Let the clock start ticking.
At a time when the Vikings and their fans are basking in the glory of a second straight hometown beat-down in which their opponent hung around but didn’t put up a legitimate fight, there is a storm brewing out West.
Much like winter blizzards you hear meteorologists mumbling about a week in advance – something to the effect of “recent models are indicating that this could be a weather event potentially of epic magnitude” – there is a storm brewing out west that is going to hit Colorado on Sunday.
T.J. Clemmings is going to be in the eye of the storm.
Von Miller is the storm.
Starting about the time Clemmings was named the starter at right tackle, both Norv Turner and Mike Zimmer had to begin thinking about Week 4 and the collision course the Vikings were going to have with the Denver Broncos and, in particular, Miller.
It’s no coincidence that the Broncos are 3-0. They’ve done it without a lot of help from their offense, which has been Denver’s calling card for the last three years since Peyton Manning’s arrival. The thought was that Denver can win shootout games. This season, the Broncos have shown that they can without scoring an offensive touchdown or by scoring just a couple of them.
Denver isn’t 3-0 because of Manning. They’re 3-0 despite Manning, even if he looked better Sunday night. It’s defense that is putting the “D” in Denver. The Broncos have the top defense in the league and the top passing defense.
Just as the Vikings have made great strides over the last two weeks with a defense that has beaten, battered and bruised opposing quarterbacks, Denver has taken their defensive harassment to a higher level, with a lot of the pressure coming from the edge of the defensive front, it’s Miller and DeMarcus Ware bringing the heat and blowing up plays. That’s where Clemmings comes in.
Even the best offensive right tackles have a problem containing the speed rushing and the arsenal of pass rush moves Miller brings to the table. He can change a game by himself, making the big plays in the big spots that end drives and puts Denver’s offense back on the field. All that will stand in Miller’s way to getting to Teddy Bridgewater or Adrian Peterson behind the line of scrimmage will be Clemmings.
For the last month-plus, the Vikings have tried to fill in the void left by the season-ending injury to Phil Loadholt with the fourth-round rookie who was initially going to be slotted in at guard before being slid out to the end of the line. Clemmings has had some struggles, but, for the most part, has graded out relatively well. However, he has yet to face the unique set of challenges that Miller is going to pose Sunday.
Over the course of training camp and the preseason, the Vikings have been garnering attention from the rest of the NFL that they have something good going on. At a time when the Bears and Lions have effectively taken themselves out of division title contention with matching 0-3 starts, the Vikings are at 2-1 and appear to be the only contender to knock Green Bay off its perch atop the NFC North. As they head into their final game before the bye week, the Vikings have a chance to make a statement that they are for real. Nothing would hammer home that point better than to knock Manning around and out-physical a team that has earned its reputation as being defensive tough guys with an offense capable of putting up enough points to win most games.
As they look at the matchups across the board, there are going to be several intriguing ones. Can Denver stop Peterson? Can Minnesota put the heat on Manning to force him to get rid of the ball faster than he wants to? Can one team impose its will on the other?
All of these are questions the respective coaching staffs are going to be asking themselves, and at the very top of the list of concerns is how will Clemmings hold up against Miller?
From the time Zimmer addresses the media Monday, that question should start being asked. As the week progresses, you can bet it will the headline topic of discussion because, while one player can’t win games singlehandedly, he can make the plays that set up his team for victory.
The Vikings have a chance to head into their bye week on a roll and nothing would make that statement louder than going into Denver and handing the Broncos their first loss of the season. If the Vikings are to accomplish that lofty goal, few players will be more important than the two men who wear bone-rimmed glasses.
T.J. Clemmings, get ready for the most important week of your young professional career, because you can bet the Broncos have identified him as a player that can be exploited and Miller is just the best man to do it.