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NFL Preview - Minnesota (1-0) at Indianapolis (0-1)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Perhaps the Andrew Luck Era can get a mulligan.
Hyped all around as an NFL-ready prodigy after his Heisman Trophy runner-up finale at Stanford, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2012 draft had a less-than celebratory debut when his Indianapolis Colts were routed, 41-21, last Sunday in Chicago.
Luck gets a second chance at a first impression this week in front of the home folks, who'll no doubt come out in droves to see the new-look Colts host the Minnesota Vikings at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It's the Colts' second consecutive home opener without Peyton Manning, who spent 2011 under contract on the sidelines, but is now plying his Canton-bound trade and winning games with the Denver Broncos.
In his absence is Luck, who was picked off three times, sacked on three occasions and lost a fumble in the 20-point loss at Soldier Field, in spite of passing for 309 yards and one touchdown.
"That's definitely the thing I thought about (Sunday) night, (Monday) morning, after the film again -- four turnovers," Luck said. "You can't have that, especially when all four of them are on you."
Speaking of sacks, 2011 league-leader Jared Allen arrives with the Vikings, which prompted the Colts to bolster their offensive line by signing ex-Steeler Trai Essex and tackle Bradley Sowell during the week. Their additions were necessitated by the uncertain status of starting right tackle Winston Justice, who left the Week 1 loss with a concussion.
Indianapolis also could have a gap on defense, where linebacker Dwight Freeney is questionable with a sprained left ankle suffered early against the Bears. His first-week slowdown didn't help first-year head coach Chuck Pagano's cause, as the Colts allowed 114 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Colts' 3-4 unit probably looks like a collective bull's-eye to longtime Vikings standout Adrian Peterson, who returned from a torn ACL and MCL to run for 84 yards and two scores on 17 carries in Minnesota's season-opening 26-23 overtime win over Jacksonville.
Peterson, who was injured in December, returned in just eight months and became the team's all-time leading rusher with 6,836 yards during the contest.
"My legs are loose," he said. "Seriously, I'm feeling really good. I'm ready to carry the load."
But Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is preaching restraint.
"I think we still have to be somewhat cautious," Frazier said. "Now Adrian won't want to hear that, but we still have to keep a rotation going between he and (fellow running back) Toby (Gerhart)."
Peterson's rebound helps ease the burden on second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who completed 20-of-27 passes for 270 yards and no interceptions against Jacksonville. The Florida State product led the team on a 32-yard drive in the final minute of regulation to set up a game-tying 55-yard field goal from rookie Blair Walsh, who was rewarded with NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
"We are a young team, but we're growing up," Ponder said. "We have the right guys in place where we can have the mindset where if we are behind, or if things aren't going well, we can overcome it."
Ponder has a prime target in Percy Harvin, who had 192 all-purpose yards against the Jaguars. On the other side, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne caught nine passes for 135 yards against Chicago.
Wayne now has 11,905 career receiving yards and is 62 yards shy of 20th place on the NFL's all-time list in that category.
Among Luck's other potential targets, wide receiver Austin Collie was cleared to practice this week after suffering a concussion on Aug. 19.
Colts lead 14-7-1
Streak: Colts have won last three meetings Last Meeting: Colts 18, Vikings 15 (Sept. 14, 2008) Last Meeting at Site: Colts 31, Vikings 28 (Nov. 8, 2004)
Vikings HC Leslie Frazier vs. Colts: 0-0 Colts HC Chuck Pagano vs. Vikings: 0-0 Frazier vs. Pagano Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Vikings are 0-10 all-time against the Colts on the road, with two of those losses taking place in Indianapolis (2001, 2004) and one coming in the 1968 NFL Championship Game, a 24-14 victory by the Baltimore Colts. Minnesota last bested the Colts via a 39-28 verdict at the Metrodome on Dec. 21, 1997, capping a string of five straight home wins by the Vikings in the series. Frazier served as an assistant with Indianapolis from 2005-06.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Minnesota: 10th overall (389.0 ypg), 10th rushing (123.0 ypg), 13th passing (266.0 ypg), 13th scoring (26.0 ppg)
Indianapolis: 15th overall (356.0 ypg), 25th rushing (63.0 ypg), 7th passing (293.0 ypg), 16th scoring (23.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Minnesota: 17th overall (355.0 ypg), 18th rushing (113.0 ypg), 16th passing (242.0 ypg), 16th scoring (23.0 ppg)
Indianapolis: 27th overall (428.0 ypg), 19th rushing (114.0 ypg), 30th passing (314.0 ypg), 30th scoring (41.0 ppg)
Minnesota: +0 (1 takeaways, 1 giveaways) Indianapolis: -4 (1 takeaways, 5 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Minnesota: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 14th overall Indianapolis: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 14th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Minnesota: 33.3 percent (3 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 8th overall Indianapolis: 66.7 percent (6 possessions, 4 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 24th overall
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
In three career starts against AFC foes, Ponder has 862 passing yards (287.3 per game) with five touchdowns. Last week, he reached 2,000 passing yards for his career (2,123). Since entering the NFL in 2007, Peterson leads the league with 6,836 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns on the ground, and passed Robert Smith for the most rushing yards in franchise history during last week's win. In Minnesota's last meeting against Indianapolis, Peterson rushed for 160 yards, and he has eight games with 160 or more since 2007, the most in the NFL over that span. Harvin has 20 catches for 313 yards (104.3 per game) and three touchdowns in his past three games against AFC opponents. He scored a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a kick return touchdown in both 2010 and 2011 - the only player in league to do so - and is only one in the NFL with a kick return score in each of the past three seasons (2009-11). Rookie kicker Walsh had four field goals in all against Jacksonville, including the game- tying 55-yarder and a game-winning 38-yarder in overtime.
On defense for the Colts, Freeney is a monster when he's available. The veteran has 102 1/2 career sacks, the third-most among active players behind only Atlanta's John Abraham (113) and Minnesota's Jared Allen (105). Freeney has three sacks in two career games against Minnesota as well. Fellow outside linebacker Robert Mathis posted his 18th career game with two or more sacks last week, and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman returned an interception for a touchdown in his NFL debut last week.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Luck passed for 309 yards in his NFL debut, the third-most among rookie passers in a season opener in league history. Running back Donald Brown has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his past four games against the NFC and had an 18-yard rushing touchdown last week. As previously noted, Wayne needs 62 receiving yards to surpass Hall of Famer Michael Irvin (11,904) for No. 20 on the all-time receiving yards list. He posted a 39th career game with 100 or more receiving yards last week. Fellow wide receiver and offseason acquisition Donnie Avery had a touchdown catch in his Colts' debut last week, while first- year tight end Coby Fleener (second round) led all NFL rookies in catches (six) and ranked second in receiving yards (82) in Week 1.
For Minnesota, Allen has 32 sacks in his past 26 games, including 20 1/2 in his past 15. Since entering the NFL in 2004, he has an NFL-best 105 sacks as well, with that total the second-most by an active player. Cornerback Antoine Winfield had an interception in Minnesota's last meeting with the Colts and has four picks in his career against Indianapolis, his most against a single opponent.
When the record books are written in a decade or two, most assume Luck will have a place far above Ponder's. But it might not matter for the Colts this week unless the offensive line congeals enough to offset Allen and his pass- rushing mayhem-makers. On offense, a resurgent Peterson is one of the league's elites, and Harvin's pretty good, too. In the end -- and in spite of what appears like prodigious potential for Indianapolis' young passer -- it seems the Vikings simply have more talent here and now.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Colts 17
09/13 14:32:58 ET