The 6-1 Minnesota Vikings travel to FedEx Field in Week Nine in what will be Kirk Cousins’ second game against his former squad. This Washington team is not bad, but they are not particularly great, so the Vikings should take care of business if they execute a good game plan.
Defensive Strategy: Runningbacks As Receivers
Just don’t forget about them. I am not going to say that Taylor Heinicke carved up the Colts last week by dinking and dunking down the field, but there were some plays when Antonio Gibson was left wide open. It wasn’t sneaky play-calling either, rather a soft zone coverage that was playing too soft.
The point is, Heinicke is experienced enough to know he needs to take what the defense gives him. The Vikings saw him develop years ago when he was in Minnesota, and he is a much more professional quarterback now. I don’t think this calls for any special gameplan, as Antonio Gibson is not an other-worldly talent, but any player can gain yards when they are wide open. So again, don’t forget about the backs out of the backfield.
Defensive Strategy: Keep The Pass Rush Rolling
Washington is beatable in the trenches. They are not exactly elite when it comes to run blocking, and what’s better for the Vikings is that they aren’t great in pass pro either. Za’Darius Smith is dominating this season, and is on a tear currently with five sacks over his last two contests.
Danielle Hunter has been much less impressive, but has been coming on slowly, but surely. While he only has three sacks on the season, he has hit the quarterback and recorded at least one tackle-for-loss in each of the last three games. I went back and watched most of the Washington-Indianapolis matchup, and while the Colts only had two sacks and six QB hits, Taylor Heinicke was moving all over the place to avoid going down. We should be able to make him uncomfortable all day.
Defensive Strategy: Stopping Curtis, Not Deebo, Samuel
Curtis Samuel posted a modest stat line against the Colts. He had seven total touches for 79 total yards. While not altogether exciting, I noticed that Washington was putting him in all sorts of positions to get touches. They know that he only needs to break one run or short pass open, and he can change a game.
I made the comparison with Deebo comically due to their same last name, but seriously because Curtis looked a lot like Deebo did for the majority of last season (I know this because Deebo carried my fantasy team to the playoffs last year, but that’s a story for a later date). I’m not saying Curtis Samuel has talent equal to that of Deebo’s, but he can catch screens, run jet sweeps, and even run up the gut quite effectively. The Vikings would do well to make sure they hold containment on plays where he lines up in the backfield or comes across the line in motion.
Defensive Strategy: Beware Scary Terry And the Deep Ball
Terry McLaurin had six catches on eight targets for 113 yards. This alone is a solid stat line for a receiver, but his long catch of 42 yards is what scares me. He is reliable as a possession guy, but I don’t believe it’s his best attribute.
To me, his best attribute is making catches at weird catch points, even downfield. He is elite when it comes to hauling in imperfect throws, and the Vikings’ secondary needs to make sure they play to the whistle. Even if they have a good coverage package in place, it just takes dumb luck for a pass to miss a defender’s arm and be snatched heroically out of the air by McLaurin. The catch in that previous link is absurd in my opinion, and it is one of many examples of his catch-in-traffic greatness. The Vikings need to make sure they don’t let the Commanders move down the field in this fashion. Make them work for every yard tediously.
Offensive Strategy: Motion Jefferson Every Play
Ok. Maybe not every play. But I felt like the Colts were sending Parris Campbell in motion every third play. Some times it was a decoy, and Jonathan Taylor would run up the gut for a few yards. And some times Campbell would get the ball and grab a chunk of yards.
The point was that Indianapolis did it enough to where the Commanders’ defense had to think too much. They were a step behind the handoffs to Campbell, and I would love to see the Vikings establish this on Sunday. It doesn’t have to be Justin Jefferson all the time, either, but I want to see him force-fed more this game, so why not hand him the ball?
Offensive Strategy: Run The Ball
I know it’s boring, but the Colts were pretty successful on the ground against Washington. And this was in a game started by Sam Ehlinger, where the Commanders had to have assumed that the Colts’ offense would try to lean on Jonathan Taylor and the running game.
