In week 15 our Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the Minnesota Vikings. Knowing the party was coming, I sat down with Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman, SB Nation’s Vikings blog. We swapped questions and answers about this weekend’s Colts vs. Vikings matchup and the article that follows is what I learned about this week’s game:
CS: The Vikings are 10-3 under first year head coach Kevin O’Connell, what changes has he made that have led to the Vikings success this season and how do you feel about the coaching staff going forward?
CG: I think that the most important change that O’Connell has made has been to the overall culture of the team. In the last couple of seasons of the Mike Zimmer era, the team had a sort of gloom around it. It’s not exactly a scientific term or anything, but this team just had a tendency to fold when everything wasn’t going perfectly. One bad thing would happen, whether it was an untimely penalty or a turnover or whatever it might be and everything would snowball from there. Under O’Connell, those things don’t necessarily spell doom for this team anymore, because he has this team believing that they can win even when things aren’t going perfectly. The Vikings’ record in one-score games this season is a pretty good reflection of that, in my opinion. Last season they played 14 games that were decided by one score and went 6-8, while this year they’re 9-0 in those same scenarios. That’s a reflection of a coach that has a team believing in itself, and that’s what Kevin O’Connell has brought to this team. I feel pretty good about this coaching staff going forward for the most part, at least on the offensive side.
CS: I don’t mean to rub salt in any wounds but having just lost to a 5-7 Lions team by 11 points, do you expect there to be a bounce back game as the Vikings make their final push for playoff seeding?
CG: I would like to think that there would be a bounceback game against a Colts team that has had its struggles over the course of this season. The Colts’ offense is the worst the Vikings have faced this season in terms of scoring points, and even with a defense that has struggled mightily for the better part of this season I would hope that they could at least sort of get themselves right in this one. Kirk Cousins has also generally been pretty good coming off of a loss in his time with the Vikings, particularly when he’s playing at home, and he’s coming off what was probably his best game of the season against Detroit (even though it came in a loss). The Colts’ defense is stingy, but the Vikings are on their home field for this one in front of what should be a loud crowd with yet another opportunity to wrap up a division title, so they should definitely be motivated to get the job done in this one.
CS: If you were designing an offense, specifically to beat the Vikings defense what would it look like? What is your plan of attack and who do you focus on?
CG: The way to beat this Vikings’ defense is definitely through the air. The run defense had its struggles early on in the season but has gotten better thanks to the play of guys like Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson. The pass defense, however, is the worst in the league, and it seems like that’s almost by design. This team constantly plays zone despite having personnel that would seem to be better suited to playing man-to-man, and despite the fact that they have two players that rank among the NFL’s best in QB pressures in Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, this team goes for ridiculously long stretches without getting any pressure on even the least mobile of quarterbacks. Jonathan Taylor is one of the scariest backs in the NFL, and he’ll almost certainly get his in this one, but the Vikings’ biggest vulnerability is in the passing game.
CS: For years Colts fans watched high level offenses carry bad defenses into the playoffs. Given the Vikings top 10 scoring offense and bottom 10 scoring defense, is it fair to believe that’s what Vikings fans are watching this season? Do you feel that they will seriously contend in the postseason given the deficiencies this Vikings team might have?
CG: At this point, it certainly seems that way. A lot of the defensive deficiencies with this team have been masked by their ability to continue scrapping and pull out victories late. The offense has been pretty solid for the most part this season, though they also have stretches where they inexplicably go dormant. Kirk Cousins is playing at a pretty high level, even if his overall statistics don’t reflect that compared to his previous seasons in Minnesota, and Justin Jefferson is, in my (admittedly biased) opinion the best receiver in the National Football League and should be the favorite for Offensive Player of the Year. Unfortunately, none of that is going to matter if this team doesn’t get at least some of its issues resolved on the defensive side of the ball. As the old adage goes, defense wins championships, and this is nowhere even close to being a championship-caliber defense at this point. If things keep trending the way they are the Vikings might be able to get one postseason win, but with a defense this bad it’s hard to see anything beyond that.
CS: DraftKings Sports Book has the Vikings as 4 point favorites going into Saturday’s contest. Is that fair, how do you think the game will go and what is your final score prediction?
CG: I think that’s relatively fair. The Vikings are, at least on paper, the better team going into this one and should have the advantage in returning home after a tough loss. Again, this is the third straight week that they’ve had an opportunity to secure a division title for the first time since 2017 (though they would have needed help from Detroit the first week), and I think they’re going to be motivated to get that done. With San Francisco winning last night, the battle for the #2 seed in the NFC is officially on and the Vikings are going to need this victory to stay ahead there, and I’m sure they’re thinking about that as well. It might be more difficult than it should be, because that’s just the way the Vikings do things, but I believe they get it done. I’ll call it about 27-17 in favor of Minnesota.
I can’t thank Christopher enough for taking the time to answer my questions leading up to this one. Just a few weeks of regular season football left so enjoy what you can, as long as you can, Colts fans.
As always, go Colts.