Three Keys to Victory For the Vikings Against the Titans
The Vikings can't be this bad, right? Surely, a team with plenty of veteran talent and a bunch of well-respected coaches can at least figure out a way to be competitive in a game sooner or later, or perhaps even win one.
Much like last week, the Vikings are staring down the barrel of the gun with their 2020 season on the line this Sunday against the Titans. Starting 0-2 has already all but dashed their hopes of returning to the playoffs, especially considering the way they've looked in the process of losing both games. Moving to 0-3 would put the nail in the coffin and turn up the heat even more on leaders like Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and Kirk Cousins.
Based on what we've seen from the Vikings so far, there isn't much reason to believe they'll win this game. They've been dominated in all three phases for the vast majority of eight quarters, and now they're facing an undefeated team that seems poised to take advantage of a lot of their weaknesses. Injuries are starting to mount for the Vikings, as well.
However, there are also reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Cousins has a history of bouncing back from poor performances during his Vikings career. Yannick Ngakoue started to heat up last weekend. Young players should be expected to improve. Above all, there's a chance the Vikings come out at their home stadium and play with a new level of intensity and execution. They're playing for pride, and that means a lot.
Here are three things the Vikings must do to win this game and get in the win column in 2020.
Possess the damn ball
Through two games, the Vikings have basically been doubled up in time of possession, 79:41 to 40:19. That's a remarkable feat. It's a stat that effectively encapsulates how awful they've been so far, because it requires poor play on both sides of the ball. When the offense can't extend drives – not to mention throwing four picks and taking two safeties – and the defense can't stop anybody, you don't get a lot of possession.
For the Vikings to beat the Titans, they need to hold onto the ball. That means executing on offense past the opening drive. It means running the football effectively, giving Kirk Cousins time to throw, and utilizing people other than just Adam Thielen in the passing game. It means finding ways to move the ball and get into a rhythm against a Titans defense that allowed 30 points to the Jaguars in Week 2.
It also falls on the defense! Despite being banged up, the Vikings need to dig deep and get off the field. They have just one takeaway so far, though Ngakoue also forced a fumble that the Vikings couldn't recover. This defense needs to prevent Derrick Henry from running all over them and force Ryan Tannehill into some difficult throws and long third downs. They've already allowed six drives of five-plus minutes by opposing offenses. That can't happen with that much frequency.
Easier said than done.
Have some young players step up
Here's a list of players the Vikings will be without against the Titans: Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Mike Hughes, Cameron Dantzler, Pat Elflein, and Troy Dye. Kris Boyd is questionable.
What does that mean? It means the Vikings need some young or unheralded players to step up and make plays. Cornerbacks Holton Hill and Jeff Gladney facing off against Titans receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries is an important matchup to watch. Dru Samia, assuming he gets another chance at right guard, needs to be better. Whoever is the No. 3 linebacker – Hardy Nickerson Jr., Ryan Connelly, or Todd Davis – will play an important role against Henry when the Vikings are in their base defense.
In what will hopefully be their final game without Hunter, the Vikings would love to see someone not named Ngakoue create some pressure on Tannehill. Whether that's an edge rusher (Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, D.J. Wonnum) or a defensive tackle (Armon Watts, Jaleel Johnson) doesn't matter. They need to make Tannehill uncomfortable or he'll sit in the pocket and find Davis, Humphries, and Jonnu Smith all day long.
On offense, it's time to get Justin Jefferson more involved. That applies to Irv Smith Jr. as well.
Do the little things
Obviously, the Vikings need to execute better on both sides of the ball. But they also need to avoid the little mistakes that have plagued them so far. They've been called for 11 penalties in two games, with many of them stalling drives on offense or extending drives on defense. That needs to be cleaned up.
Field position is another critical thing. That goes hand in hand with time of possession, but it also means doing better in special teams, specifically the return game. Maybe convert a fourth down here and there to extend a drive. Avoid mental errors.
If the Vikings are able to play smart, mistake-free football and pair that with improved execution and more big plays on both sides of the ball, they'll have a chance to defend their home field and get into the win column.
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