This week, I tempt fate with Justin Herbert. I also expect the Minnesota Vikings to rebound after Harrison Smith tested positive for COVID-19 and was in contact with 29 staffers and players … and the Dalvin Cook situation. But the Los Angeles Chargers are an intriguing matchup because they can be almost as hot and cold as the Vikings at times.
There are two dream scenarios and one nightmare that could happen this week. Don’t call me Nostradamus yet, but here are my predictions for this matchup between two teams that have underperformed at times this year.
Justin Herbert Continues His “Sophomore Slump”
Herbert’s regression has been overblown this season, so it’s not fair to call it a true sophomore slump. But he still has had games where he doesn’t look better than a flash-in-the-pan rookie.
His worst game of the year was against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6. The Ravens aren’t anything special on defense this season, as Vikings fans saw last week. Minnesota scored 31 on them, including the kickoff return. It was the Vikings’ offense that looked flat. It wasn’t because the Ravens’ defense was anything special. They are in the bottom half of NFL defenses in every category, according to PFF.
There is one thing that the Ravens can do, though, and that’s rush the passer. Something the Vikings were able to do last week. That will be the key to limiting Herbert.
It’s even more impressive when you consider that they got five sacks on Lamar Jackson without Michael Pierce, Danielle Hunter, and Smith. The defense was dominant in the first half of the game and kept the Vikings in it. They generated enough pressure to force two interceptions as well.
With how well Kenny Willekes, Armon Watts, and Everson Griffen are playing, there’s a good chance they will be able to pressure Herbert. The Ravens have ranked right around where the Chargers are in both pass and run blocking. If they’re lucky, the Vikings will be able to repeat the amount of pressure they had last week and make Herbert uncomfortable.
The Vikings Score 30-Plus Points
The Chargers have scored 30 or more points in two games this season. The Vikings have scored 30 points or more in four. So, who’s the better team?
Jokes aside, the Chargers have had some struggles on offense compared to last season. If the Vikings can score 30 or more points, I think this game is a shoo-in. That’s no easy feat, though. The Chargers don’t have the best defense in the world, but they have a good pass rush. Kirk Cousins’ biggest weakness!
But there are reasons to believe the Vikings can put a lot of points on the board this week. The Chargers have been awful at stopping the run all year, and the Vikings haven’t been able to set up play-action because their run game has been stalled out. Perhaps now is the time to get that going.
If the Vikings can set up the run game early on the opening drive rather than focusing on passing the ball, they can set up both for the remainder of the game. They should flip-flop the game plan from previous weeks where they air the ball out early and can’t get anything else going.
This leads me to the nightmare scenario.
The Vikings Can’t Get the Running Game Going
The Chargers have a poor run defense. If the Vikings can’t run against them, something is severely wrong with this team. Los Angeles has allowed the most rushing yards per game in the NFL, and it’s not even close. They’ve allowed an average of 161.6 yards per game. In second place is the Houston Texans, and they allow nearly 30 fewer yards. (It’s worth mentioning the Vikings allow the third most.)
With the team’s determination to consistently run on second-and-long, they must prove they can run the ball against the worst run defense in the league. If not, well, that’s why this is the nightmare scenario.
They should have no difficulty rushing this week, whether the team employs Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, or some amateur off the street. The Vikings are in dire need of a statement win, and this is their chance to do it against a good team.