Still Dissed Vikings Seek Division Title and Win over Surprising Jets
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
Even when the Vikings win a big prime-time game, such as against the Patriots, it seems they’re getting dissed by some talking heads in the national media. Usually, the discussion points at the Vikings defense, which is shaky statistically in a couple of categories (No. 31 in total yards allowed, No. 32 against the pass), but they’re still tied for fourth in the all-important category of takeaways with 18. And questioning Kirk Cousins’ ability to win in tough moments, but he’s now led a career-best six come-from-behind wins for his 9-2 team.
The whole conversation of ranking NFL teams during the regular season is nonsensical. The goal is to win as many games as possible, win the division, hopefully gain a top-two playoff seed for one to three home games and try to make a long playoff run. Then we can truly rank this Vikings team when it’s all said and done.
Until then, it’s like the College Football Playoff debate on whether Georgia or Michigan should currently be No. 1. It doesn’t matter as they’ll both likely make the final four and perhaps face each other in the national championship.
On to the more immediate topic — who thought this Jets team would pose a threat to the Vikings when the schedule came out? Coming off a 4-13 season, we all put this in the W column back in April. Now the 7-4 J-E-T-S Jets come to town with a top-five defense and seeking to upset the Purple with new QB Mike White coming off a big game against the Bears. The Jets currently hold an AFC wild card spot and stand only one game behind the Bills and Dolphins in the AFC East.
Here are a couple of other stats to shoot down the Vikings dissers (who gained steam after the Dallas loss): with a win over the Jets, the Vikings will have swept the lofty AFC East that has all four teams with winning records and 29 total victories, second only to the NFC East (32). Plus, the Vikings have now beaten four teams with winning records (three of them on the road)—at Miami, at Washington, at Buffalo, and vs. New England.
Although it’s not a must-win for either side, both teams would love a W on Sunday. For the Vikings, it would lead to clinching the NFC North if the Lions also lose to the Jaguars — but the division will be wrapped up soon, regardless. It’s more critical for the Purple to keep their two-game lead over the 49ers for the NFC’s No. 2 seed (or grow it to three games if the 49ers are upset by Miami). The Jets are trying to hold onto their playoff spot and have an arduous task going to Buffalo next week.
Here are my keys to the Vikings beating the Jets:
1. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and his staff surely have studied what Bill Belichick and the Patriots did on defense in beating the Jets twice and holding them to 20 points over the two games. A lot of that was due to the Pats D stopping the run (55-yard average for the two games) and forcing Zach Wilson into mistakes (three picks in the first game, only 77 passing yards in the second matchup) which led to Wilson’s benching and White stepping in with his 315 yard, 3 TD game vs. the Bears (whose defense is not a top unit after trading two of their best players in Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn).
2. Stop the run with Tomlinson back and pressure White into turnovers: Jets starting running back Michael Carter has missed practice this week with an ankle injury, so he may be out, and they lost top back Breece Hall to an ACL earlier this season. Ty Johnson and Donovan Knight will likely carry the load, and it will be a big help for the Vikings to see the return of their best run-stopping defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson who appears recovered from his four-week calf injury. The D also missed his inside pressure on the pass rush (he has one of the league’s top pressure rates as an inside rusher).
The Vikings also need more from Za’Darius Smith, who has been sackless with fewer pressures the past two weeks as he’s been dealing with knee soreness. The mini-bye should help him return to form as one of the league’s best pass rushers, and Danielle Hunter, as usual, is key in this area, as are D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones when they rotate in. Mike White has a history of following good games with duds, as was the case last year when he threw four picks in a loss to the Bills. So, pressure on him is essential, and the crowd noise gives the Vikings rushers an edge. A few more timely blitzes on a lesser experienced QB also should help.
3. Tighter coverage in the intermediate zones: Over the last three games, the Vikings have allowed a 74.1% completion rate and close to 1,000 passing yards. Yikes — that has to get better down the stretch and into the postseason. Rookie corner Akayleb Evans (who played fairly well before his concussion two weeks ago) is expected to return this week, and Cam Dantzler (ankle, coming off IR) next week. That’s a positive for a pass defense that’s been gashed without them. Cam Bynum needs more plays, like his nice late pass breakup against the Pats, as he’s too often been late in his coverage.
