Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs vs. Minkah Fitzpatrick
In three of the last four games, the Vikings’ opponents have found success doubling and bracketing Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, forcing Kirk Cousins to spread the ball around. And given the Vikings’ relative drop-off after their top two receivers, the offense has suffered for it. That said, Thielen’s outburst at the end of Monday’s game would suggest he feels he has had openings, regardless of the coverage on him.
If healthy, the Dolphins have the personnel to do this and do it effectively. Xavien Howard has emerged as a star, and their fine rookie safety/corner Minkah Fitzpatrick is a coverage Swiss army knife. But with Howard likely out again, Fitzpatrick may end up spending a significant amount of time one-on-one on the edge with Minnesota’s star receivers, as he did last week against New England. Expect that Vikings to test the talented rookie all game.
Vikings O-Line vs. Cameron Wake/Robert Quinn
Minnesota’s passing game depends almost entirely on how well the pass protect. Cousins had shown most of the season that he is capable of working with a dirty pocket, so long as he can get the ball out in rhythm. However, the last few weeks have caught him with his eyes down, looking over his shoulder and failing to maneuver the pocket effectively. Even against weaker pass rushing teams like the Patriots and Seahawks, Cousins had little time to work through his reads and was too quick to check down.
Fortunately, Miami’s pass rush may be the weakest of the bunch, especially up the middle. The Vikings’ interior line has struggled mightily, but the Dolphins do not bring much from their defensive tackles. Rather, veteran rushers Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn bring the bulk of the pressure, as they are tied for the team lead with 4.5 sacks apiece. Minnesota’s tackles have been their stronger pass blockers, but stunts have left the interior vulnerable on more than a few occasions. Therefore, their whole line will be a focus with regard to neutralizing the outside rush.
Simply put, if the Vikings cannot slow down this defensive line, there really is not much hope for them moving forward.
Danielle Hunter vs. Ja’Wuan James
Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James have emerged as solid tackles for the Dolphins after a few years of lackluster play. Tunsil is the better player, and Danielle Hunter will get his shots at him when Stephen Weatherly shuffles in. But primarily, Hunter will be one-on-one with James. Currently tied for fourth in the league is sacks, Hunter has officially emerged as one of the league’s breakout stars of 2018.
Forcing Ryan Tannehill into mistakes will be a key part of the Vikings’ success on Sunday. Despite a solid performance last week against the Patriots, Tannehill still has the highest percentage of turnover-worth plays among quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Minnesota’s defense is not overly opportunistic, but they still rank 11th in takeaways. How Hunter and the defensive line disrupt Tannehill will dictate how Miami’s 29th-ranked offense maintains drives.
For the first time seemingly all season, the Vikings appear to be close to completely healthy. Injury designations will come out later today, but all 53 players participated in practice Thursday on some basis. Only three starters, Eric Kendricks, Mike Remmers and Sheldon Richardson, were limited.
Miami is not quite as lucky. As mentioned above, Xavien Howard appears doubtful for Sunday, and and a handful of other starters have been limited. Most notable among them are Tannehill, Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker and Laremy Tunsil.
Madison Parkhill: Minnesota 27, Miami 13
The Vikings return home to face the Dolphins in week 15. At 6-6-1, this is a must-win. The offense will be the focus of most, as Kevin Stefanski takes over as the offensive coordinator. While that certainly bears watching, I expect the story of this game to be the defense. Notoriously dominant at home, the Vikings defense is still one of the very best in the league. Facing a Dolphins team with an offensive line in tatters and a receiving core mostly devoid of talent, the defense should earn the Vikings a win if the offense can be average. With Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs garnering favorable matchups outside, the Vikings should easily win this one.
– Madison Parkhill writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @MadPark44.
Roger Dier: Minnesota 27, Miami 13
Last week we experienced another quarterback-induced loss and another quiet week for the Minnesota Vikings. You know, the typical stuff: An in-season OC firing, a lashing-out-at-Vikings-fans social media post from the head coach’s daughter, and the baffling, continued employment of the Vikings special teams coach. On it goes, this thing of ours.
It’s remarkable that the Vikings have lost two straight late-season games yet they continue to hold the inside track on the No. 6 seed in the NFC. Alas, our heroes have no more room to wiggle. With the Miami Dolphins rolling into Minnesota with a hobbled quarterback and a lousy road record (1-5 this year), the Vikings absolutely have to win this game. They will, by a 27-13 margin.
What to look for? The new offensive coordinator will have Kirk Cousins take most of the snaps with his hands under center. As a consequence, the running game will bust out, play action will be effective, the quarterback will rediscover open receivers and our rusted-out offense will again purr like the well-oiled machine it can be. The noble Vikings defense, a bulwark the last two weeks against powerful opponents, will finally get support from the Vikings offense and will be fortified by a noisy home crowd.
Roger Dier helps cover the Minnesota Vikings for Full Press Coverage. Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerdier.
Clayton Brooks: Minnesota 20, Miami 13
The Minnesota Vikings are clinging to the sixth seed by the thinnest of leads. For two straight weeks, they’ve hung on to a playoff despite losses in each of them. With three weeks to go, the next two will be their best chance to punch their ticket to the dance. Win both games combined with single losses by Philadelphia, Washington, and Carolina will clinch the sixth and final NFC playoff spot with a week to go.
First up are the Miami Dolphins. Like the Vikings, they are barely clinging to playoff hopes. Unfortunately, they’re on the road where they’re 1-5. The Dolphins aren’t great in any area, though do have promising talent on the defensive side of the ball. Still, this is a game that the Vikings should win as the 7-6 Dolphins have not looked the part of a .500 ball club much this year.
The question for the Vikings is this: will the switch from John DeFilippo to Kevin Stefanski be the spark the offense has desperately needed to reach the expectations that many fans set at the beginning of the year? He better be, because that’s what they’ll need to get much-needed wins the next two weeks. For now, I’m taking the Vikings in a lower scoring affair.
– Clayton Brooks writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @ClaytonRBrooks2.
Sam Smith: Minnesota 21, Miami 16
We know what can happen when the Vikings’ defense faces an apparently weak offense. Week three was a perfect example of that. That said, the defense has been excellent much of the last couple of months, with only a few blips of ineffectiveness in between. Miami, on the other hand, despite being squarely in the AFC playoff picture at 7-6, seems to have nothing but doubters. Their offense has been weak without Tannehill and only a little better with him. Plus, they are facing a myriad of injury problems at just the wrong time.
The problem for the Vikings is that there is little reason to have faith in their offense, either. Stefanski brings hope of progress, but that is all we can say for sure. He will probably run the ball a bit more and use more quick rhythm passing. If nothing else, it will keep the ball in Minnesota’s hands a bit longer than fans have seen in weeks. The fact that Miami struggles to get pressure and is without their best defensive player in Howard also points in the Vikings’ favor. I do not have confidence the Vikings will fully control this game, but I do believe they will score just enough to win, but not cover.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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