Vikings Must Win in the Trenches on Thursday

The Vikings 2022 Defense by the Numbers: After Week 12
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za'Darius Smith, left, and linebacker Jordan Hicks, right, celebrate with D.J. Wonnum. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Cowboys manhandled the Vikings in the trenches on Sunday. They lost on both sides of the ball by giving up tons of pressure and sacks. Not to mention the inability to prevent the Cowboys from running the ball all day. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Vikings must win in the trenches to beat the Patriots on Thursday night.

The Cowboys and Patriots are two of the very best at getting to the quarterback. They are 1st and 2nd in the league at creating pressure. The Cowboys pressure the QB on 30.2% of dropbacks, and the Patriots pressure the QB on 29.8% of dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference.

Additionally, the Patriots are ranked 1st in the league in QB hurries at 14.8% and 2nd in sacks with 36. In fact, they roster the league leader in sacks, Matthew Judon, who has racked up 13 of them this year.

This is a scary position for the Vikings coming off an atrocious pass-blocking game.

The Offensive Line Must Adjust Without Darrisaw

Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings lost their best offensive lineman, Christian Darrisaw, to a concussion against the Cowboys. Losing Darrisaw causes more problems than just having a backup LT in the game. The Vikings’ entire pass protection is set up to have Darrisaw win a 1v1 matchup and then shift help to the interior of the offensive line.

It was evident against the Cowboys that the offensive line could not adapt without Darrisaw. Now, they will need to adjust pass protections in a short week. Is this going to be too much to ask? Possibly.

Regardless, for the offense to bounce back, they will rely on a backup LT to hold up against one of the best pass rushers in the league. The Patriots know where the Vikings are weak on the OL and will attempt to exploit it.

How the Vikings adjust their protections against the Patriots will be one of, if not the most, important factors in winning this game. If the OL cannot bounce back from a horrendous performance on Sunday, it will create a very long night for Cousins.

The Vikings’ Defensive Line Must Stop the Run

Per PFF, the Vikings Top Players from Best to Worst: After Week 11
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Coming into the Cowboys game, the Vikings’ defense was ranked 5th in rushing EPA/play in the NFL. However, against the Cowboys, they had a rushing EPA of 0.008, which ranked 21st in the NFL. Worst of all was the seeming inability to tackle running backs as the Cowboys racked up 50 yards after contact, according to Pro Football Reference.

This is obviously not good enough.

Some drop-offs in run defense performance can be attributed to missing Dalvin Tomlinson. However, all teams experience injuries. It’s about how you overcome those. That is the difference between Super Bowl champions and one-and-done teams.

That said, there is a chance that Tomlinson will play in this game which will be a huge help against Rhamondre Stevenson. Stevenson has been playing well over the last few games, with the exception of the Jets game.

Vikings Can Seize Divisional Opportunity
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

Whether Tomlinson is playing, the run defense will be critical against the Patriots. The goal of this game should be to force Mac Jones to play hero ball. Get the Patriots into obvious passing situations.

While some fans might be concerned about the injuries to the Vikings’ CB room, this impact can be limited by the Vikings unleashing their own pass-rushing duo. If the Vikings can force the Patriots into passing situations, Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith can put this game to bed.

Stop the run. Force the pass. Win the game. Simple in theory, of course, but it most certainly can be accomplished.

Mitch Massman is a lifelong Vikings fan. His first heartbreak was the 1998 NFC championship game. His full-time job is as an economic development professional in rural Minnesota. He fantasizes about the Vikings winning a Super Bowl one day, but until then he will write about the Vikings. Follow him on Twitter @skol_vikings3