I’d still like to see Patrick Peterson (who is having an excellent season) matching up more with opponents’ No. 1 receivers, such as first-rounder Garrett Wilson this week, who is coming off a 95-yard, 2 TD game. Ex-Viking Tyler Conklin is a tight end threat with 38 catches and needs to be picked up early in his routes.
4. Move the ball on another top defense: After facing top five defenses with mixed results against Dallas and New England, the Vikings offense will be challenged by the NFL’s No. 5 D. The Jets have allowed the fourth fewest points per game (17.8) and fifth-fewest yards per game (309), a huge improvement after finishing last in both categories last season. The Vikings must stick with Dalvin Cook and the running game as they did against the Pats to set up play action and the quick passing game while also taking some shots downfield to their superstar Justin Jefferson.
5. It will be exciting to watch a top Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in Sauce Gardner (2 interceptions, 48 tackles, No. 1 rated corner in coverage by Pro Football Focus) against Jefferson, the league’s best receiver who was just named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. Gardner says, “I love going against the best.” Be careful what you wish for, Sauce.
Corner D.J. Reed also is having a fine season, so it will be interesting to see if Jets Coach Robert Saleh has Gardner follow J.J. with some double-team help or if he keeps his corners on their respective sides of the field. Regardless, Kevin O’Connell must dial up enough targets for Jefferson, with Cousins making some contested throws to J.J. against whoever is on him while also utilizing the Vikings’ other fine receivers in Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, and T.J. Hockenson.
6. Protect Kirk: It’s another big challenge for the Vikings offensive line, especially since it appears they’ll again be without excellent tackle Christian Darrisaw who is still in concussion protocol. Replacement Blake Brandel needs help from Cook and the tight ends, as he got last week. The big test will be inside, where former No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams is playing at a Pro Bowl level with eight sacks. He’ll be a handful for Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, and especially Ed Ingram, who did have one of his best games last week. There needs to be plenty of double teams on Williams.
7. Special teams were huge in the Pats win. Another big return by Kene Nwangwu and another fine performance by punter Ryan Wright would be a big help. And as we’ve seen too often, Greg Joseph must not miss any PATs.
Jeff’s Prediction: This is a game the crowd noise could play a big factor in disrupting an inexperienced quarterback in Mike White and his offensive mates. I see the Vikings controlling the run, pressuring White, and forcing a couple of turnovers. As Conklin said, they’re not the same old Jets — especially on defense — and it should be a close game. Offensively, the Vikings need a carryover from an excellent performance against a usually top-flight New England defense. The Vikings probably won’t score 33 points this week, but I think they’ll make enough plays on offense, so it will be a complementary performance with better D and good special teams play. Vikings win 24-20.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. It’s an exciting Week 13 in the NFL, with six games matching teams with winning records. But it’s unfortunate to see the 4-7-1 Colts at Dallas in what looks like a mismatch on Sunday night when the league should’ve flexed Miami at San Francisco, Kansas City at Cincinnati, or Tennessee at Philadelphia, OR Jets at Vikings. All are more exciting than Colts-Cowboys (and give me a break with the America’s Team angle). Then there’s another semi-dud on Monday night with two losing teams — Saints at Bucs.
I would’ve flexed Miami at San Fran to prime time with one of the best offenses in the Dolphins (with QB Tua Tagovailoa 8-0 as a starter) vs. the 49ers No. 1 defense. This game features two hot teams — the Dolphins have won five straight and the 49ers four straight.
2. Deshaun Watson returns at Houston: it still irritates me that the league allowed his return for this game after an 11-game suspension. It comes off as a ratings grab, a really bad look for the NFL, and above all, a slap in the face for the Houston women involved in Watson’s sexual assault/sexual harassment cases. I hope the Texans rise up and embarrass Watson and the Browns by gaining their second win of the season but hang onto the top pick in the 2023 draft so they can pick a great future QB who will eclipse anything Watson ever did on the field in Houston.
3. In the NFC North, can the Lions get beat at home by Jacksonville and hot QB Trevor Lawrence who are coming off an upset of the Ravens? Both teams are 4-7. Detroit has been playing well with three wins and a narrow loss to the Bills in the last four weeks, and the Jags could pull it off, but I’ll pick Detroit to set up the Vikings opportunity to clinch the division with a win in Motown next week.
With the Packers heading to Chicago, the only interesting storyline is who will start at QB: Aaron Rodgers coming off his rib injury or Jordan Love off his impressive performance in the second half at Philly? Sounds like Rodgers is planning to play against the team he says he “owns.”
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Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl
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