Look Out for the Horns, the Vikings are Rolling into Town
After a bounce back win for the Patriots after a needed week off, the teams focus will have to shift quickly onto to their week 12 opponent; the Minnesota Vikings. The 27-13 victory over the Jets can be glorified as the return of running back Sony Michel, as he finally looked back to form after suffering a knee injury in week 7 against the Bears. His 21 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown were the engine to the train in the team’s controlling win over their division rival.
Sunday’s game was also the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has missed the last few weeks dealing with a multitude of injuries. The big man showed off his signature “Gronk Spike” for the first time since the season opener, as he split the defense on an all around beautifully executed play by the team that resulted in a touchdown. The team is going to have to bring their “A” game on Sunday, as the Vikings are showing to be making a serious playoff push to close out the regular season. Let’s take a look at the makeup of the 6-4-1 Vikings team:
The Minnesota Vikings are lead by newly acquired quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was signed by the team during this past offseason to a mega 3-year, $84 million contract. Cousins spent his first 6 season as a member of the Washington Redskins and had to battle against former Redskins and current backup on the Ravens Robert Griffin III for the starting job during his earlier years in the league. In his three season in which he was a full time starter, Cousins averaged 4,392 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. His play over that time span was extraordinary enough to earn him a spot in the 2016 Pro Bowl. Cousins is an above average quarterback in the NFL, and the weapons he is surrounded with allow him to show flashes of being a top quarterback in the league.
The talented backfield for the Vikings is lead by Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. During the 2017 NFL Draft the Vikings felt hgh enough about Cook that they traded up 7 spots to select the Florida State product with the 41st overall pick. He got off to a hot start during his rookie campaign until he went down with a torn ACL that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. So far this season Cook is still attempting to return to his natural form while he continues to get more comfortable on his surgically repaired knee. Cook is an electric player that provides a reliable pass catching option out of the backfield.
On the other hand, Latavius Murray is the power back that is used in short-yardage situations. Murray landed in Minnesota after a 3 year stint with the Raiders, as in 2015 he was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl. Murray has racked up 1,297 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 4 yards per rush during his 2 years as a Viking. His big frame and powerful running allows him to be extremely effective in short yardage situations as well as picking up extra yardage.
The Vikings have arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, and all the credit goes to receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Thielen had his work cut out for him in order to make it into the NFL. He wasn’t invited to the 2013 NFL Combine, thus resulting in him going undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft. He had a breakout season in 2016 in which he had 69 receptions for 967 yards and 5 touchdowns. Now in 2018, Thielen is the teams glorified number one receiver and just broke the record for most consecutive 100-yard receiving games, in which he totaled 8 games. He has scored a touchdown in all but 3 games this season, so it will be key for the Patriots defense to contain Thielen all afternoon.
On the opposing side of the field of Thielen stands receiver Stefon Diggs, who if were on another team would in all likelihood be that teams #1 option at receiver. However, Diggs provides is a excellent second option for the high powered Vikings offense. Throughout this season he has totaled 79 receptions for 790 yards and 6 touchdowns. Diggs is incredibly fast and is deadly in open field, as he has an arsenal of skill moves that he uses to leave opposing defenders stuck in their tracks.
At tight end, Kyle Rudolph lead the Vikings in the department. He has been with Minnesota since being drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. His 6’6 frame makes it challenging for opposing linebackers to cover him in the passing game, as his 2012 and 2017 season totals tell the tale. He was nominated for the Pro Bowl in both of those years and has been an above average tight end in the passing game throughout his whole career.
The offensive line for the Vikings is decent group at best, as they have some young players on their line. So far this season they have allowed 28 sacks, which is tied for 15th in the league for the least amount of sacks. This offensive line sees its struggles in the run game though, as they rank 29th in the league with only 85.3 rushing yards per game. It will be a focal point for the Patriots defense to eliminate the run game earlier in order to put all the pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Vikings defenses is loaded with big-name talent, as defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Linval Joseph are two key players to watch for on their defensive line. Griffin has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league, as he was tied for 4th in the NFL last season with 13 sacks. Griffin has been unbelievable over the last 3 seasons in which he made the Pro Bowl in every year since 2015. He is strong and extremely athletic and knows how to get after a quarterback. Linval Joseph joined the Vikings in 2014 after spending 4 years on the New York Giants. He has been extremely reliable during his time with Minnesota, as he has only missed 4 out of the possible 74 games since 2014. Over the last few season, Joseph has been a stud at clogging up the middle. His play over the last few years has been well enough to earn him back-to-back Pro Bowl nominations in 2016 and 2017. The combination of Griffin and Joseph can be frightening to any opposing team, so the Patriots will have to key in on stopping these two stars.
The linebacking core for the Vikings is lead by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Barr was drafted by the Vikings with the 9th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Since being drafted, Barr has made a huge impact to the defense of Minnesota. He is a speedy lineback who can go sideline from sideline with ease, making it difficult to run to outside. He has made the Pro Bowl in every season since 2015, so Barr’s skillset is very well documented. Kendricks is also a consistent athlete who makes a living off of find the ball carrier and making the plays needed. In his rookie season in 2015 he totaled 92 combined tackles, and since that year has made over 100 combined tackles in the last 2 seasons. Barr and Kendricks make for a stellar 1-2 punch in the middle of the Vikings defense.
The secondary for the Vikings is lead by some of the best players in the league at their respected positions, as cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith having been nothing less than spectacular during their time with the Vikings. Rhodes stands at 6’2, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. His size allows him to take away larger receiving threats, but Rhodes also has the speed to stick with just about every receiver in the NFL. Over the last 2 seasons he has been named to the Pro Bowl, as well as being nominated as a First Team All-Pro last season. Rhodes has been a reliable player for the Vikings for awhile, as he has only missed 3 games since 2014. With that being said, Rhodes suffered what looked to be a serious hamstring injury which is putting hi status for Sunday in doubt.
As far as safeties go, it’s tough to find anyone better at their job than Harrison Smith. After being drafted 29th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft Harrison has been a star in the league, as hus 97 combined tackles to go along with 3 interceptions in his rookie year shows how remarkable of a player he is. Even more impressive is his discography over the last few season. Since 2015 he has made the Pro Bowl every season and was even nominated as a First Team All-Pro in 2017. Harrison obtains elite ball skills and great vision for the game that allows him to act as a center fielder for the Vikings defense. The secondary for the Vikings has the capability to shut down any opposing wide receiving corps, so Brady and company are going to have to ready for a long fight against this star-studded secondary.
It’s no secret that the Vikings obtain one of the best defenses in the NFL. They are only letting up 22.4 points per game, which ranks in the top half of all NFL teams. Ths Vikings defense can be very deceiving however, as this is the same defense that let up 27 points at home against the Buffalo Bills. Per usual, it will be key for the Patriots to be effective in the run game on both sides of the ball. Viking head coach Mike Zimmer called the Patriots “the best play action team in the league”, so establishing the run game will open up the arsenal of play action plays that Josh McDaniels has. Star cornerback Xavier Rhodes has been out of practice all week as he nurses a hamstring injury that he suffered last week against Green Bay, so it will be important to monitor his status for the game in the upcoming days. The Patriots’ job will be a lot easier without Rhodes on the field, but we will have to wait and see if he plays.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr