The New York Jets try to up their record to 8-4 on the season and possibly put themselves in position to take over first place in the AFC East as early as next week (if the Miami Dolphins lose either of their next two games) when they go on the road to face the 9-2 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2022 Vikings.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. The Vikings have a 9-2 record, second best in the NFL. Yet drilling down into the statistics, it’s a bit difficult to understand the elite level of success here. The Vikings offense is ranked 17th in the NFL and the defense is ranked 31st in the NFL in terms of yards gained and yards allowed. In points the Vikings are 12th on offense and 21st on defense. The team has just a +5 point differential on the season. Opponents have more passing yards, more rushing yards, more points per drive, and a higher percentage of drives ending in a score. How have the Vikings been so successful despite the statistics, and do you think this is sustainable?
The statistics don’t necessarily point to the Vikings being a very good football team, but as Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” However they’ve gotten there, the Vikings’ record says they’re 9-2 at this point, and they’ve gotten there in a couple of different ways. The big one is by being very good in close and late-game situations this year. Eight of their nine victories this year have come by one score, with many of them featuring the Vikings having to come from behind in the fourth quarter. Last season, the team played in fourteen one-score games and had a record of 6-8 in those contests. I think a lot of it has to do with the way that Kevin O’Connell has coached this team and has them believing that they’re never really out of any game. It’s sort of evolved from “we hope we can pull this game out” to “we believe we can pull this game out” to “we’re going to pull this game out.” I don’t think enough can be said about the new perspective that O’Connell has brought to the team in the wake of the Mike Zimmer era. I don’t know if it’s sustainable, to be honest, but the Vikings are doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done in order to be successful so far in this 2022 season.
2. The Vikings are having all this success despite Kirk Cousins having the worst season he has ever had as a full time starter in the NFL. Cousins has gone from well above average in most statistical categories in every year of his career as a full time starter to this year, where he has been just about an average NFL starter across the board in most statistical categories. Why do you think Cousins has struggled a bit this year, and do you think this is his new normal, or can we expect a rebound from Cousins in the future?
I think Cousins’ numbers are down a bit because he’s not taking the safe play all the time. In the past, Cousins has been labeled as a “checkdown Charlie” and whatnot because he’s been more willing to take easier passes with a lower degree of overall success. This season, O’Connell has been encouraging him to take more chances with the football. The result has been more turnovers, but we’ve also gotten some more explosive plays out of the offense as well. After four years of playing with a coach who it appears never really wanted him to be his quarterback, Cousins has gotten a new lease on life under O’Connell. While there have been some growing pains for him in this new offense, it appears that he’s now more willing to exchange safety and security for more big plays if he feels that the reward outweighs the risk. I’m sure that as he spends more time in this offensive scheme we’ll see the statistics come back to more of what they were, but for now it’s an exchange that most Vikings fans are happy to see.
3. Where do you think the Vikings have the greatest advantage against the Jets on Sunday, and where do you think the Jets have the greatest advantage over the Vikings?
I think that the Vikings’ biggest advantage over the Jets will come if they can figure out how to get Dalvin Cook going against this Jets’ defense. I don’t expect that the Vikings will be able to come out and sling it all over the field against the Jets’ defense, particularly if they can’t get the Jets to respect the ground game. Cook has had some solid games this year so far, but I think they really need him to be a sustained presence in this one. If they can make the Jets respect the run, perhaps it will loosen things up for the rest of the offense so that the Vikings can take advantage.
The Jets’ biggest advantage over the Vikings might come from the fact that Mike White is still a bit of an unknown quantity for them on offense. He obviously had a very good game last week against Chicago, but has also had some pretty rough games in his short career. With the Vikings likely getting Dalvin Tomlinson back in this one to solidify their run defense, the Jets will likely have to put things on White’s shoulders if they want to come out of this one with a victory. It could be difficult for the Vikings’ defense to scheme for White. Then again, they just made Mac Jones look like an All-Pro, so it might not matter if they scheme for White or not.
4. What is the best way to successfully attack this Vikings team on offense and on defense?
To attack the Vikings on offense, the best way is definitely to get pressure on Kirk Cousins. With Christian Darrisaw likely missing another game while dealing with his second concussion of the year, the Jets would be wise to target his replacement, Blake Brandel. Brandel has held up okay through his first couple of opportunities as Darrisaw’s replacement, but Darrisaw was playing at such a high level that the Vikings will have to do things in order to help Brandel out that they wouldn’t have to do if Darrisaw was out there. The Cowboys took advantage of this a couple of weeks ago and the Vikings adjusted in time for the Patriots game to neutralize them a bit, but getting pressure on Cousins is the easiest recipe for success for the Jets’ defense.
When the Jets have the ball, the Vikings’ secondary is still a bit suspect. Cameron Dantzler will miss this one because he can’t come off of IR yet and Andrew Booth Jr. is now done for the year, leaving the Vikings pretty thin across from Patrick Peterson at corner. If the Jets can keep the Vikings’ defense off of Mike White, he might find some opportunities to make some plays against the Minnesota secondary.
5. If you were a betting person, which team would you bet on to win this game?
I think that this is another instance of the Vikings having to answer whether or not they can beat a quality team. The Jets have been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises this year based on their record and have been a tough out for most of their opponents this season, but I see this one as being another low-scoring sort of slugfest at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings are a slight favorite, as I think they should be, and I think they’ll show why on Sunday by winning another close game. I’d put this one at about 20-17 in favor of the Vikings.