The Vikings have a few strengths they hope to draw upon as they take coach Mike Zimmer’s 2-7 road record to Denver to tussle with Peyton Manning, the league’s top-ranked defense and the chaos of Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High.
The two most obvious ones are the No. 3-ranked running game, led by NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson, and a pass rush that pestered Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers the past two weeks.
One not-so-obvious matchup strength, particularly this week, is penalties. The Vikings don’t commit many. The Broncos commit many.
“We’re pretty good when it comes to being disciplined with our hands and where we’ve been putting them,” said Zimmer, describing why his team is tied for the second-fewest penalties overall (18) and the fewest on offense (five).
“I’ve talked to the league office several times about things that have been going on. But we’re pretty clean with everything we do. … We’re always trying to coach it the right way to do it the right way. We’ve done a good job.”
The Broncos, meanwhile, are the eighth-most penalized team with 25 for 224 yards. They had eight penalties in the win over the Lions on Sunday. Six of them were on the defense.
Denver’s defense is an aggressive 3-4 scheme that’s still trying to find the legal line that separates terrorizing the offense and drawing 15-yard penalties. Denver has had eight personal fouls in the past two games.
Peterson following orders
Yes, Peterson has gone from 31 yards in the opener to the top of the NFL rushing chart (291) in two weeks. Yes, he’s now taking most of his handoffs from the I-formation rather than the shotgun. No, the star running back didn’t have a talk with offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
“I don’t request anything,” Peterson said. “I sit back. He’s been doing it a long time. He’s a legend. I let him sit back and evaluate things. Whatever he asks us to do, we put our best foot forward.”
Peterson said again Wednesday that he feels he’s back physically. Then he shifted to where he thinks Turner is mentally with the offense and the play-calling.
“I don’t know what goes through his mind, but he’s been making some good adjustments,” Peterson said. “I can’t complain. I can’t tell him what to do. He’s been doing this for way longer than me. I just do what I’m told.”
Receiver depth tested
Turner said the Vikings are preparing to play Sunday’s game without two of their top four receivers. Charles Johnson (rib) and Jarius Wright (hand) sat out all of practice for the second consecutive day Thursday.
“There’s a chance they could play,” Zimmer said.
Defensive end Justin Trattou (foot) and safety Andrew Sendejo (knee) also missed all of practice for the second straight day. Cornerback Jabari Price (shoulder) was added to the injury list after not practicing Thursday.
Xavier Rhodes (concussion/neck) had full participation for the second straight day.
Vereen’s happy homecoming
The Bears gave up on him after just 19 games and four starts, but former Gophers safety Brock Vereen said he was ready to move on with a new team that made him comfortable.
“This,” he said from the locker room at Winter Park, “is definitely a place for that.”
Vereen, a fourth-round draft pick last year, played sparingly under new coach John Fox. With the Bears off to an 0-3 start, many players, including former Viking Jared Allen, have been traded or released by new General Manager Ryan Pace.
Vereen was added to the team’s practice squad, replacing linebacker Brian Peters, who was signed to Houston’s 53-man roster. Defensive coordinator George Edwards said Vereen’s signing had more to do with the timing of Peters’ departure than a need at safety. But, that being said, Zimmer’s staff never has solidified a starter at strong safety.
“I’ve been told the opportunity is there” to be promoted to the 53-man roster, Vereen said.