NFC North: Minnesota Vikings

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
A weekly look at what the Vikings must fix:

Minnesota allowed six sacks Sunday afternoon in a game where the New England Patriots moved Chandler Jones from a 3-4 outside linebacker position to a 4-3 defensive end spot, putting him in position to work against left tackle Matt Kalil for a large portion of the game. Kalil gave up two sacks -- one to Jones on a speed rush, and one to linebacker Dont'a Hightower on a blitz.

Even though the Vikings will face a New Orleans Saints team that has just two sacks this season, they'll be returning to a dome, where noise figures to be a factor in the Saints' home opener. If the Vikings want to avoid a second consecutive loss and get their offense in order after a 30-7 defeat on Sunday, they'll have to do a better job protecting Matt Cassel.

One thing to keep in mind is how much more help the Vikings were able to give Kalil in Week 1 than they did in Week 2 through the use of either tight end Rhett Ellison or Kyle Rudolph in a blocking role. Part of that, of course, was due to the score of the game against the Patriots and the fact the Vikings had to spend much more time in three-receiver sets as they tried to rally than they did in Week 1. But if the Vikings find themselves in that situation again, they have to be able to trust their left tackle to handle his man. It's worth noting, too, that Kalil and Charlie Johnson gave up a combined three quarterback hits and six hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

With Adrian Peterson back this week, the Saints undoubtedly will have more to think about in stopping the Vikings' offense, but if the pass protection isn't better, there's only so much even Peterson can alleviate.
videoMINNEAPOLIS -- Two days after the Minnesota Vikings made the decision to deactivate Adrian Peterson for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots, those players who would speak about Peterson largely supported the 2012 NFL MVP while doing their best to downplay the effect his absence had in a 30-7 loss on Sunday.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gave possibly the most insightful response when asked about the identity of the Vikings' offense without Peterson. "We've got to get the mindset that (No.) 28 probably ain't going to be here with us," Patterson said, "so we have to come in and do what we do best."

That could be the reality facing the Vikings in at least the near future as the team decides what to do with Peterson after he was indicted on one count of injury to a child in Montgomery County, Texas on Friday. Peterson was booked in the Montgomery County jail early on Saturday morning after a grand jury found he used an unreasonable amount of force in disciplining his son earlier this year. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Sunday that the Vikings would determine Peterson's status after the weekend, adding that "all options are on the table." A league source told Paolantonio the Vikings could make a decision as soon as Monday following a meeting with ownership on Sunday night.

Running back Matt Asiata, who filled in for Peterson on Sunday, said he heard from Peterson before Sunday's game, telling him to "just go out and play hard," Asiata said. "We've got his back, and we miss him."

Fullback Jerome Felton also said he sent Peterson a text message before Sunday's game; "Adrian is a teammate and a friend -- sent him a little message, but we’ve got to focus on getting better this week," Felton said. "We talked, but I'll keep all of that between us."

Quarterback Matt Cassel said he was "shocked" to hear the news, "probably just like everybody else," but added the Vikings didn't change their game plan because of Peterson's absence.

"It’s Adrian Peterson. He’s definitely an impact player without a doubt," Cassel said. "At the same time, I don’t think we can use that as an excuse for why we performed the way we did today. The great example was last year, when we lost him for the Philadelphia game, and the team went out and performed well and we won the game without him. That happens sometimes, whether it’s through injury or unfortunate circumstances; you’re going to lose players and you have to learn how to close ranks and move forward.”

Coach Mike Zimmer largely declined to discuss Peterson, saying he would address the situation "Monday or whenever we have the press conference," and bristled at the idea that finding out the news about Peterson on Friday affected the Vikings.

"No, it didn’t affect the team," Zimmer said. "You know what affected the team? Throwing interceptions, getting a field goal blocked, not tackling well enough, having penalties on defense. That’s what affected the team. The team was fine.”
Julian EdelmanAP Photo/Jim MoneVikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes was flagged three times, including twice for pass interference, and had a rough day overall matched up against Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A week after they allowed just six points on the road, the Minnesota Vikings had to apply some perspective to their 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Patriots started four drives at midfield or better on Sunday, along with two others that began at the New England 39 and 45. That fact, along with Chandler Jones' touchdown return of a blocked field goal, contributed far more to the final score than long drives by Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense.

