In order to get a better understanding of New England’s Week 12, we exchanged questions with Christopher Gates of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Daily Norseman — the SB Nation community for all things Vikings.
Here are our answers to Christopher’s questions, and here is what he told us about the upcoming game.
1. Have you seen a different Kirk Cousins this season than what we’ve seen in years past? Or were the chains adding more flash than what he was actually showing on the field?
If you look at Cousins’ numbers this year as compared to his first few seasons in Minnesota, you can see that he’s down statistically in just about every significant category. In the past, he’s been called a “stat padder” by people that, frankly, haven’t paid a lot of attention, but this year the numbers aren’t what they have been.
Despite that, the Vikings are 8-2 (they were 5-5 after ten games last season) and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Cousins has been more willing to take chances with the football rather than simply taking the easy throws. The result has been an increase in turnovers, which you might expect, but there has been an increase in the number of big plays as well. He also seems to have transformed himself in late-game situations, as during the Vikings’ 7-game winning streak there were multiple fourth-quarter comebacks required and Cousins was able to answer the call each time.
So, while the numbers might not show it, he has been a different quarterback this season, and that’s been to Minnesota’s benefit.
2. Justin Jefferson mentioned being used similarly to Cooper Kupp when former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell was hired as head coach. Has that come to fruition?
It really has, I think. It’s rare that an NFL offense will run through a wide receiver, but Jefferson has truly been the straw that stirs the drink for the Vikings this season. He just has the ability to win in so many different ways and get himself open... and, as we’ve seen in some situations this year like at the end of the Buffalo game, Jefferson is one of those receivers that’s reached the point where even if he’s covered Kirk Cousins will treat him like he’s open and try to get him the ball anyway.
I don’t know if Jefferson will win the receiving Triple Crown like Kupp did last year because his touchdown numbers aren’t there, but he’s definitely been the focal point of the offense for the Vikings this season given that he nearly has more targets than the Vikings’ next two wide receivers (Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn) combined.
If the Patriots can find a way to neutralize him, the Vikings are going to have to find other ways of generating offense, which has been difficult for them at times.
3. Christian Darrisaw has been one of the league’s best tackles since entering the league last season. How can the Vikings overcome his loss on Cousins’ blind side?
They’re going to have to do a much better job of it than they did against Dallas, to be certain.
When Darrisaw went out of the Cowboys’ game, the Vikings continued to call pass plays with deeper dropbacks that took time to develop, and the Cowboys were consistently getting home with four rushers, which is difficult for any quarterback to deal with. I would certainly hope that this week’s game plan without Darrisaw available will involve a lot more of the short, quick passing game in an effort to mitigate Darrisaw’s loss.
You could make a pretty convincing argument that Darrisaw has been the Vikings’ second-best offensive player this year behind Jefferson, and his development so far has really been one of the highlights of Minnesota’s season. With Matthew Judon coming to town, this team is going to have to figure out how to make the adjustment needed to keep the offense from experiencing what they did this past Sunday.
4. How have teams managed to move the ball against the Vikings’ veteran defense?
If the Vikings’ pass rush hasn’t been getting home, teams haven’t had a lot of difficulties moving the ball through the air. Patrick Peterson has had a significant renaissance this season, but there’s still a lot of youth in the Vikings’ secondary and they’ve had to deal with some injuries there.
Cameron Dantzler, who had been having a pretty solid year across from Peterson, is currently on IR and the Vikings hope to have him back in the next couple of weeks, but in his absence the Vikings have had to rely on a pair of rookies in Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans. Evans missed the Dallas game due to being in concussion protocol but the Vikings might have him back for Thursday, and Booth got targeted a lot in the Dallas game and now finds himself back on the injury report as well.
The Vikings could get Dalvin Tomlinson back for this one which would help to shore up the run defense, but the Patriots’ road to success will most likely be through the air regardless.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook currently has the over/under for this matchup set at 41.5. Which way are you leaning?
I’d have a very difficult time not playing the under for this one. The Vikings put up a lot of points a couple of weeks ago against Buffalo and then went out and laid an egg against Dallas, and the loss of Darrisaw is likely going to have a significant effect on their offense. The Patriots haven’t been lighting up the scoreboard offensively over the past couple of weeks and I would expect Minnesota’s defense to bounce back in this one after spending last weekend getting repeatedly punched in the face.
I’m definitely not expecting an offensive explosion in this one by any stretch, and if either team can get to 20 points that might be enough for them to get a victory, so I think the under would definitely be the play here.
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