EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – After spending the last eight days discussing anything but football involving Monday night’s Minnesota Vikings – New York Jets game, I think it’s time to devote at least the final hours dissecting the keys to winning this tough out-of-conference match-up.
While the Vikings have stumbled out of the gates to a 1-2 start, they still pose a serious threat to opposing if not taken lightly. Their defense ranks fourth in the league, anchored by arguably the best front four in the league (DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards and DTs Pat and Kevin Williams). That means they can get to the quarterback and plug up the running lanes without sending extra blitzers – a huge luxury to have when the Vikings have to worry about a Jets offense that put up 38 and 31 points in its last two weeks.
Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson had a rough start to the season but in his last two weeks looked to have recaptured his Pro Bowl skills from last year. He’ll need those skills going up against the relentless Jared Allen all night. The battle of the trenches will be something to definitely keep your eyes on as the game progresses. Last week, the Jets gained most of their 273 rushing yard one two plays against the Bills, an outside stretch and an inside lead. That’s a huge statement as to how much trust the coaching staff have in this offensive line that has been under fire early on this season.
A big part of the Jets offensive success has been the amount of time Mark Sanchez has to go through his progressions and make the correct call. If the Jets continue their offensive surge, it will be due to containing the Vikings disruptive fronts.
Speaking of Sanchez, he has looked like a kid on Christmas morning all year long, and this game won’t be any different. He will be welcoming WR Santonio Holmes to the starting line-up, who’s fresh off a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. With all the weapons the Jets have on the field, the Vikings might only be able to send their front four. Think about the this: Viking defenders must focus on deep-threat Braylon Edwards, the sure-handed Holmes, the emerging Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery back in his favored slot position, and LaDanian Tomlinson coming out of the backfield.
The Vikings play with a Cover 2 set, utilizing two safeties deep in the zone, which leaves open a good chunk in the middle of the field. However with the spectacular play of Keller this season, he will command more than just a linebacker or a safety in coverage. So with possibly two defenders on Keller and man coverage on the receivers, it begs the question who will cover LT out of the backfield? We all know how much Sanchez loves to check it down to a safe decision. My guess is LT carves up a some decent yardage catching the ball.
On the defensive side of the ball, the key will be defend the run, defend the run, defend the run. Adrian Peterson sets the tone for the offense, which has been sputtering (18th overall, but 4th in the run). After spending hours searching for the last time a Rex Ryan defense allowed a 100-yard rusher, I’ve come to the conclusion that it simply doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter if the Vikings feature a backfield tandem of Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, a Ryan defense will find a way to stop them.
Something the Jets will not be able to stop will be Brett Favre airing it out to Randy Moss on their first offensive series. Favre may not have any luck, but expect the two to get on the same page early and often to make up for their inexperience together. It may not be a bad idea, considering All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis is coming back after missing two weeks with a pulled hamstring. Considering Favre’s unfamiliarity with Moss coupled with Revis’ questionable hamstring, a few deep passes to Moss seems likely.
However, when all is said and done my gut feeling is that the game will come down to who can pound the ball on the ground. As this story is being written, sheets of raining flood the New Meadowlands Stadium and weather reports are saying there is only more to come. And while Adrian Peterson is pound-for-pound the best runner in the game currently, I’ll take my chances with the dash and bash tandem of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.
THE SCORE: Vikings 17, NY Jets 28
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