade the Metrodome Sunday looking to maintain their one-game lead in the Mild, Mild AFC West, they bring with them a reputation for being, for the lack of a better term, thugs. They have led the NFL in penalties five of the last six years and are comfortably (so to speak) ahead in the race for the most penalized team in 2011. They are extremely physical on both sides of the ball and have always embraced their "bad boy" image.
Offensive tackle Charlie Johnson, who was no stranger to the Raiders in his days with the Indianapolis Colts, said that opponents can get swept up into their style of play – known for big hits, a few cheap shots, shoving after the whistle and a lot of tough-guy trash talk. Johnson said that it isn't always easy in a violent sport like football, but sometimes you just have to turn the other cheek.
"That's just their aura," Johnson said. "That's how they carry themselves. They want to impose themselves on other teams. It's something you can't get caught up in. You just have go and play football and, if any of that stuff happens – it's kind of hard in this profession, but you just kind of have to step away from it and move on. We know going in that that's the way they're going to carry themselves and we just have to match that intensity, but stay away from the dumb penalties."
The Raiders have a (deserved) reputation for being punks and taking the extra shot at a player. They have been accused of going after knees more than most. They have bought into the image of being the baddest of the bad and are among the elite trash-talking teams in the league. While trash talk is part of the game, defensive tackle Letroy Guion said that it doesn't always serve the intended purpose of intimidation and swagger. In fact, he said it often has the opposite reaction.
"People can talk all they want," Guion said. "When you get out there and start hitting, there isn't a whole lot of talking going on. People can say whatever they want. More times than not the guys who give you the extra shove at the end of the play or talk trash to you, all that does is get you wound up more to kick their butt. I've always thought trash talking accomplishes the reverse – it gets the other guy more motivated to do his job and dominate."
The Raiders defense is the group that carries the mantle of toughness for the silver and black, but linebacker Erin Henderson said that the offense carries themselves the same way and prefers to play a smashmouth style that harkens back to a bygone era of the NFL, where running the ball is the first priority and taking numerous shots deep down the field with their speed receivers are a secondary staple.
"They're a physical team that is going to try to bloody our nose and run the ball downhill at us," Henderson said. "They've got a big back (Michael Bush) who is doing well right now and the offensive line is playing pretty good. It's a pretty basic offense, but they're going to do what they do and try to make it work for them."
The Raiders attempt to impose their will on opponents by trying on every play to prove they're tougher. That may work with finesse teams, but the Vikings aren't in the mold. Safety Tyrell Johnson said it's easy to get pulled into that Raider mindset, but that the Vikings don't play that brand of football and aren't overly impressed with the new bully on the block.
"It actually can be kind of tough not to get caught up in their style," Johnson said. "They like to hit after the whistle and get under your skin. You avoid it by staying true to who you are as a player and what you've been coached to do. They have their own image and we have our own image. We don't change who we are or what we do. We have a ‘bring it on' mentality that if you hit us in the mouth, we're going to hit you back harder. We're in the NFC North, which I believe is the most physical division in the NFL, so there's nothing they can bring to us that we haven't faced from the Packers or the Bears or the Lions."
One of the Raiders' primary targets will be running back Adrian Peterson, who has always enjoyed lowering his head and going through defenders rather than trying to toe-dance around them. Peterson missed his only game with the Raiders as a rookie in 2007 because of an injury sustained against the Packers two weeks earlier, but said he looks forward to the challenge of taking on the Bay Area Bullies and knocking them down a peg.
"They play a tough style, but I like that," Peterson said. "So do we. Those make for good games, because we can dish it out too."
Benny Sapp, who played the Raiders twice a year in his days with the Kansas City Chiefs, said that the Raider image is something they rally around, but in the NFL everybody is something of a bully, saying there are no thugs in the NFL.
"Thugs are behind bars," Sapp said. "This is a football. It's a game. You put on your pads and I put on mine. We don't get intimidated."
Whether the Vikings can make the bullies back down Sunday is yet to be seen, but one thing that is certain is that the Vikings are in for a fight and, one way or another, the referees will be kept busy pulling out their penalty flags.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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