But the Vikings still had plenty to lament after the loss, in a game where a handful of defensive penalties and an inability to stop the run kept Minnesota from putting too much heat on Brady. The Vikings allowed 150 rushing yards on a day where the Patriots relied heavily on six-lineman formations, and Brady picked on second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was playing with a groin injury and was flagged three times, including twice for pass interference.

"They came in, obviously, with a plan to run the football and not let us get into these pressure situations," coach Mike Zimmer said. "They took good care of the ball."

Rhodes was covering Julian Edelman for much of the game, and that matchup led to some of the cornerback's worst moments. He was flagged for a defensive holding penalty that was declined in the third quarter, and was cited for his second pass interference penalty of the game two plays later. Edelman also caught a 44-yard pass when Rhodes, who was trailing him on the play, dove to deflect Brady's pass and missed the ball, giving Edelman room to run on third-and-14.

Asked about the penalties, Zimmer said, "Well, they were called, so I'm assuming they were good calls. These officials do a good job. We've got to do a better job of getting him in better position than what he was."

The Patriots spent much of the day in manageable down-and-distance situations, threw at rookie linebacker Anthony Barr enough to keep him from getting involved as a pass rusher and allowed just one sack (by defensive tackle Tom Johnson) a week after giving up four. That formula proved to be an effective one, on a day where New England's offense was frequently staked to good field position.

"You can’t do that against anyone in the NFL," defensive end Brian Robison said. "You go out there and allow them to have five to six yards a pop on first down that puts them ahead of the chains already. We go out and don’t create any turnovers and have three or four turnovers ourselves and lose the turnover battle that bad; your likelihood of winning isn’t that good."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were driving late in the first half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with an opportunity to score before halftime and pull within a touchdown or a field goal. Matt Cassel dropped back on third-and-16 and found Cordarrelle Patterson inside the Patriots' 10, running a corner route between their cornerback and safety.

It was a perfect call to beat the Patriots' coverage, and a connection with Patterson would have put the Vikings on the doorstep of a touchdown with 30 seconds and a timeout remaining. But Cassel's throw led Patterson too close to the sideline and the receiver wasn't able to get both of his feet in bounds. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones blocked the Vikings' ensuing field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 24-7.

"I had to put it outside away from the safety," Cassel said. "It was a split safety, and over the corner's head. I threw it where I wanted to, and unfortunately we weren't able to complete it in bounds."

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesMatt Cassel's four interceptions were too much to overcome.
Throws like those can extend drives and prevent the 10- or 14-point swing that effectively took the Vikings out of Sunday's game. They can help Cassel bounce back from the interceptions he threw on Sunday, and in the long run, they can help reinforce his hold on the starting quarterback job. But if Cassel can't make them, he might not be able to shake the notion that he has the job only until Teddy Bridgewater is ready.

Cassel will start for the Vikings in New Orleans next week after going 19 of 36 for 202 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions on Sunday, and in reality, the Vikings' decisions at quarterback should -- and probably do -- revolve more around determining the right course of action for Bridgewater than any short-term ramifications. But the Vikings' attempt to get to 2-0 turned sour on a poor performance from Cassel, and with it, the quarterback missed a chance to assert himself, against his former team and without Adrian Peterson by his side to command some of the defense's attention.

"I'm not going to make excuses and say that just because Adrian Peterson wasn't playing today is the reason why we faltered," Cassel said. "There are a number of different reasons, and I will take full responsibility. I've got to take better care of the ball and not give short fields against a good team, and maybe the circumstances will be different."

Chief among Cassel's concerns might be his struggles on shots down the field, which are a key component of offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme and led to three of his interceptions on Sunday. He was 0-of-8 on throws that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and is just 1-of-11 with three interceptions on throws that covered 10 or more air yards this season. Cassel is the first quarterback since 2006 to start in both Week 1 and 2 without completing more than one pass 10 or more yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

There were more parties responsible for the Vikings' offensive shortcomings on Sunday than just Cassel. Tight end Kyle Rudolph dropped three passes, wide receiver Greg Jennings had a drop, and the Vikings gave up six sacks.

"Matt's been in this league 10 years," Rudolph said. "He's a professional; he's ready to get back to work. You know, it's not all on Matt by any means. We put ourselves in a lot of really tough situations."

