Popular Viking Has a Rare Opportunity on Saturday

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The 7-6 Vikings will face the 7-6 Bengals in a rare Saturday matchup, and one team will get a considerable boost in the playoff race.

Neither franchise will have its starting QB in the lineup. Joe Burrow and Kirk Cousins are both out for the season with injuries, leading to the unexpected matchup between former Vikings quarterback Jake Browning and new starter Nick Mullens.

Popular Viking Has a Rare Opportunity on Saturday

But Cousins’ absence isn’t the only significant issue for the struggling offense, as right tackle Brian O’Neill and running back Alexander Mattison have been ruled out with ankle injuries suffered in the win against the Raiders.

Popular Viking Has a Rare Opportunity on Saturday
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David Quessenberry will take over at right tackle. The veteran lineman — and excellent run blocker — has been solid in his first game, although it is hard to replace a great player like O’Neill. A similar next-man-up approach will be taken at the running back position.

Without starter Mattison, head coach Kevin O’Connell will turn to Ty Chandler. The backup didn’t get much run at the beginning of the season, and his role almost entirely dipped with Cam Akers in the building. But after Akers suffered a season-ending injury, Chandler was again in the role of the change-of-pace runner.

New Starter to Get
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In the last four games, Chandler rushed 41 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He also caught eight passes for 47 yards. The 2022 fifth-rounder has the chance of a lifetime to prove to the decision-makers that he deserves the starting role in the final stretch of the season and a significant role in the future.

The Vikings will likely be in the market for some reinforcements at the running back position when free agency and the draft arrive in the offseason. After moving on from Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have massively struggled to run the football, and not having a real top runner has certainly been part of the problem.

While Mattison is a solid all-around runner, he lacks the big-play ability. Chandler is different as he possesses the necessary explosiveness but hasn’t shown consistency in running the ball or protecting the quarterback, which is a genuine concern for coaches.

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Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels recently praised the backup kick returner who filled in for the majority of the season during the absence of Kene Nwangwu: “He gets it, he understands it. He understands the scheme, he has great vision, he’s got great first-step explosion, he’s a tackle breaker that is always falling forward, and he’s got great contact balance. He’s everything you look for in a running back and most importantly he’s just a great human being and a great overall teammate.”

It will be the first meaningful chance of Chandler’s professional career. He was stuck behind Cook and Mattison in his rookie season, and a thumb injury also limited his debut season. Chandler entered the draft as an older prospect as he had played the first four seasons of his college career at Tennessee before transferring to North Carolina, where his production significantly increased.

The runner rushed for 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns in the first four seasons and had 1,092 yards and 13 scores in his final year. He also caught 73 passes for 681 yards and 4 touchdowns throughout college.

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His athleticism is extremely intriguing; he must now take advantage of his opportunity. Chandler should have close to no competition in the upcoming game. The only other runner on the roster is Kene Nwangwu, the kick returner who has not had a significant impact on offense in his career. However, the Vikings will surely elevate either rookie DeWayne McBride or veteran Myles Gaskin from the practice squad to have some depth in case of injury.

The sophomore turns 26 in May and is in line to receive the most promising chance of his young NFL career.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt