The Jets head to Minnesota on Sunday to face a Vikings team that boasts one of the league’s best records at 9-2. After a 1-1 start, the Vikings won seven in a row - all by one score - but then got blown out by Dallas two weeks ago. They bounced back with a win over New England last Thursday and have had the long week to prepare as Mike White looks to follow up a strong performance against the Bears. The Jets haven’t beaten Minnesota since 2010 and were blown out by 20 when the teams last met four years ago. The Vikings are favored by 3 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Kirk Cousins was a pro bowler in 2021 but his numbers are down in 2022, despite the Vikings’ strong record. In fact, his quarterback rating is the worst he’s posted since 2014 and his only 300-yard game came in the wacky overtime win over the Bills. He has set career highs with six fourth quarter comebacks and six game winning drives though.
Cousins’ backup is Nick Mullens, who has only thrown eight passes this year. He lost his only start last season and has won just five of 17 starts in his career.
The Vikings have had good continuity on the offensive line until recently with all five starters playing every game until their best lineman, Christian Darrisaw, suffered a concussion in the Dallas game. Minnesota was blown out by Dallas and then posted a season-low rushing total without their stud left tackle in the New England game.
Darrisaw’s replacement, Blake Brandel, has given up four sacks in the last three games, but protected Cousins well enough for the Vikings to be able to beat New England. Brandel will be back in the starting lineup against the Jets because Darrisaw has been ruled out.
The other four starters have missed just three snaps between them and the line as a whole has been disciplined with no starter having more than four penalties.
One issue has been that they give up more interior pressure than any team in the league, though. Returning starters center Garrett Bradbury and left guard Ezra Cleveland are good players and both athletic, but third round rookie Ed Ingram has struggled at right guard, giving up eight sacks and lots of pressure.
At right tackle, Brian O’Neill is also a good athlete. He and Cleveland had also played every snap in 2021.
Due to the continuity on the line, they haven’t needed to dip into their bench much with Chris Reed, Oli Udoh, backup center Austin Schottmann and sixth round rookie Vererian Lowe combining for just eight offensive snaps. Udoh was a full-time starter in 2021.
Dalvin Cook is one of the league’s best running backs and he’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry this year as he’s racked up 841 yards and six scores on the ground. Cook has had two 100-yard games but was held to 42 yards on 22 carries with Darrisaw missing against New England.
Backup Alexander Mattison averages just 3.6 yards per carry and Kene Nwangwu only has six yards on five touches as he’s mostly a special teamer. CJ Ham is the team’s fullback.
This week will see the much-anticipated matchup between Jets rookie Sauce Gardner and Vikings pro bowl wideout Justin Jefferson. The 23-year old is making a case to be recognized as the league’s best receiver as he has 81 catches for over 1,200 yards and five scores. He’s only been held below 50 receiving yards three times this year, including in both of the Vikings’ losses, so slowing him down will go a long way towards giving the Jets a shot of winning.
Adam Thielen hasn’t had a thousand-yard season since 2018, but he’s still a solid number two with 54 catches on the year. KJ Osborn is a reliable third option with 28 receptions.
Reserves Jalen Reagor and sixth round rookie Jalen Nailor haven’t played much, with just seven combined catches.
At tight end, the Vikings will be without reserve Ben Ellefson and already have Irv Smith on injured reserve but they bolstered the position by trading for TJ Hockenson at the deadline. Hockenson has 26 catches in just four games with the Vikings and 52 overall on the year.
The Vikings use plenty of two-tight end sets, so Johnny Mundt, who has 16 catches, should see plenty of action. Seventh round pick Nick Muse is yet to contribute.
The Vikings operate a 3-4 system but will revert to four man fronts in passing situations. Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson are their two best starters with Tomlinson returning after a few weeks out due to injury.
Jonathan Bullard is listed as the other starter with Khyiris Tonga, James Lynch and Ross Blacklock seeing rotational reps off the bench. Blacklock is listed as questionable having been ill during the week though. Rookie Esezi Otomewo, a fifth round pick, has yet to see any playing time.
The key to the Vikings’ defense is their productive edge rush pairing. Za’Darius Smith leads the team with 9.5 sacks and Danielle Hunter has added seven. The two-time pro bowler Hunter racked up 28.5 sacks in 2019 and 2020 but only six last season.
On the inside, Jordan Hicks has filled up the stat sheet as he leads the team in tackles and has added three sacks and seven pass breakups. However, he’s also given up four touchdowns in coverage. He is paired with Eric Kendricks. The former second rounder had a key touchdown recovery in the win over the Bills, but leads the Vikings in missed tackles.
On the outside, Patrick Jones and DJ Wonnum get rotational work, with Wonnum producing well with 3.5 sacks off the bench. Most of the rest of the linebackers don’t get to play much though. Third round rookie Brian Asamoah and Troy Dye have played less than 50 snaps between them and undrafted rookies Luiji Vilain and William Kwenkeu (who was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday) have only played on special teams.
The Vikings are in last place for passing defense despite the re-emergence of veteran Patrick Peterson, who has racked up 12 pass breakups and three interceptions. The other starter was Cameron Dantzler, but he’s currently on injured reserve and second round rookie Andrew Booth, who initially replaced him, was also just placed on injured reserve.
In the last game, the Vikings went with the inexperienced Duke Shelley as the other starter on the outside as he was making his first start as a Viking and the seventh of his career. Fourth round rookie Akayleb Evans, who is actually listed as a starter on the team’s depth chart, started the Bills game but hasn’t played since.
In the slot, Chandon Sullivan basically plays a full-time role and things are more settled at safety where veteran Harrison Smith has reeled in four interceptions starting alongside Camryn Bynum.
Josh Metellus has seen limited action as the third safety and also started one game when Smith was out. First round rookie Lewis Cine is out for the year after a serious leg injury in October, though.
Cornerback Kris Boyd and undrafted rookie safety Theo Jackson round out the rotation in the secondary.
Vikings kicker Greg Joseph has come up big this year with three game-winners. However, he’s just one-for-six on field goals from beyond 50 yards.
Their punter is an undrafted rookie, Ryan Wright, who is eighth in the league in net average. He’s one of just two full-time punters without a touchback this season.
In the return game, Nwangwu leads the league in kick return average and total yards following his 97-yard touchdown against New England. The punt returner, Reagor, has modest numbers this season but did have a touchdown return two years ago. Osborn and Nailor would be the backups in the return game.
In kick coverage, Dye and Metellus are the Vikings’ most productive special teamers and Boyd is their best punt gunner.
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