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NFL Preview - Minnesota (0-0) at San Diego (0-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A year ago, it was a different gig for the Minnesota Vikings.
Had Leslie Frazier taken over the team's head coaching job to begin the 2010 season, he'd have been inheriting a unit with an established veteran quarterback coming off of a season that ended just an overtime field goal shy of a Super Bowl appearance.
But this is 2011, and Frazier's task is a little more daunting in his first full year in charge, which begins with Sunday's visit to Qualcomm Stadium to take on the San Diego Chargers.
Gone from last September is the on-again, off-again phenomenon known as Brett Favre, a center-ring circus performer who got the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2009 before injuries and age finally caught up in a desultory swan-song encore last season.
A hobbled Favre won just five times in 13 starts to end a magnificent career, ultimately ceding the signal-calling job to backups Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb in the final two weeks as Minnesota's overall victory total was halved from 12 to six.
The precipitous tumble ultimately led to the departure of ex-coach Brad Childress, who was fired following a Week 11 loss to Green Bay and prompted the promotion of Frazier, an 11-year NFL assistant who'd been defensive coordinator for the Vikings since 2007.
Frazier was 3-3 in the season's final six games.
Jackson was jettisoned in the offseason in favor of first-round draft choice (12th overall) Christian Ponder, who was then knocked from the presumed starter's spot when Minnesota freed the experienced Donovan McNabb from his one-year purgatory in Washington. McNabb was with Philadelphia when Frazier was defensive backs coach there from 1999-2002.
McNabb threw for 3,377 yards, 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 13 games with the Redskins before a not-so-subtle late-season benching by coach Mike Shanahan, with whom the 12-year veteran never seemed to jell.
"I'm excited to get started with the guys we have around on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, as well as the coaching staff," McNabb said in the preseason. "I've known Leslie for a number of years now. His opportunity of becoming a head coach now and to make me a part of it, we want to bring that success that we had in Philadelphia here to Minnesota."
In San Diego, the personnel remains the same, but the results could be far different in 2011.
The Chargers pulled off an inglorious statistical feat in coach Norv Turner's fourth year, winding up tops in the league in both yardage production on offensive and yardage prevention on defense while also managing to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005 with a 9-7 record.
San Diego dropped to second place behind the surprising Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, foiled at several turns by a recurring special teams debacle that included five blocked punts, three kickoffs returned for touchdowns and a punt returned for another score.
The nightmare cost special teams coach Steve Crosby his job, and the roster was further altered when versatile running back Darren Sproles exited in the offseason via free agency.
"We've talked a lot with our team," Turner said. "Let everyone else be the predictors and let everyone else decide ahead of time what our record is going to be. We're the guys that decide on a weekly basis what our record is going to be.
"We do have high expectations, but I think in the past here all the different talk about the future has gotten in the way of what we're doing today and how we handle our business. If we can do that, we'll meet some of the expectations that people on the outside have for us."
These teams have split 10 all-time meetings, with the Vikings drawing even by virtue of a 35-17 win at the Metrodome in 2007. The Chargers delivered a 42-28 victory over Minnesota in the most recent matchup between the clubs held in San Diego, which took place during the 2003 season. The Vikings are 1-2 lifetime at Qualcomm Stadium, with the lone win a 33-31 decision back in 1981.
Turner has a career record of 0-2 against Minnesota, having dropped a 41-7 verdict to the Vikings while in charge of the Washington Redskins in 1998 in addition to San Diego's above-mentioned 2007 defeat. Frazier will be opposing both the Chargers and Turner for the first time in his career as a head man.
Frazier spent two seasons as the defensive backs coach at the University of Illinois, then coached by Turner's brother, Ron, from 1997-98.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
In last start against San Diego, which came while with the Eagles in November of 2009, McNabb passed for 450 yards -- the second-highest single-game total in his career. When McNabb has a 100-plus quarterback rating, his teams are 46-3. Last time he faced the Chargers, star running back Adrian Peterson set an NFL single-game record with 296 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He rushed for 1,298 yards and 12 scores last season and is one of four players to rush for 1,200 yards and score 10 times in each of his first four pro seasons. Peterson's 52 career rush touchdowns are tied for most in Vikings history as well. Wide receiver/return specialist Percy Harvin already has five career games with 200-plus combined all-purpose yards, the most in team history. He also holds the Vikings' record with three kick return touchdowns. Wide receiver Greg Camarillo made his NFL debut with San Diego in 2006.
The Chargers tied for second in the NFL with 47 sacks in 2010, and the defense this season should be bolstered by the free-agent additions of safety Bob Sanders and linebacker Takeo Spikes, who is entering his 14th NFL season. Among the holdovers, linebacker Shaun Phillips had 11 sacks last season, the second- most in his career behind an 11 1/2 total in 2006.
The flaccid Minnesota offense was 29th in points scored and 23rd in total yards last season, while the Chargers were 10th in points allowed and first in yards surrendered.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
In 2010, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw for a career-best 4,710 yards and joined Hall of Famer Dan Fouts as the only Chargers to reach the 4,000-yard mark in three straight seasons. He needs 339 passing yards to reach 20,000 for his career, and since 2008, ranks third in the league in passing yards (12,973) and touchdown throws (92). Running back Ryan Mathews led all rookies with seven rush touchdowns in 2010 and backfield mate Mike Tolbert had a career-high 11 rushing scores. Tight end Antonio Gates reached double-digit touchdowns catches for the third time in his career with 10 last year, having previously posted 13 in 2004 and 10 in 2005. Back for September this season after beginning last year with a prolonged holdout, wide receiver Vincent Jackson has averaged 17.2 yards per catch (212 catches, 3,648 yards) in his career.
For Minnesota, defensive end Jared Allen reached 11 sacks last year, his fourth straight season with 11 or more. Since entering the NFL in 2004, he has a league-best 83 sacks, and in last game against San Diego -- which took place while with Kansas City in December of 2007 -- he had two sacks. Linebackers Chad Greenway (149 tackles) and E.J. Henderson (139 tackles) topped the Vikings in tackles in 2010, while Henderson and safety Husain Abdullah tied for club lead with three interceptions apiece.
The Chargers were 10th in points scored and first in total offense in 2010, while Minnesota was 18th in points allowed and eighth in yards given up.
KEYS TO THE GAME
After a lost season in Washington, how McNabb bounces back in his first year in purple will play a large role in the Vikings' success -- both this week and in the succeeding 15 games.
Tightening up special teams has been an offseason priority for San Diego, and the Chargers will have to quickly identify who'll replace Sproles as the most dynamic return threat.
Focusing on Allen and keeping him away from Rivers will be a priority for San Diego if it hopes to get the ball downfield to Vincent Jackson and Gates.
In a league where five of 12 playoff teams traditionally miss the following season, the Chargers are a popular pick to pick up where the Chiefs might leave off. Getting off to good starts has long been an issue with Turner in San Diego, but the ignominy of a postseason miss in 2010 might be all the fuel needed to break from this game in stride.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 28, Vikings 17
09/08 18:27:55 ET
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