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Breaking down Raiders opponent: Keys to victory against the Vikings

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Minnesota Vikings v Oakland Raiders Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A 7 week slate of road games starts off against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have the same record as the Raiders and both teams are looking to advance to 2-1 after their matchup this weekend. Much like the Raiders, the Vikings dominated their first game only to be let down against a bitter divisional foe in their loss last week against the Green Bay Packers.

Both the Raiders and Vikings are built similarly with offenses geared towards running the football. The Vikings boast an elite running back in Dalvin Cook who is currently leading the NFL in rushing, thriving in Gary Kubiak’s wide zone run scheme. The Raiders have a back they would like to rival Cook in production this year in rookie Josh Jacobs, 4th in the NFL in rushing yards. This game has “ground and pound” written all over it.

Raiders Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther learned his scheme from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer who was the coordinator in Cinncinnati for 4 seasons while Guenther served as an assistant. Both defenses will run very similar looks on defense meaning both Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins will be playing against familiar schemes on Sunday. Lets take a look at the keys to victory.

Defense

Stopping the run

The Vikings running attack should not be taken lightly. Gary Kubiak’s proven success running the zone blocking scheme coupled with an elite back in Dalvin Cook will be the toughest test for this defense maybe all season. In week 1, the Falcons defense struggled holding the edge against this wide zone attack. Even on plays like the one above where the edge gets controlled, the zone scheme provides cutback lanes that a back like Cook can really exploit. All defenders need to stay in their gaps, one mistake could be a long touchdown run.

They don’t just run outside zone, the Vikings offense will also run inside zone with a lot of success. Gruden called Kubiak’s scheme “exotic” and this is one example. “Split zone” is a play where the fullback will block the backside of the run play allowing the entire offensive line to block the frontside. This is a take on split zone where the WR blocks the backside allowing the fullback to lead up the hole. Despite there being 9 men in the box, this play goes 70 yards for a touchdown.

Confusing Kirk Cousins

Cousins practiced all summer against a defense very similar to Paul Guenther’s. Guenther will need to get creative at times to confuse Cousins. One such example is when the Packers executed this simulated pressure against Cousins. With 5 men on the line the play looks like a blitz initially. However at the snap only 3 men rush adding an additional man in coverage. Cousins throws this ball into the teeth of the defense and defensive end Preston Smith is gifted with an interception.

Offense

Establishing the run

Establishing the run against this Vikings defense will be easier said than done. The Vikings unit flies to the ball and when you watch them on tape it you understand why this group has been one of the best defenses in the NFL for the past few years. The Falcons weren’t able to gain much room in part because the run support from linebackers and defensive backs was so aggressive.

The Packers also weren’t very successful running the ball against the Vikings front, there were some better runs however like on this play where the left side of the offensive line is able to move the 3 technique to the opposite side of the field opening up a big cutback lane for Aaron Jones.

Avoiding Anthony Barr

This is the first play of the NFL season for the Vikings. Anthony Barr gets into a gap exchange at the last second before the gap and blitzes off the edge to sack Matt Ryan. The Vikings defense has quite a few great players but Barr is arguably the most versatile and dangerous. You may have noticed him flying around and making plays in the run game from the two clips above. Barr can also rush the passer as well—famously breaking Aaron Rodgers collar bone in 2017.

Barr is a rare breed of NFL defender, with the speed and coverage ability of a safety and the size and pass rush prowess of an edge defender, he can single handedly wreck a gameplan or even ruin a season if left unchecked. Given the Raiders ability to take Von Miller and Frank Clark out of the game in the past two weeks, it is safe to say they will have a plan to keep Barr from impacting the game too heavily.