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Nuggetpalooza’s Pats schedule preview: Minnesota

08.24.10 at 10:43 am ET
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This is Part 1 of a series previewing each opponent on the Patriots’ 2010 schedule.  If you that are familiar with my game previews from the past two seasons, you will recognize the approach. Obviously, every team has made changes to personnel that will make last year’s stats less meaningful. But team philosophies generally don’t change overnight, and last year’s results are the only “facts” we have for now. At the very least, maybe you’ll come across something that will change the way you enjoy the games.

At any rate, let’s start with the Vikings:

The Patriots meet the Vikings on Oct. 31 at 4:15 p.m. in Foxboro.

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What The Vikings Did Well Last Season:

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* – Set the Early Defensive Tone: Minnesota was the only team that did not allow a TD on any of their opponents’ 16 game opening drives last season. They allowed just 2 FG while forcing 3 turnovers (all fumbles), 10 punts, and a missed FG attempt.

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* – Set the 2nd Half Offensive Tone: The Vikings scored points on their opening drive of the second half an NFL-high 11 times in 16 games last season. Those scores totaled 57 points, by far the highest total in the league:

57 – Minnesota Vikings
40 – New York Giants
39 – New England Patriots
39 – Denver Broncos

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* – Stripped the Ball: The Vikings forced a league high 35 fumbles last season. It came out to a fumble caused on 2.28% of opponent touches, easily the highest rate in the NFL:

2.28% – Minnesota Vikings
1.99% – Denver Broncos
1.92% – New England Patriots

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* – Cashed In Following Turnovers: While they only forced 24 turnovers last season (23rd), they turned them into 106 points, an average of 4.4 points per turnover, the highest average in the NFL.

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* – Cashed In On Long Drives: By scoring touchdowns on 55% of their 10+ play drives (highest percentage in the league), the Vikes also led the NFL in points scored per 10+ play drive (4.8). They were even better down the stretch, scoring TDs on 64% and averaging 5.4 points on their long drives over the final four weeks of the season.

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* – Didn’t Bend Often and Didn’t Break When Bendt: The perfect compliment to the above. Minnesota allowed just 19 drives of 10+ plays (tied for 2nd fewest) and allowed an average of just 2.5 points on those 19 possessions, best in the NFL.

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* – Picked Apart Defenses That Didn’t Blitz: 71% completions (1st) and 25 TD (2nd) versus just 6 INT when no extra rushers.

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* – Put Points Up Despite Poor Starting Field Position: Minnesota started 36 drives inside their own 20 yard line last season but scored 69 points on those drives, an average of 1.92, the highest in the NFL:

1.92 – Minnesota Vikings
1.86 – San Diego Chargers
1.83 – Green Bay Packers

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* – Stopped the Run Near the Goal Line: Minnesota’s opponents ran for touchdowns on just 1.4% of rushing plays last season, the 2nd lowest percentage in the league:

1.3% – Green Bay Packers
1.4% – Minnesota Vikings
1.5% – New England Patriots

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What The Vikings Did Poorly Last Season:

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* – Rushing Success Rate Was Low: Just 38.3% of Minnesota’s rushing plays gained 4+ yards, the 3rd lowest rate in the league:

36.3% – San Diego Chargers
36.7% – San Francisco 49ers
38.3% – Minnesota Vikings

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* – Defense Couldn’t Overcome Adverse Field Position: Vikings’ opponents began 13 drives on the Minnesota side of the 50 yard line last year and they scored points on 12 of them (92.3%), by far the highest percentage in the NFL. No other defense was over 76.5% (Indianapolis). What’s more, the average points allowed on those 13 drives by the Vikings was 4.77, the highest average in the league.

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* – Had Trouble Falling On Opponent Fumbles: While the rest of the NFL teams recovered forced fumbles at a 47% clip, the Vikings came away with just 37%, ranked 26th.

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* – Got Stuffed On Kickoff Returns: 46% of Minnesota’s kickoff returns went for less than 20 yards last season, ranked 27th in the league.

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Check back tomorrow for a look at the Pats’ Thanksgiving Day opponent, the Detroit Lions.

Read More: Patriots schedule preview,
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