Another Saturday marks another opportunity for one of my favorite weekly installments, where we have the opportunity to learn about our opponents from their very own diehard fans and analysts.
Christopher Gates from The Daily Norseman answered five questions I asked regarding the upcoming game. I also had the opportunity to answer his questions, which he’s posted here. Many thanks to Christopher for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully and thoroughly, and cheers to an exciting Chargers and Vikings showdown tomorrow!
1) It seemed like the ascension of Alexander Mattison was the cause for Dalvin Cook’s release this offseason, and he was touted as a break-out candidate by many. Does the Cam Akers trade indicate the team has lost faith, or is it mainly an insurance play?
I’m not sure if it’s a matter of losing faith in Mattison at this point, although I can understand where it could be interpreted as such. The Vikings’ run game, for whatever reason, simply hasn’t worked so far this season, as has been evidenced by the fact that they have the lowest rushing yardage total in the league. Whether it’s because they’re running into loaded boxes or the fact that the offensive line isn’t getting the job done, the run game was a point of emphasis for this team in the offseason and things just haven’t been there over the first two weeks. I think that Akers might bring a slightly different dimension to the run game than what Mattison offers, and the fact that Kevin O’Connell is familiar with Akers from their time in Los Angeles makes this a fit. Throw in the fact that they got him for basically nothing (a swap of picks three drafts from now) and it really doesn’t hurt anything to give him a shot. I don’t know if or how much we’ll see him this week, but he could have a significant role for the rest of this season once he gets his legs under him.
2) Eric Kendricks is out with a hamstring injury, and there is no timeline for his return. At 31 years old, is he a player that Vikings fans are relieved to potentially not have to face, or was there sentiment that he was on the decline when the Vikings let him walk in free agency?
I’ll preface this by saying that Eric Kendricks is one of my favorite Vikings of recent years and that, for a stretch, he was on the short list of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL. Having said that, over the course of his last couple of seasons he pretty clearly wasn’t that guy anymore. He dealt with some injury issues that slowed him down a bit, and even when he was healthy he just didn’t seem to have quite the speed or tackling power that had marked the earlier years of his career. He was a part of some incredible defenses during the Mike Zimmer era, but he seemed to be slowing. The Vikings shifting to a defense that really wasn’t suited to his strengths was the final nail in the coffin. Had he been available for this one, I’m sure he would have had a few moments where he looked like vintage Eric Kendricks, but it’s not like the Vikings would have had to scheme around him or anything like that.
3) Pundits are trying to make a Kirk Cousins to the Jets connection two games into the season. Do fans have any desire to move on from Kirk? What would you see as fair compensation?
Ah, a Kirk Cousins question. Hooray! But, in all seriousness, there isn’t quite as much division in the fanbase about Cousins as there was when he first arrived. When the Vikings first signed him in 2018, there was some acrimony that the Vikings didn’t find a way to run it back with either Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater and Cousins wasn’t really embraced by a significant portion of the fanbase, but that has shifted in recent years. As a franchise that has largely tried to get by with short-term acquisitions and temporary fixes at the quarterback spot, save for the Fran Tarkenton and Daunte Culpepper years, Cousins has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in team history in recent years, which is impressive given the number of hits he takes and his durability. I’m sure there are some that would like to see him traded for. . .well, damn near anything. . .but I just don’t see it happening. I think this could well be the last year of the Cousins era in Minnesota as they haven’t given him a long-term extension and will likely aim to draft a quarterback in 2024, but I would be absolutely stunned if he were to end up getting traded this season.
4) The Chargers offense largely flowed through the running game in Week 1, and the passing game in Week 2. How would you attack the Vikings defense if you were Kellen Moore?
I would absolutely try to pound the run game if I were the Chargers. The Vikings’ defense is significantly undersized. . .they only have three players on the 53-man roster listed as being over 300 pounds, and one of them (rookie Jaquelin Roy) was a healthy scratch last week against Philadelphia. The Eagles took advantage of this and just ground the Vikings into dust with the run game, running for over 250 yards and helping D’Andre Swift win NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Even if Austin Ekeler isn’t available for the Chargers in this one, they should still be able to find space in the run game against this Minnesota defense. If the Chargers get behind the chains a bit as far as down and distance, the Vikings’ pass defense has seen a significant renaissance over the past couple of weeks, as new defensive coordinator Brian Flores has them blitzing at a higher rate than any defense in the league and the young secondary has held up surprisingly well on the back end.
5) DraftKings Sportsbook has the Chargers as a 1-point underdog this week, after being favored and upset two weeks in a row. Do Vikings fans see this as a great opportunity to get the team back on track?
I think this is going to be a very good game between two pretty desperate football teams. The Vikings have had a lot of success moving the ball through the air through the first two games, and they should be able to take advantage of a Chargers’ defense that has struggled a lot over the first couple of weeks. I also think that home field is going to play a significant role for the Vikings in this one, as these fans aren’t going to want to see this team drop to 0-3 and are going to try to make it as rough on the Chargers as possible. When it’s all said and done, I think the Vikings are going to finally get themselves into the W column in this one. But, then again, given that this is a game between the Vikings and the team that we affectionately refer to as the AFC version of the Vikings, two teams that seem to be incapable of playing “normal” football games, who knows what’s going to happen?
Thank you against Christopher! Bolts From the Blue, how do these answers make you feel about the game tomorrow?