Backs Against the Wall

There's no question this weekend's game against the Oakland Raiders is a must-win game. Not so much for playoff hopes, but maybe to simply hold the team together. If the Vikings can play their game, it can be done. Here are five keys for success this Sunday:

1.  Shut down the run

Until last week, when Ryan Grant gashed the Vikings run defense, a lot of better backs had been held in check.  The Vikings need to return to form against LaMont Jordan, Justin Fargas and Dominic Rhodes this week.

The Raiders have averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per rush coming into this game.  Jordan has rushed 129 times for 521 yards (4.0 avg.) with a long run of 33 yards and two touchdowns.  Fargas has been even more explosive with 104-518 (5.0 avg.) with a long of 48 and one TD.

Even with Grant’s performance figured in, the Vikings have held opponents to just 3.0 yards per carry this season.  A return to form there will at least keep this game close enough for an opportunity to win.

2.  Win key matchups in the trenches

Last week, the Vikings appeared to have favorable individual matchups on defense, with Pat Williams and Kevin Williams facing a pair of Packers guards who had struggled.  The Vikings did not win those battles.  They must this week.

The interior of Oakland’s offensive line is Robert Gallery (left guard), Jake Grove (center) and Cooper Carlisle (right guard).  The Williams Wall needs to wreak some havoc this Sunday.

Another area of potential vulnerability for the Raiders is right tackle, where starter Cornell Green, a journeyman, has struggled with a knee injury of late.  Especially on the pass rush, the Vikings need to bring some heat off the edge.  Left end Kenechi Udeze and rookie Brian Robison have an opportunity to make an impact this week.

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line needs to control Warren Sapp and Gerard Warren in the middle and keep left end Derrick Burgess at bay.  Burgess, who had 16 sacks (in 2005) and 11 sacks (in 2006) has only two so far this season.  The Vikings tackles have struggled at times against these type of undersized, speed-type pass rushers.  Burgess is just 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, but those guys have given Ryan Cook and Bryant McKinnie trouble this season.  They need to step up this week.

3.  Control the clock

The offense needs to at least keep the defense off the field more than they did last week.  Against the Raiders passing game, their pass defense should be able to at least hold their own if they aren’t on the field a majority of the time.

Chester Taylor is very capable of being a control-the-clock type of running back.  They will miss Adrian Peterson, but very few teams have a player the caliber of Taylor to fall back on.  In fact, the presence of Taylor might make the offense a bit more balanced, because the likelihood of him going the distance from anywhere on the field isn’t as great, so a little more variety is needed.  With Peterson, it’s hard not to just keep giving him the ball over and over until he does break one.  His absence will force the Vikings to be a bit more diverse this week.

If the offensive line plays up to its potential, both run blocking and on pass protection, the Vikings can accomplish this task.

4.  Move the chains in the passing game

It’s not likely that quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is going have a career game and suddenly throw for four touchdowns this week, but he needs to complete a higher percentage of his passes than 46.4% he has thus far.  A big play or two in the passing game would be great, but he needs to nickel-and-dime the Raiders pass defense to death, keep the chains moving and burn the clock.

Could somebody get open this week, maybe?

5.  Avoid turnovers

Seems like a given every week.  The Vikings are actually +5 in the turnover department entering this week.  Creating some on defense would be great, but even more important will be to avoid any on offense.

The Vikings can accomplish one through four and virtually be assured of having a very good chance to win the game.  But too many turnovers could scuttle the whole plan.

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