For the fourth time this season and for the first time at home, the Minnesota Vikings will face a backup quarterback. In all previous matchups, said backup started the game due to injury of the team’s starter. There is no such injury this time around, as Mike White will make his second start of the season.
Zach Wilson, the second overall pick of the 2021 Draft, earned himself a spot next to Robert Saleh due to his uninspired play and lack of discretion at the podium. The BYU product did not even dress for the Week 12 victory over Chicago and has now found himself third on the depth chart behind White and journeyman Joe Flacco.
One of the [many] reasons fans and media have discounted Minnesota’s 9-2 start is all the backups that the Vikings have happened to draw. After witnessing what transpired in rain-soaked MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon, one can reasonably conclude that Mike White is indeed New York’s best quarterback and deserved to start regardless of Wilson’s questionable off-the-field conduct.
Going up against a beleaguered Chicago defense that traded away its best two players earlier in the season, White was surgical in his dismantling of the Bears. Taking what the defense gave him, White finished a masterful 2022 debut by completing 79% of his throws for 315 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He did everything the Jets could have asked for — and then some.
Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur -– does that name sound familiar? -– crafted a perfect game plan for the circumstances: quick, safe throws that didn’t force White to pat the ball and scan the entire field. White continued to make correct decisions in taking the open man, often one of his first reads, underneath for short-to-medium gains.
The Western Kentucky graduate didn’t force the ball downfield often, averaging only 5.8 intended air yards per pass attempt (IAY/PA). For context, the Los Angeles Chargers average the fewest IAY/PA of any team this season with 6.0.
White’s methodical procedure of moving the ball down the field is precisely what Minnesota’s defense has struggled with all season. Donatell’s soft, Cover-2 shell defense is prone to allowing quick throws underneath. The idea is to force teams to slowly move the ball down the field in order to score while being ready to pounce at their first mistake.
Such an approach has held up well enough to enable Minnesota to have such a sustained level of success, by converting overeager quarterback mistakes into turnovers. However, against a quarterback like White willing to take short completions, Minnesota could be in for a slow and painful death on Sunday afternoon.
Although it would be against his nature, Donatell would do well to put pressure on the Jets offense, specifically the wide receivers. A staple of his defensive scheme is for the cornerbacks to give considerable cushion to the receivers off the line.
In order to restrict the short, positive gains that unlocked White and the Jets success on Sunday, Minnesota needs to consider pressing with their corners at the line of scrimmage to force New York’s receivers to create their own separation — rather than just granting them that space.
By taking away the easy, underneath completions, the Vikings will force White to progress to his third and fourth reads, which will allow the pass rush to get home. Bringing some extra exotic pressures against the inexperienced QB won’t hurt, either.
Yes, Mr. White is a backup, but based on what he put on tape in Week 12, there is reason to believe that the best quarterback wearing green and white has just been patiently preparing for his moment. And come Sunday at noon, Minnesota is going to have to be ready to dismantle his patient offensive approach in order to complete a four-game sweep of the AFC East.
Will is a husband, father, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.