We have finally made it. The first real football game is just days away. While the Titans showed promise in the preseason, they are up against one of the best teams in the league in 2015. This will be a huge test for the Titans, and a win could set the tone for the rest of the season. Today, preview this matchup:
Reasons For Confidence: Vikings QB Situation In Flux, Run Game, Vikings Offensive Line
Vikings' QB Situation: The number one storyline headed into this game is the Vikings' quarterback situation. With Teddy Bridgewater out, the Titans will face either Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill. The good news for the Titans, is that there are some legitimate questions about either option. If Sam Bradford is the starter, he will not be completely comfortable with the offense, having been in town a week. If Shaun Hill starts, the Titans will face the guy that the Vikings desperately traded a first in order to keep on the bench. By almost all accounts, Hill does not have much of an arm, and is a sitting duck behind a lackluster offensive line. Considering the fact that Norv Turner's offense is based on deep drops and deep passes, this does not mesh at all. No matter who the starter is on Sunday, the mobility factor that came with Bridgewater is gone, and significant questions are there.
Run Game: The Vikings' defense is extremely talented, and one of the best units in the league. However, if they have a weakness, it is run defense--especially against bigger backs. Eddie Lacy is a back who normally gives that unit fits, and Carlos Hyde did the same week 1 a year ago. Considering that the Titans' new approach revolves around power running and their "Thunder and Thunder" duo with Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry, this may be an area that the Titans can exploit.
Vikings Offensive Line: The Vikings' number one weakness is their offensive line. Keeping Teddy Bridgewater upright was an issue last year, and during the preseason the unit does not look much better. Again, as previously mentioned, with Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill, the mobility factor is essentially gone. With a lackluster line, and two sitting ducks--one being a guy who barely knows the offense and the other being nearly 40 years old--Dick Lebeau can do a lot to bring some serious heat. Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, and Derrick Morgan could be very disruptive on Sunday.
Reasons For Concern: QB Minimality, Vikings' Run Game, Vikings' Defense
QB Minimality: While losing your starting quarterback right before your season starts is always going to be a tough situation, the loss may not be as severe for Minnesota as it would be for some other teams around the league. The Vikings' game is not sitting back and throwing the ball 40 times. They play a very balanced game on offense, and rely on their fantastic defense to keep games close. So, while losing Teddy Bridgewater hurts, it does not sink them. This is still a very talented team all around.
Vikings' Run Game: When you think Minnesota Vikings, you think Adrian Peterson. As long as he is on the team, he will be the backbone. With the current situation quarterback, odds are that the Vikings will rely heavily on Adrian Peterson. While he may not be in 2007 form, he still plays at 100% all 4 quarters, while the defense is run down. To add insult to injury, Jerick McKinnon is a legitimate threat on the offense as while not only running the ball, but catching it out of the backfield. The Titans will absolutely need to be gap sound, and need to wrap up if they want to win this game.
Vikings' Defense: This is one talented unit. Look at every level--on the defense line they have Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, the linebackers have Anthony Barr, the secondary has Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. This is the absolute strength of the team. If you let this unit have its way and dictate what you do on offense, you are in some serious trouble. They want you to throw the ball and test their secondary and linebackers. This is one of the few defenses that could take Delanie Walker away. There is a lot of evidence that says that this defense could win the game itself.
Prediction: The first game is always the toughest to predict. Add in the uncertainty with the Vikings, and it really makes this one a toss up. If the Titans win this game, it could really set the tone for the rest of the season, having beaten a playoff team with one of the best defenses in the NFL. If they lose, well, they had to face a playoff team with one of the best defenses in the NFL. On top of that, the Vikings are an NFC team, so it does not do too much damage from a way too early playoff outlook standpoint. This game will be close, and low scoring. The Titans will need to avoid turnovers and stupid mistakes on offense, and will need to wrap up and be gap sound on defense. This one could go either way, but I will give the Titans the edge since they are at home. Titans win, 13-10.
Most Importantly: On what will be the 15 year anniversary of September 11th, let us take the time to remember all of the innocent lives lost on that day, and give them a moment of thought, prayer, or whatever it may be. It's the very least that we could do. Never forget!