Many teams do, and the good ones have quarterbacks who can get them out of those situations. Most of Cassel's opportunities to do that on Sunday fell by the wayside.

"Today was one game in a 16-game season," Cassel said. "Of course, at times would I have liked to change some outcomes and circumstances? Of course. I think any quarterback in the league would tell you that at times."

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:09
PM ET
videoMINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 30-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:

What it means: The game will be seen largely in light of Adrian Peterson's absence, but even if the Vikings had kept the 2012 NFL MVP active on Sunday, it's difficult to see them beating the Patriots the way they played. They weren't able to put consistent pressure on Tom Brady a week after the Miami Dolphins sacked him four times, and they lost the turnover battle by four (or five, if you count the blocked field goal the Patriots returned for a touchdown in the first half). Matt Cassel threw three interceptions, and while he might have had a few more favorable looks if Peterson had been on the field, he also overthrew receivers at several key moments.

Stock watch: In a game in which he could have helped the Vikings get to 2-0 against his former team and his close friend Brady, Cassel didn't answer the bell. His first interception was a badly overthrown deep ball to Jarius Wright, and he overshot Kyle Rudolph on a second-quarter drive before leading Cordarrelle Patterson out of bounds on a pass that could have put the Vikings on the Patriots' doorstep. The Vikings, instead, had a field goal blocked on the next play. It seems unlikely the Vikings would think about a quarterback change this early, but they need Cassel to be better than this if they're hoping to surprise in the NFC North.

Difficult day for Rhodes: Targeted all day by Brady, especially when he was lined up on Julian Edelman, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes had a tough afternoon. He was playing with a groin injury that appeared to affect him in coverage, and he was also flagged for a couple of pass interference penalties. On Edelman's 44-yard completion in the first half, Rhodes made a diving attempt for the ball after he was beaten, and Edelman raced down the sideline after Rhodes missed the ball.

Game ball: There weren't many choices for the Vikings, but safety Harrison Smith gets the nod for today. He was credited with eight tackles and might have been the Vikings' most effective player in run support.

What's next: The Vikings (1-1) will head to New Orleans next Sunday to face the Saints in their home opener.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Coach Mike Zimmer continued to sound optimistic on Friday that cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- who both did some work in practice on Friday -- would be able to play for the Minnesota Vikings in their home opener on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Rhodes
Floyd
Rhodes was officially listed as questionable with a groin injury, as Floyd was with a shoulder injury, but Zimmer said there is a "good chance" Rhodes will play, and added Floyd is feeling "much better" after getting hit in the shoulder late in Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Linebacker Brandon Watts, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, is the only player whom the Vikings declared out for the game. Wide receiver Rodney Smith is questionable with a hamstring injury; he had been a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but was limited on Friday.

Linebacker Michael Mauti is probable to play on Sunday after missing last week's game with a foot injury. Fullback Zach Line is also probable with an ankle injury after missing last week's game, as is guard Charlie Johnson, whom Zimmer said injured his ankle in practice on Wednesday. Tackle Mike Harris and cornerback Jabari Price are both probable with shoulder injuries.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The New England Patriots' first outing with their 3-4 defense didn't yield positive results, especially against the run; the Patriots gave up 191 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, after hoping they had fixed a run defense that allowed 2,145 yards last season.

Fusco
Though the Minnesota Vikings' own 185-yard rushing total against the St. Louis Rams was helped more by Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run than by the Vikings' bread-and-butter plays with Adrian Peterson, there could be plenty of room to run against the Patriots on Sunday, too.

"We've seen it before. We see more space out there," guard Brandon Fusco said. "I'll be more out in space, getting to the second level more, running around a little more. I'm fine with that."

Fusco, in particular, saw plenty of action last week, as the Vikings gained 152 of their 185 yards on the right side of the line, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their new running scheme frequently employs Fusco as a pulling guard, and he was out in front of Peterson on his two biggest runs last week -- a 17-yarder in the first quarter when Fusco was pulling with center John Sullivan, and a 16-yarder in the third quarter, when Fusco and fullback Jerome Felton were leading Peterson.

"(Left guard) Charlie (Johnson) and I are athletic guards, and we're using it to our advantage," Fusco said. "It's something (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) likes to do. Sully's out there pulling a little bit, too. It's getting us out in space and hitting the little guys.

