5 Stats That Reveal the Path for a Broncos Upset Win Over the Vikings
With the bye in the rear-view, we have reached the second half of the season with the Denver Broncos squaring off against one of the better teams they will face all season long. The Minnesota Vikings boast one of the better all-around rosters with very few weaknesses of note.
Offensively, when it comes to weapons, the Vikings have built exactly what one would hope the Broncos could achieve in the next year or two with two high-quality wide receivers, a great tight end, an elite running back, and a competent quarterback to take advantage of the talent around him.
Defensively, Minnesota boasts a strong defensive line, athletic linebackers, and a secondary that has underachieved just a bit this year. All of that adds up to why the Vikings are 10.5-point favorites over the Broncos in Week 11.
The Broncos have plenty to worry about in this one. I have three stats that I’m sure the Broncos have paid very close attention to in preparation for the Vikings, as well as two stats of areas the Broncos could take advantage of to help them win this game on Sunday.
Stat 1: Screen Game | 9.8 Yards Per Pass
So far this season, the Broncos have been one of the worst teams in the league at running screen passes. Part of that is because teams have dared the Broncos to pass the ball, keeping a lot of bodies near the line of scrimmage.
On the flip side, the Vikings are the very best team in the league running screen passes. So far this year, they've gained a league-best 343 yards and 9.8 yards per screen pass. If you do the math, that means they run a screen pass 3.5 times per game on average.
Teams know it is coming, but because the Vikings do such a great job of disguising it and have one of the more elusive running backs in football (I’ll talk about that more here in just a bit), it's a potent weapon they've used this season.
On Tuesday, cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. landed on this very subject.
“You know how Kube [Gary Kubiak)] is, he runs his zone offense trying to make everything look the same," Harris said. "Kirk [Cousins] has done a good job of playing out the fakes. They’re one of the better screen teams we play.”
Some teams love to throw a lot of different formations and pre-snap looks at a defense to make them confused about what is coming. Others, like Kubiak, try to run multiple looks out of the same formation to keep a team guessing at the tendencies that get shown throughout the game. The Broncos will have to play extremely disciplined football if they want to contain this Vikings offense.
Stat 2: Dalvin Cook | 72 Evaded Tackles
I know that Cook is a person, but really everything he does on the football field has turned into gold this year. He leads the league attempts and yards so far this season. He is what makes that Vikings offense go.
On top of his ability to carry the football, we see his correlation to the first stat — he has over 400 yards receiving. He is a true three-down running back that doesn’t give away what the Vikings are doing by him being on the field.
The stat that I want to point towards here, though, is the 72 evaded tackles he's amassed so far this season. If you watch the film, it is easy to see that one of the biggest weaknesses of this Vikings team is the offensive line. There is no running back in the league doing more with less than Cook.
The Broncos have been a pretty good team when it comes to tackling efficiency, but this is one of those games where they would be wise to always be hustling to the ball, never trusting that the ball-carrier is down until the whistle. Cook always seems to find ways to turn negative or neutral plays into very positive ones for the Vikings. He finds those hidden yards that add up to victories.
Stat 3: The Pressure is Building | 121 QB Pressures
Maybe the most difficult stat to overcome for the Broncos heading into Sunday is what to do about edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. The Vikings boast the best edge rush duo in the entire league.
Hunter leads the league in pressures with 64. Griffen is not far behind as he is third in the league with 56. Obviously, the Broncos have not had great offensive tackle play this year from Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson, making this maybe one of the biggest mismatches of the entire game. On top of that, Brandon Allen will only be in the second start of his NFL career and showed some struggles when pressure was coming at him against the Browns.
The Broncos would be wise to try and build in a lot of quick reads for Allen and work to have a moving pocket to limit some of the threat that the edge rushers can bring in this one. I would recommend leaning on the run game, but the Vikings have been one of the better run defenses in the league this season.
The Broncos will have to still try and establish the run, but my guess is the Vikings will dare Allen to beat them in this one and lean on their outstanding rush duo to create some big plays for the defense.
Stat 4: Pressure can go Both Ways | 40.8 Pressure %
The first three stats here have been pointing towards the strengths of this Vikings team. These final two are geared more towards how the Broncos can attack them. Again, the weakness of this Vikings team is the offensive line.
They have surrendered pressure on 40.8% of all dropbacks for Kirk Cousins this season. That ranks as the fourth-worst rate in all of football. Just to give you a hint of how bad that is, not even Joe Flacco was pressured that often.
The Broncos should have some opportunities to get home and possibly force a bad decision from Cousins. Where the Vikings are weakest is on the interior, leaving some great opportunities for players like Derek Wolfe to take over the game. Wolfe has five sacks in the last four games. The Broncos will need him to continue adding to that streak.
One might assume then that this means the Broncos should blitz Cousins. The stats would say otherwise, though. This season, Cousins has a quarterback rating of 123.3 when he is blitzed.
That doesn’t mean the Broncos shouldn’t try to set up a few timely blitzes throughout the game, but I would bet this will be one of the lowest usages of blitzes the Broncos will run all season. Denver should do fine getting home with four rushers on most plays.
Stat 5: Sutton Should Shine | 121.3 QB Rating in Coverage
The final stat that bears some attention is a bit of a surprising weakness so far for the Vikings. Their secondary has not been as elite as years past. CB Xavier Rhodes especially has seen a huge drop off in his production giving up an astounding 121.3 quarterback rating when he is targeted.
He has also given up the fourth-most receptions and 19th most yards. On the other side with Trae Waynes things have not been much better. Waynes is giving up a quarterback rating of 109.2. He has also given up the 10th-most yards and fifth-most receptions on the season.
If there is a game where the Broncos need not only Courtland Sutton to step up but the rest of the receiving corps, this is it. The Broncos will have favorable matchups across the board and should have some opportunities for big plays.
Even Harrison Smith, one of the best safeties in football, has had some struggles this season, leading the team in missed tackles with nine. The best thing that Brandon Allen could do in this game is get the ball in playmakers' hands and let them do the work. Take what the defense gives and hope for the Broncos to continue the trend set in the Browns game of breaking a few tackles on the way to the end zone.
The odds are stacked against the Broncos in this one. This is a road game starting at 11:00 a.m. MDT with a brand-new quarterback at the helm. A win for the Broncos could end up being one of the biggest upsets of the NFL season.
Even with all of that said, the Broncos if they can contain the big plays by the Vikings (ranked third in the NFL in big passing plays and second in big rushing plays) and manage a couple of their own, they should be right in this one at the end.