The Minnesota Vikings are looking to continue the roll that they’ve been on the last two months and, in doing so, they’re returning to the scene of the crime.
In their regular season opener, the Vikings were overwhelmed by a San Francisco 49ers team that has struggled to win games since. This time, they’re heading across the bay to Oakland and defensive end Brian Robison is looking for some sweet revenge.
The Vikings look to be a much different team than the one that struggled and sputtered against the 49ers in their Monday night massacre of Minnesota. Players are stepping up at all three levels and making plays.
One week it will be a cornerback or a safety. The next week it’s a linebacker. The next week, it’s defensive lineman. Robison said the reason that so many different defensive players are putting in big weeks is because they don’t change their approach from one game to the next even though the offenses change.
“I think a lot of it is how teams like to run their offenses,” Robison said. “Some are right-handed heavy and some are left-handed heavy. For us, what it boils down to is to have all 11 guys being where they’re supposed to be and when we’re in that situation, you let the plays come to you.”
It would seem from the outside that the Vikings have an insight into what the Raiders will be running because former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is at the helm of the Raiders offense.
But Robison said he didn’t recognize much of anything that his defensive teammates practiced against when facing off with Musgrave’s offense. Watching film of the Raiders, it would appear as though Musgrave had reinvented himself with the differing personnel and the offensive strengths and weaknesses of his new team.
“If you look at it, it’s totally different than it was when he was here,” Robison said. “They’re going to do a lot of shifts and motions. For example, you see them shifting a running back all over the place. For us, it’s just going to be clueing into our keys, making sure we do what we have to do and be in the right place – just play sound assignment football.”
Musgrave was often criticized in Minnesota for what was viewed as a relatively simplistic offense, right down to the pee way play card he would hold over his mouth on game day. In Oakland, things have been completely different. The Raiders have been high-octane, much the same way Musgrave’s offenses were in Atlanta.
Robison was asked how his offense could be so much more potent than the teams he coached in Minnesota and he said that maybe a change of scenery can make all the difference for a coordinator or head coach.
“Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side and sometimes it isn’t,” Robison said. “It seems to be working out for him well this year. They’re a good football team, their offensive line works really well together, they’ve got some running backs that can make plays and obviously their wide receiver corps and their quarterback work really well together. This is a good test for us.”
Not only doesn’t Musgrave’s offense look familiar to what he did in Minnesota, it looks a lot like the offensive scheme run in Philadelphia, where quick-hitters, screens and slant passes are the word of the day.
The Raiders have made it a priority to keep quarterback Derek Carr clean and it has worked – Carr has been sacked just eight times in eight games. The goal is to get the ball out of Carr’s hands quickly and let their speed players on the perimeter do the damage. Mike Zimmer said Carr is averaging 2.4 seconds to release the ball.
“The thing that you see is that they’re not going to allow people to get a bunch of hits on their quarterback,” Robison said. “That’s what they’re trying to do – they’re trying to get it out of his hands and allow their playmakers on the edges to make plays.”
In hopes of having a better outcome in the Bay Area, the Vikings left for Oakland on Friday. They’ll be staying at the same hotel complex as they did against San Francisco, which is about 45 minutes away from the stadium, but they hope that changing up the travel routine will get the players more acclimated to the time change and have them feeling more comfortable about playing in northern California than they were the first time (even though the decision was made before the season started).
Robison said the players aren’t overly concerned one way or the other about leaving Minnesota early. As he sees it, they have a job to do and if that means getting to the work site early, so be it.
“At the end of the day, we’re going out there and treating it like a business trip and trying to win a ballgame,” Robison said. “We got our tails whipped out there the first time, so why not try something different?”