Vikings’ Week 1 Matchup Pits Two Teams Who Don’t Know Much About Each Other

When the Minnesota Vikings were preparing for the 2015 season, pundits were predicting a quick start in Week 1 against the recently-gutted San Francisco 49ers, who had a new coach, Jim Tomsula, and myriad new personnel.

The end result: Minnesota surrendered 230 rushing yards, didn’t score a touchdown and got shellacked 20-3 in a humbling loss on Monday Night Football. While not leaning on unfamiliarity as an excuse (or blaming the time difference like other Vikings), Zimmer conceded that facing a new-look team was challenging, especially in Week 1.

Sunday’s season-opener is a bit of déjà vu. Like San Francisco, the Tennessee Titans have a new coaching staff and ample roster turnover. Mike Mularkey is the man in charge. He has a three rookie weapons on offense with RB Derrick Henry, WR Tajae Sharp and OL Jack Conklin and more than a dozen other additions to the 53-man roster.

‘Especially with basically new staffs,” said Zimmer on Monday, “they’re always a little bit concerning, because what you’ve seen on tape may not necessarily be what you see in the game.”

The Titans are also not a division or conference opponent. The Vikings haven’t played them since 2012 when their quarterback was Matt Hasselbeck and their running back was Chris Johnson. Zimmer’s greatest familiarity with the Titans may be stalwart Dick LeBeau, who took the Titans’ defensive coordinator job this offseason. “Pressure,” Zimmer said when asked about LeBeau’s calling card as a defensive coach. “He’s a big zone blitz guy and figuring out ways. He was a former head coach at Cincinnati, and he figures out a way how to attack offenses.”

Defending blitzes could be an area of vulnerability for the Vikings on Sunday. Not only is it their first meaningful game with a new-look offensive line, but their quarterback could be newcomer Sam Bradford, who just joined the team on Saturday. Bradford has been burning the midnight oil with quarterbacks coach Scott Turner to learn the Vikings’ offense, but he’ll need to study the Titans’ defense, too, if he wants to feel comfortable playing in Week 1. “I think that’s been one of the more challenging parts about this week,” Bradford said Wednesday. “Normally when you go into a game week you already have a pretty good grasp of what you’re doing offensively, and you spend a lot of time studying the opponent and what they’re doing on defense. Trying to balance that this week, it’s been a little more difficult than it normally is. As much as I’m trying to study Tennessee I’m probably studying even more of our playbook making sure I’m comfortable with what we’re doing offensively.”

“We’re not preparing any differently.”

On the other side, Tennessee is doing their best to figure out who they’ll be facing at quarterback. Will it be the newly-acquired Bradford, new to the offense but physically gifted? Or will it be the 36-year-old Shaun Hill, the pro’s pro with experience in the system but declining arm strength and limited mobility?

“We’re not preparing any differently,” said Mularkey on Wednesday over a conference call. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We have a plan. Either one that plays will fall under the plan.”

Mularkey, however, did indicate that he expected the Vikings to start Bradford. “He’s a very intelligent quarterback,” said the first-year coach. “He’s faced this defense before. I think they wouldn’t give up a [first-round pick and a fourth-round pick] to have a guy sit very long. I just think he gives them a very good chance. He’s had a very good preseason.”

Sundays game will be full of unknowns of both sides of the ball. It may come down to who adjusts better to the unexpected. “You just kind of have to prepare for the system,” said Zimmer, “and then you go back and look at things that they’ve done in the past and how to try to attack them.”

Photo Credit: Luke Inman

Listen below to Wednesday’s Locked On Vikings podcast with Sage Rosenfels, who talked about the challenges of facing new coaching staffs at the 2:48 mark.

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