One week removed from an embarrassing loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings were able to get back on track with a Thanksgiving night victory over the New England Patriots to move to 9-2 on the year. Next up is Mike White and the New York Jets. Here is how the Vikings can reach double-digit wins on the year.
1. Justin Jefferson vs. Sauce Gardner
By far the most exciting storyline in this game for me is Justin Jefferson going up against stud rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner. The fourth overall pick from this past year’s draft has been nothing short of phenomenal to start his career. Through 11 games, Gardner has allowed just 283 yards (25.7/game) and one touchdown with a completion percentage of 51.7%. This has come while seeing reps against guys like Ja’Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Stefon Diggs. Jefferson may be his toughest test yet though as the Vikings wide receiver has only been held under 100 yards in four games this year (one of which was a 98-yard outing). It seems likely that Sauce Gardner will shadow Jefferson often meaning that we will get to see this matchup a lot. This battle between two of the brightest young stars in the league is going to be must-watch television all day long.
2. Third Down Defense
In the past few games, the Vikings’ defense has struggled at stopping their opponents from converting third downs. The past three games have seen their opponents converting 55% of the time, which ranks 31st in the league during that span. On the flip side, the New York Jets thrived with Mike White under center this past week against the Bears. This included a 58.3% conversion rate on third downs. While it was only one game against an abysmal Chicago Bears defense, the Jets’ offense was leaps and bounds better than it had been with Zach Wilson. If the Vikings want to avoid an upset at the hands of Mike White and the Jets, they are going to have to be much better on third downs. Many of these struggles can be traced back to the defense giving up big chucks of yardage on first and second down resulting in a lot of short yardage situations on third down. The return of Dalvin Tomlinson should help both on early downs and in short-yardage third downs. If Tomlinson can help the defense stop giving up seven-yard runs on first down, they should be better set up to stop the Jets’ offense on third down.
3. The Return of Injured Players
The Vikings seem to be getting healthier than they have been the past few weeks and could be in line to return several key pieces this week against the Jets. On the defensive line, Dalvin Tomlinson appears ready to return to the starting lineup as he has missed the past few games with a calf injury. This could be a huge addition in run defense, but also in helping eat blocks for guys like Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter to get to the quarterback. Another guy who should be returning on defense is Akayleb Evans. With the injury to Evans and Cam Dantzler and now Andrew Booth Jr. on IR, the Vikings were forced to start Duke Shelley opposite of Patrick Peterson this past week. With Evans likely to return the secondary should see some slight improvement at the cornerback position. The offense is also likely to get a couple of faces back. The biggest name is Christian Darrisaw who has a chance to return from a concussion which would provide a huge boost to the offensive line. The final name that is going to be returning to action is slightly more under the radar: Ben Ellefson. Now Ellefson is certainly not going to make a big impact in the passing game but he is a phenomenal blocker which could help Dalvin Cook produce more consistently.
The Vikings’ offense passes another test against a tough defense and a secondary getting healthier holds up just enough. Vikings 31, Jets 23