Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He previously covered the Minnesota Vikings for four years, starting in 2008. In addition, he covered college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.

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What to watch in Vikings opener

Posted by: Chip Scoggins Updated: September 4, 2014 - 1:53 PM

The Vikings are only a few days from their season opener in St. Louis, thankfully, because we're tired of preseason football. Finally, it's time for real games.

Here are a few things that we're particularly interested to see as the Mike Zimmer era begins:

Zimmer's debut

This obvious, of course.

Zimmer went 4-0 in the preseason, but this will be his first official game as a head coach. We'll start to get a sense for how Zimmer will handle clock management and other in-game situations in those pressure situations.

Zimmer rehearsed his decision-making in simulated scenarios with General Manager Rick Spielman during training camp. Now he gets to do it for real.

Peterson's role

The Vikings wisely held Adrian Peterson out of preseason games to keep him fresh, so this will be our first glimpse of Peterson in Norv Turner's offense. I'm curious to see No. 1, how Peterson looks physically after dealing with a number of injuries last season and being a year older, and No. 2, how Turner uses him in the offense.

Peterson has averaged 19.7 carries per game in his career. Will his workload stay close to that average? Will Turner use him more as a receiver? Peterson caught a career-high 43 passes in 2009.

Peterson loves this offense and its potential. A passing game that includes Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Greg Jennings should take some of the pressure off him.

Pass protection

The Rams present a tough test right off the bat for left tackle Matt Kalil and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Kalil primarily will face All-Pro defensive end Robert Quinn, while Loadholt draws Chris Long on the other side.

Led by Quinn's 19 sacks last season, that pair combined for 27.5 sacks in 2013, the best mark by a tandem.

Kalil and Loadholt need to hold up in pass protection to allow Matt Cassel time to get the ball down field. Turner likely will give his tackles some help with tight ends or running backs. But the Vikings' tackles have to handle themselves one-on-one against Quinn and Long for the offense to function effectively.

Kalil struggled at times last season after his fantastic rookie season. He also dealt with a knee injury. This matchup with Quinn will provide a good barometer to show where Kalil is at entering his third season.

Third-down defense

One of the biggest issues with the Vikings defense last season was third down. They finished 30th in third-down defense, allowing opposing offenses to convert 44 percent of the time.

They just couldn't get off the field, which sucked the life out of the entire team, not just the defense.

Offenses picked apart their secondary, but third-down defense has to be a collective effort.

Zimmer's defensive scheme is more aggressive than the Tampa 2, so maybe that will help the Vikings be more succesful in those situations. That's a major area that they must fix in order to become an improved defense.

By the way, the Rams were one of the league's worst teams in third-down offense last season.

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