Another week, another win for the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have won five straight, sit at 6-1, and find themselves with a 3.5-game lead in the NFC North race. The next challenge is a road trip to the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Commanders. Here is what the Vikings need to do to continue their winning ways.
1. Utilize Newly Acquired Weapon T.J. Hockenson
The news of the week for the Minnesota Vikings was a big move at the trade deadline. The Vikings struck a deal with their division rivals on Tuesday, sending second and third-round picks to the Detroit Lions in exchange for tight end T.J. Hockenson and two fourth-round picks. It was rumored that Minnesota was interested in trading for a tight end at the deadline, but Hockenson would have seemed out of the realm of possibility until the deal went down. Hockenson is a do-it-all, Pro Bowl tight end that can bring a lot to the table for the Vikings. The fit in the Vikings’ offense for Hockenson is an exciting one. With the Lions, Hockenson was a primary weapon in their offense. With the Vikings, he can settle into more of a tertiary role behind Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook. This should help Hockenson get better matchups in the receiving game. Perhaps even more exciting, however, is the blocking ability of Hockenson. Hockenson steps onto the Vikings’ roster and immediately is the best blocking tight end as well, especially in an offense that runs a lot of zone concepts, a strength of his. Do not be surprised if the Vikings immediately feel his impact and have their best day of the year on the ground.
2. Keep the Commanders Receivers in Front of You
In the passing game, the matchup between Patrick Peterson and Terry McLaurin should be a good one, but I am more interested in the Commanders’ secondary receivers. The receiver room of the Washington Commanders is packed with speed between McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson, and Dyami Brown. Washington has struggled to put up points this year at less than 18 points per game so you want to avoid giving up big plays by allowing the receivers to blow past you. Instead, if the Vikings’ cornerbacks can keep everything in front of them and force the Commanders to string together a 12 or 13-play drive, that could be a recipe for success. I do not have a lot of faith in the Commanders’ offense to put together long drives, so that could make it a long day for Taylor Heinicke and company.
3. Be Aggressive on Fourth Down
Greg Joseph has missed his last five kicks of over 50 yards. This, combined with the playing surface on Sunday, should lead Kevin O’Connell to be more aggressive than he normally would be on fourth-down decisions. FedEx Field, home of the Commanders and the site for Sunday’s game, is famous (or rather infamous) for having a terrible playing surface which can be tough on kickers and bad for injuries. It has been reported that Joseph has been talking with other kickers that have kicked at FedEx Field, looking for advice. It may be wise for O’Connell to be more conservative when it comes to kicking field goals. If the offense gets to a situation where you would have to kick a field goal of 50-plus yards, it may be wise to instead opt to go for it if the situation is fourth-and-five or less, for example.
Prediction: Minnesota keeps rolling with their sixth straight win, this one in a slightly more comfortable fashion. Vikings 30, Commanders 16