Thursday, January 9, 2014
NFLN survey/feared player: Vikings
By Ben Goessling
When ESPN's NFL Nation reporters surveyed more than 320 players for our NFL Nation Confidential survey during the 2013 season, the question of which player is the NFL's most feared elicited a variety of responses. There were two ways to take the question -- which player am I most worried about having to stop, and which player am I most worried about ending my career? -- and the answers we got reflected both trains of thought.
J.J. Watt, Patrick Willis and James Harrison were among the top seven vote-getters. So were Peyton Manning and the Vikings' own Adrian Peterson, who finished seventh with 16 votes. But the two teammates at the top of the list -- Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh -- best embodied the two sides of the question.
Suh won the title with 61 votes, beating Johnson by three after gaining a reputation as one of the most aggressive players in the league. Of the 10 Vikings I surveyed, three voted for Johnson and two voted for Suh. Depending on which side of the ball you play on, there's an argument to be made for both.
The Vikings certainly have had plenty of experience with both Johnson and Suh. They've faced Johnson 12 times, allowing 62 catches for 873 yards and seven touchdowns. And actually, when you consider what he's done to the other two teams in the division (gaining 1,163 yards in 12 games against the Packers and 928 in 13 games against the Bears), along with Johnson's career average of 88 yards a game, the Vikings haven't done a bad job against him. In fact, Johnson's 72.8 yards-per-game average against them is his fourth-lowest against a NFC opponent, behind only Seattle, Washington and Chicago.
Suh has 3.5 sacks in seven career games against the Vikings and chased Christian Ponder out of the pocket in the Vikings' season-opening loss to the Lions, hitting Ponder's arm and forcing an interception. He also threw a low block at Vikings center John Sullivan in that game, nullifying a touchdown on a return of Ponder's first interception. Suh plays on the precipice of recklessness at times, and though the Vikings are far from the only team that's had run-ins with him, they get as much of a taste of the defensive lineman's fierceness as anyone.
With both players, as with Peterson, shutting them down once isn't enough to eradicate fear. It's always present in the worry of what they can do the next time, in one particular game or moment, if you're not being careful. Playing in the same division as the Lions, the Vikings have to deal with both of them twice a year, and that challenge is easily one of the most formidable in the NFL.