Chargers Preview: Getting To Know The Minnesota Vikings
Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers were able to bounce back and get a much-needed victory against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. The writing was on the wall for a big Herbert game, but he was incredibly efficient and moved the ball up and down the field against the Eagles coverage-heavy defense. Every Chargers offensive possession passed the Eagles 30 yard line and they never punted.
This week, the Los Angeles offense will face a much tougher test against Mike Zimmer’s aggressive Vikings defense, and the Chargers defense could be in for a long day against Dalvin Cook and company.
2020 Season In Review
If you looked up the word streaky in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of the 2020 Vikings schedule results from last season. They started the year 1-5, with their only victory coming against the Houston Texans. After their week seven bye, they won five of their next six games, culminating with an overtime win over the Jaguars which put them at 6-6 and very much in the playoff picture. However, they followed up that win by losing their next three games which included a week 15 loss to the Bears, effectively knocking them out of the playoff picture. They finished the season with a meaningless two-point win over the Detroit Lions to put them at 7-9.
The offense, led by Kirk Cousins, was prolific. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. Most of that production went to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, who of course had his own record-breaking rookie season. Cook also had a fantastic season and established himself as one of the premier running backs after rushing for over 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The problem for the Vikings was that Cousins turned the ball over a lot – career-high 13 interceptions – and the defense was the worst it had ever been under Zimmer (29th in points and 27th in yards allowed). He even acknowledged that fact in his post-season press conference, which would ultimately set the tone for their 2021 offseason.
Key Additions And Departures
The Vikings tried to rebuild their secondary through the draft in 2020 and it failed miserably. Zimmer went into free agency with adding veterans to that group as his primary objective. They signed Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, and Xavier Woods to stabilize that group. Peterson was hurt against the Panthers in week six and is currently on injured reserve, which has thrust 2020 third-round pick, Cameron Dantzler, back into the lineup.
Aside from the secondary, the Vikings also added Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson to beef up the interior of their defensive line, facilitated a return for Everson Griffen after he spent the 2020 season with the Cowboys and Lions, and signed former Chargers linebacker Nick Vigil. Vigil has been playing well in a supporting role behind stalwarts Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
One of the bigger storylines in this matchup will be the play of the Vikings rookie safety Camryn Bynum. He will be making his second career start in place of the All-Pro safety Harrison Smith who is out due to a positive Covid test. Bynum played well against the Ravens last week and even snagged his first career interception.
Bynum is part of a draft class that includes left tackle Christian Darrisaw, quarterback Kellen Mond, linebacker Chazz Surratt, guard Wyatt Davis, edge rusher Patrick Jones, running back Kene Nwangwu, edge rusher Janarius Robinson, wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette, tight end Zach Davidson, and defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman.
As with many of the teams around the NFL, the ceiling of the Vikings remains limited due to the lack of an elite quarterback. That being said the Vikings have a lot of talent and are probably better than their current 3-5 record shows, but they remain a streaky and inconsistent team. They’ve lost shootouts to the Bengals, Cardinals, and Ravens but they also needed a last-second field goal to beat the Lions and lost to the Cowboys sans-Dak Prescott.
The good news for the Vikings is that their defense has seemingly gotten the improvements that Zimmer wanted, albeit not at a drastic rate. They are 26th in yards and 17th in points allowed per game. However, they are seventh in weighted defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders, which takes into account the quality of opponents faced. Where they are best in that regard is in their pass defense, where the revamped secondary has been good enough to rank 3rd in passing DVOA. They’ve been able to remain steady without Peterson, but losing Smith is obviously a much more significant deal to the success of their defense.
The Vikings are only one game out of the final wild-card spot in the NFC, which is really up for grabs at this point. The problem for them is they have the 10th most difficult strength of schedule that includes matchups with the Chargers, Rams, Steelers, and all four games against the Packers and Bears. Theoretically, they have the talent to get hot and win a good amount of those games, but that should not be the expectation at this point given their overall lack of consistency in recent years. I’m left wondering if the Zimmer era will run its course by the end of the season.
History Against The Chargers
The Chargers and Vikings have played 13 times in their history, with the Vikings holding the edge 7-6. The last time these two played was just two years ago, and the Vikings dominated the Chargers in Carson. The Vikings’ defense terrorized Philip Rivers, resulting in three interceptions en route to a 39-10 win. Perhaps the most famous matchup between these two teams came back in 2007 when Adrian Peterson rushed for 296 yards and Antonio Cromartie returned a missed Vikings field goal 109 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings won that game as well, however, 35-17.
This will ultimately be a tough matchup for the Chargers. Zimmer is very old school in his approach to the offensive side of football. He wants to run the football with his two very high-quality backs and then run play-action to his two very high-quality receivers out of that. As it currently stands, the Chargers will be without Ryan Smith who tore his ACL against the Eagles, and will likely be without Michael Davis again, and possibly without Asante Samuel Jr. And the struggles against the run are well documented at this point.
I feel confident that the offense will be able to put up points after they bounced back against the Eagles’ defense, but Zimmer is one of the greatest defensive minds of our generation and he will create a much more challenging game plan than first-year defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon did last week.
Vegas has the Chargers favored by 2.5 this week which means that this would essentially be a toss-up on a neutral site. The Chargers should win this game but it will probably take a game-winning drive, or game-winning stop to do so.
I’m sticking with Herbert and the Chargers to get that victory, 31-27.