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5 Questions with Daily Norseman

The Chargers may be able to take advantage of a depleted Vikings defense this week coming off a long, long game against the Ravens.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

For this week’s “Questions with the Enemy” segment, we got a big hand from Eric Thompson over at our Vikings sister site, Daily Norseman. He honestly left no stone unturned for us when it came to educating us all on this year’s Vikings which means I shouldn’t take any more of your time than necessary with this intro.

Let’s just hop right in.

1.) From what I’ve seen of the Vikings this season, this looks like a talented team that is a few head-scratching mistakes away from their record looking a lot better than 3-5. Give us an elevator pitch on this team about what Chargers fans should expect from them on Sunday.

My elevator pitch: if the previous eight games are any indication, you should expect a close game that the Chargers likely win. Far be it from me to mansplain how brutal all these last-minute Vikings losses have been to Chargers fans, but even by Minnesota’s lofty historical standards of disappointment, this season has been extremely tough to endure. Their five losses have come by a grand total of 18 points. Both overtime losses to AFC North teams featured the Vikings with the ball needing only a field goal to win, yet the offense came up short both times. Greg Joseph continued the time-honored tradition of gut-punch Vikings missed kicks by shanking the game winner in Arizona. The Vikings have a losing record despite leading by at least seven points in every single game this year. Is this team more talented than their 3-5 record would indicate? Absolutely. But at a certain point, you are what your record says you are, and the Vikings simply aren’t good enough right now. Two of their three wins could have very easily been losses as well.

2.) The Vikings added longtime Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson during the offseason and also got back defensive tackle Michael Pierce who opted out of the 2020 season. How have both of those veterans helped the defense this season and are there any other first-year additions to this team that you think deserve some praise?

When they have played, both Peterson and Pierce have been really nice additions to the defense. Peterson has proven he still has something left in the tank after a couple down years ended an otherwise stellar stretch in Arizona, and he has provided some much-needed leadership for the Vikings secondary. Pierce can devour blockers and blow up plays up the middle on a regular basis. Unfortunately, you aren’t going to see either player on Sunday. Peterson is still on the IR with a hamstring injury and Pierce has officially been ruled out with a lingering elbow issue. Linebacker Anthony Barr is also out, star safety Harrison Smith will miss his second straight game on the COVID-19 reserve list, and all-world defensive end Danielle Hunter was lost for the year with a torn pectoral muscle two weeks ago. The Vikings defense was completely ravaged by injury in 2020, which resulted in what was easily the worst unit the team has fielded since Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014. The defense has been better almost by default in 2021, but it feels like we’re starting to get past the point of no return yet again with key players missing games.

As far as other first-year additions, the rookie draft class has done next to nothing until recently. First round pick Christian Darrisaw has acquitted himself nicely since taking over as the starter in Week 6. Kene Nwangwu has only played in two games but returned a kick for a touchdown and converted a fake punt last week. Cam Bynum will be getting his second start at safety thanks to Smith’s absence and had a really nice debut last week in Baltimore that included a diving interception.

Everson Griffen and Mackensie Alexander can’t be considered first-year since they both played for the Vikings before leaving and then returning this season, but Griffen has been rejuvenated in his second stint with Minnesota. Alexander has been pretty up-and-down, but at the very least he has been available and healthy all year.

3.) If you were Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, how would you go about scheming to attack this Vikings defense? Are there any position groups or specific players that you would attempt to exploit?

The Vikings defense is really depleted and coming off a game where they played an almost inconceivable 98—yes you read that right, ninety-eight—snaps last week. If I was Lombardi, I’d think about wearing a bib on Sunday, because with the personnel he has available, he should be drooling over the possibility of attacking the Vikings defense in the state they’re currently in. Minnesota’s run defense hasn’t been much better than LA’s much-maligned unit. They have given up the second most yards per attempt and currently rank 26th in rush defense DVOA. With Peterson out, I’d expect Bashaud Breeland to have a busy day in coverage against Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. He has allowed a 116.5 quarterback rating on 48 targets this season. With Barr out, I’d expect the Chargers to run right at their old pal Nick Vigil, who has been solid overall but a pretty big liability in run defense this year.

So in short, Lombardi might be able to take his pick on where he wants to attack the Minnesota defense. You always have to be wary of the different looks that Zimmer’s defense can show you pre-snap, and the Vikings are still proficient at dialing up pressure on third down. But again, thanks to all the absences on that side of the ball, they simply might not have enough manpower to get enough stops unless the Chargers are careless with the ball. But even if the Chargers do turn the ball over, the Vikings have turned their last four takeaways into a total of -4 yards on the ensuing drives.

4.) Same question as above but reversed. If you were defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill, how would you go about stopping this Vikings offense? Which players should the Chargers be worried about the most? Are there any defensive strategies that have worked well against them this season?

This might sound counterintuitive, but I’d let the Vikings score a touchdown on their opening drive. The Vikings have scored a touchdown on their first possession in each of their last four losses, and in two of those losses, the offense basically disappeared after that.

But in all seriousness, the defensive game plan should basically be to keep everything in front of you and wait for the Vikings offense to shoot themselves in the foot. It’s no secret that Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are one of the best wide receiving duos in the league, and the emergence of second-year wideout KJ Osborn has given Kirk Cousins a nice array of weapons to go along with Dalvin Cook out of the backfield. But using those weapons is another story. The offense struggles mightily to maintain any semblance of consistency after the opening script of plays is completed. First-year Offense Coordinator Klint Kubiak feels more and more like nepotism gone wrong with each passing week. Jefferson has only 10 targets over the past two games, which is an inexcusable transgression. The playbook has more screens than a Buffalo Wild Wings. Cousins seems much more interested in avoiding mistakes than making game-changing plays. The offense has shown that they can move the ball on just about anyone, but they haven’t shown that they can do it for four quarters yet. Hill and the Chargers defense should focus on taking away the big play and force the Vikings into dinking and dunking their way down the field. If they can do that consistently, Minnesota’s offense is much more likely to sabotage themselves into stunted drives.

5.) Go ahead and finish this with a final score prediction along with some sentences on how you think this game will shake out.

To quote the great American philosopher Clubber Lang: My prediction? Pain. If the Vikings were anywhere close to full strength on defense, I’d feel a lot better about their chances. I think Cousins, Jefferson, Thielen, and Cook should all fare pretty well against the Los Angeles defense, but I simply don’t see how they’ll be able to go blow-for-blow with the Chargers for 60 minutes. There’s always a chance that the Vikings finally put together their first complete game of the year, but I won’t hold my breath. I think the Vikings will somehow find a way to keep it close for most of the day because that’s just what they do. This season alone has taken several years off my life and added several points to my blood pressure. But ultimately I think they’ll fall to 3-6 while Zimmer takes another step toward the firing squad waiting for him at the end of the season. I’ll say Chargers 30, Vikings 24.