As the NFL gets set to remember the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, new Vikings linebacker Xavier…
Vikings-Chargers game scout
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX (Ron Pitts, Jim Mora, Drea Avent)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings' recipe to keeping it close is a heavy dose of RB Adrian Peterson attacking the Chargers' reshaped group of linebackers, followed by a steady diet of TEs Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph in new coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense. Minnesota must control the clock, because its defense is severely overmatched. DT Kevin Williams is suspended and cohort Pat Williams is gone. If San Diego can manage a tablespoon of a ground game, it will only create more one-on-one mismatches downfield for QB Philip Rivers to exploit.
FAST FACTS: In the last meeting, a 35-17 Vikings victory in 2007, Peterson set an NFL single-game record with 296 rushing yards. ... Rivers and Dan Fouts are the only Chargers quarterbacks with three consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons.
Offensively, the Vikings figure to play as they did all preseason – conservative, short passing game featuring a lot of bootlegs and rollouts, mixed with a heavy dose of the run game.
On defense, the question is whether they'll send a lot of pressure at McNabb or stick with a lot of Tampa-2, dropping seven in coverage and hoping a four-man rush can create enough pressure to disrupt the Chargers' passing game.
Asked if it's dangerous to blitz Rivers, Frazier smiled and said, "Well, without tipping my hand, we've got to find a way to make (Rivers) uncomfortable."
The Vikings enter the season opener with plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball to go along with three new coordinators.
On offense, Donovan McNabb takes over at quarterback for Brett Favre, Charlie Johnson replaces Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and Bernard Berrian reenters the starting lineup for Sidney Rice.
On defense, the Vikings will open the season with three new starting linemen – left end Brian Robison, nose tackle Remi Ayodele and undertackle Letroy Guion – while Kevin Williams serves a two-game suspension. They also have a new weakside linebacker (Erin Henderson) and strong safety (Jamarca Sanford) replacing departed veterans Ben Leber and Madieu Williams, respectively.
Schematically, the biggest change is new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's departure from Brad Childress' rigid West Coast scheme. The Vikings appear to be moving away from zone blocking, too, incorporating more power plays in the running game.
New defensive coordinator Fred Pagac largely appears poised to stick with Frazier's preferred Cover-2 defense, although there have been signs he's more disposed to sending pressure in passing situations.
The Chargers' running game remains a work in progress – if the preseason was any indication. The passing game? All systems go.
Philip Rivers looked as sharp as ever and with his Pro Bowl targets, WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates, signed and healthy, he'll be tempted to move the ball through the air. If the Chargers can score at their usual rate, and more importantly get a lead early, it will sap the Vikings of their approach of using their best weapon in Peterson. If the Vikings can't lean on the run, that means more time on the clock for Rivers to spin the scoreboard.
The Chargers are kicking off one of the most important seasons in franchise history. How's that for some hype leading to Sunday's season opener against the Minnesota Vikings?
It just might be reality.
The Chargers are eager for another run at the Super Bowl, something they've failed to gain despite a string of winning seasons.
General manager A. J. Smith and coach Norv Turner might not be able to survive another playoff-free year after the Chargers failed to keep their string of four AFC West titles alive.
Not only is it important to the players, coaches and staff, but a Super Bowl season just might add fuel to the team's quest to build a new downtown stadium.
Other than that, it's just another year.
But it's clear the sting of not qualifying for the playoffs last year still exists. So much so that the Chargers need something that has been as rare as a blizzard in San Diego – a fast start to the season.
The Chargers typical hiccup from the gate cost them a run to the playoffs – well, that and two killer losses in December – last season.
"In years previously in starting slow we dug ourselves out of the hole and recovered and made the postseason," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for a career-high 4,710 yards in 2010. "Last year we couldn't do that; it humbled us.
"We all know we can't do that to ourselves and expect to get out of it each and every year. If you can emphasize it anymore; we've done it every day, all camp, talking about getting off to fast start."
The Chargers see an opening month in which they'll be expected to win three of the four – probably not at New England. But one there are supposed to snag is Sunday, although the Vikings will provide a tough test.
Just because the Chargers are supposed to win doesn't mean they will. That's especially true in early season games under coach Norv Turner. Starting last year, the Chargers have gone 2-3, 2-3, 2-3 and 1-3.
So the mantra heading into Sunday's game – and one that has been clear since camp – is the cry to start fast.
That, really, has been there in all of Turner's camps. But after last year, when the Chargers weren't able to shrug it off, it has left a mark.
"But we can't win three or four games in one week," Rivers stressed. "We're trying to get to 1-0."
While Rivers' side of the ball doesn't offer many questions, the same can't be said for the defense.
The Chargers' run-stuffers will be given the ultimate challenge in trying to stop Adrian Peterson. The Vikings shred the Chargers for 378 rushing yards in their last meeting in 2007, with Adrian Peterson set an NFL record with 296 yards.
The inside linebacker position is in flux with newcomers Takeo Spikes, the inexperienced Donald Butler, and two ailing players in Stephen Cooper (biceps) and rookie Jonas Mouton (shoulder).
Add all that up, and the potential of Peterson showing off his fresh legs, could be a problem.
But the Chargers don't care. They know they can't lay an egg in their opener, with a trip to New England and home games against Kansas City and Miami.
First up – the Vikings.
First lesson in fast starts – winning the first one.
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. The Chargers and Vikings are tied in the series, 5-5. The teams have alternated victories leading up to Sunday's season-opener. The Vikings prevailed in their last meeting, at Minnesota, 35-17, in 2007. The Chargers claimed the last game at their venue, winning 42-28 in 2003. The Chargers own the seventh-highest winning percentage on opening days at 29-22 (.569). That is just lower than the Vikings at 28-21-1 (.570) All-time the Chargers are 14-7 (.667) when opening at home.
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