"The St. Louis game, there was a play where we're pulling, but they couldn't stop it, so we just kept running it over and over. It seemed like maybe it was a coincidence that I was pulling a lot more than usual, but they couldn't stop the play."

Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt are typically the players behind whom the Vikings run the most, and after seeing the Dolphins push Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork around last week, the Vikings could find room to be aggressive with New England's front, as well.

"Miami did a great job, especially with Wilfork in the middle," Fusco said. "They pushed him around a little bit, and we've just got to be physical with these guys."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even if Mike Zimmer isn't assuming he can recreate the game plan he used to contain the New England Patriots' offense last season -- or at least isn't saying that -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick expects he knows what's coming on Sunday.

Belichick
Zimmer's scheme in the Cincinnati Bengals' 13-6 win against the Patriots last Oct. 6 was so effective, Belichick said on Friday "I wouldn’t be surprised if they Xeroxed the same game plan.

"We couldn’t do much: 1-for-13 on third down, six points, whatever it was," Belichick told New England reporters on Friday. "They did a good job. Yeah, we’re certainly prepared for that, if they just do the same thing they did last year. It wouldn’t shock me at all, until we show we can do something about it. We didn’t do much last year."

In the Bengals' win against the Patriots last season, Zimmer blitzed Tom Brady on 12 of his 41 dropbacks, or 29.3 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That was the fifth-highest blitz percentage the Bengals' defense had in any game last season, and Cincinnati's defense sacked Brady three times on those blitzes. Brady's QBR when he was blitzed in the Bengals game was 2.2.

The Vikings only blitzed Rams quarterbacks eight times last week, and as we discussed this week, the Miami Dolphins did some of their best work against Brady when they didn't blitz him last week. It will depend in part on how effectively the Vikings can generate pressure against the Patriots' suspect offensive line, and how reliably their young secondary can cover receivers if Brady tries to spread them out. That, to me, is one of the bigger keys to this game, and will probably dictate in some sense how aggressive the Vikings can be with their blitz package.

Belichick, though, expects he'll see much of what the Bengals did last season.

"(There's) a lot of carryover (from Cincinnati)," Belichick said. "They do a good job keeping you off balance. I’d say that’s one of their real strengths is they give you a bunch of, not so much different looks but different combinations off similar looks. ... You have to figure it out after the snap. Your receivers and your quarterback and your line sometimes have to make post-snap adjustments."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The prospect of cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd playing in the Minnesota Vikings' home opener on Sunday appears to be improving.

Floyd
Rhodes
Coach Mike Zimmer said on Thursday afternoon that there is a "good chance" that Rhodes (who is nursing a groin injury) and Floyd (who has a shoulder injury) could be ready for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots. Rhodes said on Thursday that he is feeling better than he did early in the week, and he was on the field with his helmet during the portion of Vikings practice open to reporters on Thursday.

"He was alright," Zimmer said. "We're just getting him in some (drills)."

Floyd did not practice on Thursday, but Zimmer said there was a possibility he would be able to do at least some work in the game on Sunday. If Floyd isn't available, Tom Johnson would likely start at tackle for the Vikings.

"We'll know more tomorrow and the next day," Zimmer said.

Also, Adrian Peterson did not participate in practice after going through warm-ups with the team during the open portion, but the Vikings say his absence was not injury-related.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson's disappointment over his own performance last Sunday was mostly mitigated by the fact the Minnesota Vikings beat the St. Louis Rams by four touchdowns on the road. But when he watched the film of his 21-carry, 75-yard day, Peterson didn't leave with a glowing evaluation.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson called his performance in Sunday's season opener "mediocre."
"It was kind of mediocre," Peterson said. "I really wasn't pleased in the way that I played. Overall, I really didn't beat myself up too much, because we pretty much blew them out. We got a 'W.' But on a personal level, there were a lot of things I was able to take from this game that I'll be able to adjust and do differently this week."

Peterson wouldn't elaborate on what he planned to change this week, but it appeared on Sunday he was still trying to find his comfort level with the Vikings' new running scheme, which employs more pulling guards and makes greater use of runs designed to hit a certain point of attack, rather than allowing Peterson to find cutback lanes.