For his lofty standards, 16 carries for 76 yards is not overly exciting. However, that is a 4.7 yard-per-carry average, and I’ll take that for Dalvin in any game, during any week. With the threats we have on the outside, I expect Dalvin to outrush these numbers comfortably.
Offensive Strategy: Protect The Football
Remember when I said to focus on a sound and simple strategy? I know this is boring, but I think we should be looking to methodically take control of and win this game. The Colts looked like they were about to do just that on numerous occasions, but were derailed by turnovers.
The positive turnover margin was a key contributor to the Vikings’ win over the Cardinals last week, and they need to keep making sure they’re on the right end of that stat. Turnovers create huge swings, and since we only like to win one-possession games, we’ll need to keep being the team that plays smarter than the other team.
Offensive Strategy: Touchdowns, Not Field Goals
I should have titled this article “Stating the obvious; how the Vikings can win doing obvious things.” However, I also believe there is a reason for certain cliches in sports. Getting six instead of three is especially applicable in games against “inferior” teams.
I am operating under the assumption that the Vikings are able to move the ball consistently, of course, which means we will spend plenty of time in Commanders’ territory. Much of this time needs to result in touchdowns. Aside from turnovers and mistakes, the only way bad teams hang with good teams is if the good team settles for field goals on every drive. So, Kirk, you gotta get us to paydirt, buddy!
The New Guy
This is the obligatory discussion regarding new Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson. It still feels weird to write his name in purple, but I’m definitely excited. I keep getting asked what I think of the Hockenson deal, and while I cannot predict how much of an impact he’ll have, I’m definitely feeling good about it.
As a Minnesota fan, I’m much more used to our teams making no moves at the deadline, so it’s encouraging that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is not afraid to make a splashy trade. I actually really like the value, and as my colleague Eli writes, we definitely took a step in the right direction in regards to contending for a Super Bowl. I am not expecting a ton in his first week with the Vikings, but I am salivating at the prospect of him alongside our receiving corps.
What I NEED To See
I need to see a perfect day from Greg Joseph. I had to double check this upcoming stat, and I’m still hoping I got it wrong. Joseph has missed at least one extra point or one field goal in every game since Week Two against Philadelphia.
We are going to need Greg down the stretch, so I need to see him go 100% from field goal and extra point attempts alike. No more weird misses. I believe in Greg, but I need to know he isn’t affected by his misses come playoff time.
What I WANT To See
I want to see Justin Jefferson get to the endzone. Call them “haters” or “trolls,” but I’ve seen a handful of people trying to use his lack of TDs to discount his greatness. It’s about the only thing you can even consider saying against him, and it really isn’t his fault. Regardless, I want to the see the griddy twice on Sunday.
He has been elite again this season, and he doesn’t need to prove anything to me. However, I do want him to get to the endzone, if only because it has been a while since he’s scored. In fact, I’ll predict it. He scores a 20-30 yard touchdown off of a 15-yard pass; jot it down.
For the Vikings, big name players on the report included Dalvin Tomlinson, Cameron Dantzler, Adam Thielen, and Za’Darius Smith, but all but Tomlinson are expected to play on Sunday. Tomlinson has been ruled out already.
On the Commanders’ side, notable names WR Jahan Dotson and RB J.D. McKissic have been ruled out. This definitely helps in the “runningbacks as receivers” thought, but Washington still will have good weapons on offense.
Prediction + Quick Shout-out
Before I get to my prediction, I wanted to quick shout-out Harrison Phillips. His stat line has not been dominant, but he has been a consistent force in the middle of the trenches all season. He has been in on over 50% of defensive snaps in every game this year, and every time I forget about him, he makes a subtely big play on defense. He’ll be key again with Tomlinson out in helping us stop Brian Robinson and the Commanders’ run game.
I would be more worried about this as a trap game if the Vikings had been winning in dominant fashion. But, as we all know, they love to win close contests, regardless of opponent record. I think we will be plenty prepared in another Kirk Cousins revenge matchup, and I think we’ll head to Buffalo at 7-1. I think Jefferson and Cook both find the endzone, but I’ll be frustrated by a couple of drives ending with three in the redzone. I’ll call a 23-10 Vikings victory, with Washington turning the ball over a couple of times. SKOL!