The Minnesota Vikings are well-rested following the primetime victory over the New England Patriots. After the extended break following their Thursday Night matchup, the Vikings welcome another team traveling from the east to U.S. Bank Stadium.
The New York Jets have been a surprise package this season in the super competitive AFC East division. The Jets currently sit in third place with a 7-4 record in a division where every team now has a winning record.
It is impressive, then, that the Vikings are looking to sweep the division this Sunday. After already beating the Bills, Dolphins, and Patriots. To do so, the Vikings must once again overcome one of the best defenses in the NFL. Led by head coach Robert Saleh, this Jets defense is as mean as it gets. They haven’t been so good on offense. However, a quarterback change last week provided a spark as the Jets put up 31 points over the Chicago Bears with Mike White under center.
Here are three Vikings players to watch who will need big games for Minnesota to come out of this one victorious.
The Vikings received a massive boost as Dalvin Tomlinson returned to full practice on Wednesday. The big defensive tackle has been sorely missed during a four-game absence with a calf injury. He comes back at an ideal time. Despite White’s heroics at quarterback last week, running the football is the staple of the Jets offense. Even with Breece Hall on Reserve/Injured and Michael Carter knocked out of last week’s game with an ankle injury. The Jets proved they could keep their ground game going, whoever is in the backfield.
Undrafted rookie Zonovan Knight picked up the baton and ran for 69 yards on 14 carries. He was backed up by an explosive outing by Ty Johnson, who had 5 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown. It remains to be seen if Carter will be available on Sunday. He was a nonparticipant at Wednesday’s practice and is considered day-to-day.
It’s not just stout run defense that Tomlinson is bringing back to the team. Before the injury, he was enjoying a good season in terms of pass defense. Pro Football Focus gives him a pass rush grade of 80.7. In the opening seven games of the season, Tomlinson had 16 total pressures, 13 hurries, 1 Q.B. hit, and 2 sacks. He was showing the ability to wreck the game from the interior, which has been lacking during his absence.
Last week, Adam Thielen recorded the most catches he has made in a game this season. He hauled in nine of the 10 targets that came his way for 61 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t a huge day in terms of yards, but getting Thielen that involved in the game can only bring good things for the Vikings.
This week, the Vikings come up against arguably the best cornerback duo in the league. Sauce Gardner has taken the league by storm in his rookie season, and he will likely shadow Justin Jefferson. That leaves D.J. Reed Jr. to cover Thielen, and Read is having a great season in his own right. It doesn’t get any easier in the slot either with Michael Carter II. The Vikings need their entire offense firing to move the ball consistently against this defense.
The Jets run defense is good, but it’s not as good as its pass defense. Of course, having three cornerbacks playing at such a high level helps put more resources into stopping the run. However, teams can move the ball on the ground against them. If the Vikings can get Dalvin Cook going and successfully spread the ball around in the passing game, they’ve proved this season that they can put up points against strong defenses.
It starts with the offensive line, and the big boys up front will have their work cut out in pass protection. Run blocking has long been a strength of Minnesota’s offensive line, and they need to make some lanes for Cook in this one. Then, the running back needs to show his ability to make people miss. This will be a battle and unquestionably another nail-biting close game.
The Vikings need Cook at his best in order to put together some long time-consuming drives. If the Jets defense is allowed to dominate, it’s difficult to foresee a Vikings win.