The Rams' defense, though, is one of the league's best against the run, and Peterson could find more opportunities this week against a Patriots defense that ranked 30th in the league against the run last season and allowed 191 rushing yards in a loss to Miami in Week 1.

"In the second half, Miami used their no-huddle and kept coming at New England pretty fast and they got some creases and then they started getting some cutbacks," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Like we’ve all been in games, it just went downhill for New England from there. If you watch that first half, you wouldn’t have thought that was going to happen."

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 11 of Peterson's 21 carries were to the right side of the Vikings' line and he gained 45 yards on those runs. The Dolphins ran to the right side of their line eight times last Sunday, gaining an average of 5.38 yards. If the Vikings are able to throw effectively enough to keep New England from stacking the box against Peterson, there should be plenty of opportunities for the running back on Sunday.

"To see other guys get involved, it's what I've been looking for, for a long time," Peterson said. "It's a breath of fresh air."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The noise -- a mechanical ker-chunk as Rhett Ellison slams his shoulder into the blocking sled -- has occupied a familiar place in the soundtrack of Minnesota Vikings practices for the last three years. The tight end makes a significant part of his living off the inglorious task of blocking defenders, and either before or after practice, Ellison is often all alone on the field, going over the steps of his dance with the sled.

"If you're ever out here early to practice, you'll notice he's the first one out here -- all the time," tight ends coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think that's not an accident. I think that's something that, he's very serious about doing the little things, working on his techniques. You can't fake that. That truly is him."

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Rhett Ellison
Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesKnown mostly for his blocking, Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison caught a pass for 22 yards on Sunday, just the 13th of his career.
It's been him since he was a kid, getting his first taste of sports while playing rugby in his New Zealand schoolyard and learning the game through football drills with his father Riki -- a former linebacker and three-time Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers. Ellison, whose great uncle Thomas was the first captain of the All Blacks national rugby team and whose rugby-playing relatives still tell him "football is for pansies," learned one of the secrets to the game is embracing its gritty side. He didn't think he'd be drafted until the Vikings selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, doesn't know that Pro Football Focus calls him one of the most underrated players in the league and doesn't particularly seem to care about the attention he's beginning to receive for how well he performs his arduous role.

Ellison seems to have found a perfect fit as Norv Turner's utility knife, lining up as a blocking tight end, motioning into the backfield as a H-back and breaking three tackles to turn a tight end screen into a 22-yard gain after the Rams' defense seemed to forget about him late in the Vikings' 34-6 victory on Sunday. He's only in the third year of his rookie deal, making just $570,000 this year, but Ellison's value to the Vikings might never have been higher.

"He's somebody that is tough, does things the right way, does the things that Coach [Mike] Zimmer talks about [as being] important to winning," said Stefanski, who's in his first year coaching tight ends after previously serving as the Vikings' assistant quarterbacks coach. "It's been interesting to see it up close."

The 25-year-old's catch on Sunday was just the 13th of his career, and his longest since his rookie season, but there could be more out there for Ellison in Turner's offense. He played half of the Vikings' offensive snaps on Sunday, after getting that much action in just four games last year, and is now working for an offensive coordinator who typically uses two-tight end sets more than any in the league.

"He loves using two tight ends all the time," Ellison said. "You're excited any time you have an offensive coordinator who's been in the NFL that long. You trust him right away."

Ellison's role as a blocker will likely continue to be a prominent one, though, and it's not one he seems interested in trading. He learned one way to play the game from his father -- who now lives outside Washington -- and was indoctrinated in the blocking sled drill by former USC offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu. Any other way of doing his job would be foreign to Ellison.

"It's just that whole, keep sharpening your tools," Ellison said. "You've got to stay up on that kind of stuff."

Patriots vs. Vikings preview

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
Update: The Vikings have deactivated Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game following Friday's indictment by a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?

In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.

Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?

Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.

Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.

Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?

Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.

In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?

Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.

Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?

Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.

Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.

Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- They will forever be linked by a serendipitous twist, the worst injury of Tom Brady's career giving way to the best opportunity of Matt Cassel's. But six years after their time together in New England ended, the two quarterbacks still share a lot more than that.

