It’s Week 9 of the NFL season and the 4-4 Washington Commanders will be facing a 6-1 Vikings team in Raljon.
Washington comes into the game on a three game win streak, while the Vikings are off to one of their best starts in years and are four games better in the loss column than their nearest competitor in the NFC North. Former Redskins Offensive Coordinator Kevin O’Connell is thriving in his first head coaching gig in Minnesota and seems to have former Redskin Kirk Cousins on the right path so far this season. Having added tight end TJ Hockenson at the trade deadline, the Vikings are clearly gearing up to make strong playoff run this year. Will Washington be able to slow them down?
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Chris Gates of the Daily Norseman five questions about the state of the Vikings and what to look for in this game.
1) Head Coach Kevin O’Connell is enjoying early success in Minnesota. What is he doing differently than Mike Zimmer, and what areas does he need to improve on, if anything?
I think that the most important thing that Kevin O’Connell has done since arriving in Minnesota is bringing a new perspective to a team that desperately needed to hear a new message. I don’t believe that Mike Zimmer is a bad football coach, but he reached that point that so many NFL coaches reach where it was just time for them to move on.
Zimmer had a lot of success in Minnesota, but appeared to be stuck in his ways a bit and didn’t want to change a whole lot of things to fit his personnel. O’Connell has brought a new approach to things, including opening up the offense significantly more than we had seen in the last couple of years of the Zimmer era. The players have clearly bought into the culture he’s brought to the team thus far, as O’Connell has them believing that they can win even when things aren’t going perfectly. That’s a big contrast from the past couple of years when one thing would go wrong and things would just spiral out of control and the team couldn’t recover in time. We’ll see if it continues, but as things stand right now Kevin O’Connell has been the breath of fresh air the Vikings have needed.
2) It looks like Cousins is taking significantly fewer sacks this year and that he’s fumbling less than average as well. If that’s true, what do you think is driving it? What’s the current pulse of the fanbase on Kirk, and does he have a long-term future with the Vikings?
Cousins has turned the ball over a few more times this year than we’ve been used to, though it’s worth noting that half of his interceptions came in one game against Philadelphia back in Week 2. I think a lot of it has to do with Kevin O’Connell.
When Mike Zimmer was fired, we started to get stories surfacing about how Zimmer never really wanted Cousins to be his quarterback and that they really didn’t get along that well. O’Connell, on the other hand, has loudly declared that he thinks he can win football games with Kirk Cousins and that he clearly believes in his talent. It’s hard to overstate how important that can be to a quarterback and a team as a whole.
As far as his long-term future, it depends on who you ask. There’s a collective within the fan base that is convinced that just about any other quarterback with a pulse is better than Cousins, and there are some that really believe that he’s the long-term future for the team at the position. I think they need to start seriously looking into a younger backup option for the future, but overall I’m pretty happy with Cousins right now.
3) The Vikings rush defense appears to be middle of the pack this season, while its passing defense looks to be seriously struggling. Is this an accurate assessment, and if so, what’s the most vulnerable element of the passing D?
For the first few weeks of the season, the Vikings were getting throttled in the run game, as teams like Green Bay and Philadelphia were able to pick up yards in chunks on the ground. Now, the run defense seems to have firmed up a bit while the pass defense has been giving up yards.
I think all of it comes down to one thing: the team is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and there are still plenty of adjustments to be made. Over the past couple of weeks, the Vikings’ pass rush has taken advantage of some undermanned offensive lines and finally started getting some pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but they’re still giving up yards.
Fortunately, while they’ve been giving up yardage, they haven’t been giving up a lot of points, which is really the best we can hope for. The Vikings’ pass defense has always been vulnerable, as most defenses are, to mobile quarterbacks that can extend plays and allow players time to get open. If Taylor Heinicke is able to do that on Sunday, he’ll likely make a few big plays against this Minnesota defense.
4) The Vikings’ Special Teams unit, under Matt Daniels, is getting some positive attention for its performance this year. Could you talk a bit about that?
Matt Daniels has been a great addition to the Vikings’ staff. He declared Ryan Wright to be the winner of the punting competition over veteran Jordan Berry pretty early on, and that’s been the “Wright” decision, as he’s been pretty spectacular this season.
The Vikings have also done pretty well in kick and punt coverage, with the team usually trying to kick off short of the goal line and allow the coverage team to stop the opposing returner short of the 25. For the most part, they’ve been successful in doing that.
The one bad spot has been kicker Greg Joseph, whose praises Daniels was singing during Training Camp but now has one of the worst field goal conversion percentages in the league, including five straight misses from 50 yards and beyond. I’m not sure if Daniels can fix Joseph or if the team will bring in competition for him at some point, but outside of that the Vikings’ special teams have been very good this year and Daniels’ leadership has been a big part of that.
5) What are you expecting the final score of the game to be this week? DraftKings Sportsbook has the over/under set at 43 1/2. How many points do you expect to be scored overall?
Neither of these teams are exactly lighting up the scoreboard on a regular basis, but my final score prediction number does hit the over that you’ve put out there. . .barely. I think it’s going to be a very good game between a couple of teams that are riding hot streaks, but in the end I think the Vikings can do just enough to pull this one out. I’ll go ahead and call it at 24-20 in favor of the purple.
Thanks again to Chris for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Vikings.
As of right now, Vegas has the Vikings as 3.5 favorites. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Vikings win by 4 or more.
Vikings win by 3 or less, or Washington wins.
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 43.5 points. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
44 or more total points are scored.
43 or fewer total points are scored.