The Ultimate Vikings vs. Commanders Preview

The Ultimate Vikings vs. Commanders Preview
Oct 24, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws over Washington Redskins safety Landon Collins. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

Jonathan Haak and Janik Eckardt team up for an in-depth preview of Sunday’s Vikings road game against the Washington Commanders.

Bold prediction

Jonathan: Justin Jefferson’s First 200-yard Game

20 Brief & Essential Facts: Commanders-Vikings
Oct 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Jefferson is due. The fact that JJ doesn’t have a 200-yard game yet in his career is somewhat
astonishing, but I’m predicting that ends on Sunday. Washington’s strength as a team is definitely their defense, but their defense isn’t actually particularly good, and they will be complacent coming off three strong performances against three very bad offenses.

Couple that with this being Kirk Cousins’ first return game to Washington since his tenure with the Commanders, and I see the Vikings passing attack exploding on Sunday.

Janik: Hunter’s Eruption

A Fresh Start Wildly Apparent in Vikings Opener
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Danielle Hunter has had a quiet season on the stat sheet. However, he’s playing a good season. In the first games of the season, Hunter didn’t have much impact and clearly needed some time to get used to his new position as an outside linebacker instead of playing as a defensive end.

In the last few games, the athletic defender is getting more comfortable in his new role and disrupting opposing plays. Still, his sack count is low, as he just collected three sacks in the first seven games. Hunter had 14.5 sacks in each of his last two healthy seasons, 2019 and 2020. Against the Commanders and their struggling offensive line, Hunter will record at least three sacks and double his season total.

Vikings X-Factor

Jonathan: T.J. Hockenson

Alas, Vikings Have Franchise TE
Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. © Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

New Vikings Tight End T.J. Hockenson should take the field Sunday for the first time in purple and gold, and I, for one, am massively excited. Hockenson is my x-factor because I am curious to see how he meshes into the offense and how his downfield receiving capabilities open up the offense for other players.

His involvement likely won’t be the heaviest, given he was just acquired from Detroit on Tuesday, but when he sees the field, I am interested to see what dynamic he brings and how that will affect this team going forward in the season.

Janik: Harrison Phillips

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) rolls out while being rushed by Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson will miss Sunday’s game with a calf injury. He’s one of the biggest reasons why the Vikings’ rushing defense improved from last season. The Vikings will likely try to replace him with a committee, but Harrison Phillips could see an increase in snaps as the top available defensive lineman.

He will be responsible for eating up blocks and providing pressure in the passing game. The free agent addition is not a player of splashy plays but is playing solid football. However, he’ll have to play a significant role in the middle of the defensive line without Tomlinson, his partner in crime.

Commanders Player to Watch

Jonathan: Taylor Heinicke

Dec 12, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) runs with the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Old Vikings QB Taylor Heinicke has ‘led’ the Washington Commanders to victories against the Packers and Colts, two heavily considered strong contenders coming into the year.

Heinicke is a dangerous player to play against because while he would never be considered an elite QB, he is absolutely a player capable of making elite plays. String enough of those plays together, and even the best defenses will have issues, let alone a back-and-forth unit like the defense Minnesota has fielded this season.

The key to managing Heinicke will be to contain him in the pocket, as he is at his most dangerous when he is allowed to break free from the pocket on scrambles and run around, allowing his weapons to get open downfield. Danielle Hunter and co need to ensure that can’t happen on Sunday.

Janik: Terry McLaurin

The Vikings’ passing defense is still a work in progress, and now they have to go up against Terry McLaurin. DeAndre Hopkins was unstoppable and went for 159 receiving yards against the Vikings last week. Most of his yards came against Dantzler.

While McLaurin is a different type of receiver, he’s dangerous after the catch, so the Vikings’ usual off-coverage won’t work against him. If the secondary can’t hold McLaurin in check, the Vikings are in for a long day. He’s coming fresh off a 113 yard-game against the Colts. In the week before, the combination of McLaurin and Heinicke torched the Packers in the fourth quarter.

Final score prediction

Jonathan: Vikings 31 – Commanders 20

At the end of the day, this game is a lopsided affair when you compare the talent on these rosters and when you compare the coaching staffs leading these teams this season. The Commanders are a feisty bunch and have notched three straight wins against the Bears, Packers, and Colts.

But those wins have come by a combined 8 points, and the Commanders are not a good overall team, fielding major weaknesses across the field. This is not a team the Minnesota Vikings can afford to overlook. Yet, if Minnesota comes out fast like they did last week and Kevin O’Connell arrives prepared with a strong game plan, this should be a comfortable victory for the Vikings.

Janik: Vikings 35 – Commanders 17

This Vikings Just Team Feels Different
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings are the superior team, and it’s time for a blowout victory. Most NFL games in 2022 have been low-scoring and close games, but the Vikings are good enough to finally win a game in a big way. Kirk Cousins is still waiting for a game with three or more passing touchdowns, and the Vikings, as a team, are still waiting for an offensive explosion. Kevin O’Connell’s Vikings scored 34 points against the Cardinals just last week, so they are clearly starting to click on offense.

Heinicke will make some plays, but he’ll also make some risky throws that could easily result in turnovers. The Commanders’ offensive line is also overmatched in this game when Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter come to town.