Brady and Cassel remain good friends off the field. They play golf, see each other's families, work out together during the offseason in Southern California and still talk every other week during the season.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Matt Cassel
AP Photo/Kathy WillensMatt Cassel said he learned a lot from Tom Brady from their days as teammates with the Patriots.
Cassel hadn't started a game since high school before a hit from Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard tore Brady's ACL during the 2008 season opener, and a solid season in Brady's absence made Cassel a rich man the next spring, when the Chiefs traded for him and gave him a six-year, $62 million contract.

But the two quarterbacks never faced each other during Cassel's time in Kansas City, and this Sunday, with the Patriots coming to Minnesota for the Vikings' home opener, Brady and Cassel will be competitors on the field for the first time.

"We probably won’t talk this week, I’m guessing," Cassel said. "At the same time, he’s a great friend. He was a great mentor to me when I was there. Like I said, I’m really grateful that I had that opportunity to work with him and learn from him."

When the Patriots spent a seventh-round pick on Cassel in 2005, he came to a team that had just won its third Super Bowl in five years.

"He was very talkative as a rookie," Brady said. "I had to make sure he didn't overstep his bounds from time to time. But that's part of his personality -- he's very energetic, he's very intense. He's always been that way, since the day I met him."

Brady's advice, Cassel said, taught him how he needed to handle himself in the NFL.

"I remember when I was a young quarterback and we’re out at practice and I forgot a motion, and I still hit the pass, but he got after me pretty good about forgetting the motion," Cassel said. "The whole point to why he did it, he said, ‘Look, you can’t be a guy and seen as a leader if you’re making mistakes, simple mistakes, on the field. You can’t be a guy that goes up and tries to get after somebody else if you’re making those mistakes.’ And I thought it was a great point and I’ve carried that with me wherever I’ve gone.

"I think I give all the credit to that, the fact that I was, as a young player, able to come in and learn from one of the best, if not the best over his career. Really, each and every day, watch the process that he went through, how he broke down defense, ask questions. And then for him to be so good to me to actually answer those questions and not blow me off like, ‘Hey, get out of here,' it was huge for my development as a player.”

Cassel has said what Brady did for him influenced how he works with Vikings rookie Teddy Bridgewater, and Cassel said Wednesday that he still follows the Patriots closely. Even though the friendship might be put on hold this week, the respect between Cassel and Brady hasn't gone anywhere.

"He's had to fight his whole career," Brady said about Cassel. "Things were never easy for him: they weren't easy in high school, they weren't easy in college, and certainly, when he got to the professional level, they weren't easy. He's had a lot of adversity, and he's dealt with it. I think that's made him a strong person, a strong player and really a great teammate. That's why he's the starting quarterback of a very good NFL team right now. I'm proud of him."
Sanford
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A stretch of nagging injuries kept safety Jamarca Sanford from making his case to the Minnesota Vikings' new coaching staff as it evaluated a group of safeties who might be able to start alongside Harrison Smith. Now, those injuries have officially ended Sanford's time in Minnesota.

According to a league source, the Vikings released Sanford on Monday with an injury settlement. The team had put Sanford on injured reserve with a strained quadriceps muscle before the start of the season; the release will give Sanford a chance to sign with another team and get back on the field at some point this season.

After the Vikings asked Sanford to take a pay cut during the offseason, though, his standing with the Vikings seemed tenuous. He saw a $750,000 reduction in his base salary, in exchange for $400,000 of guaranteed money in his base salary. He was never able to get on the field during the Vikings' organized team activities or minicamp, and a string of additional injuries in training camp -- first a spate of back spasms, and then the quadriceps strain he sustained in the Vikings' third preseason game against Kansas City -- eventually kept him out of the mix at safety.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will find out more about their injury situation by the time players return for practice on Wednesday, but on Monday afternoon, coach Mike Zimmer didn't have any reason for great concern.

Zimmer said both cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who left Sunday's game with groin and arm injuries, respectively, are day-to-day. But the coach said on Sunday that he didn't think Rhodes' injury would be a long-term problem, and Floyd said he'd be ready to play against the New England Patriots on Sunday. Zimmer also said that cornerback Josh Robinson, who appeared to injure his leg on a long pass late in the game, is fine.

He added linebacker Michael Mauti and fullback Zach Line, who missed Sunday's game with foot and ankle injuries, would try to practice on Wednesday.

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