The Minnesota Vikings have started the 2022 season with a 7-1 record and now head to Western New York to play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday morning. This game is going to be tough no matter who throws the ball for Buffalo. The two teams also have a lot of connections that make this game extremely intriguing.

Old faces in New Places

Obviously, you have the Stefon Diggs story of him playing his former team with potentially Case Keenum who threw the Minneapolis Miracle to him in 2018. Then you add in that the Vikings signed Bills defensive tackle, Harrison Phillips. Former Vikings head and defensive coach, Leslie Frasier, coordinates the Bills defense. James Cook, the younger brother of current Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, is also a member of the Bills.

The Vikings are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now with their six-game winning streak. But the Bills have an undefeated streak going at home. This game could come down to the wire and frankly, these two teams are evenly matched both in strengths and weaknesses. Here are the top three keys to how the Vikings can get the W in week 9.

1. Establish the Run

Even with the small spurts that Dalvin Cook has had this season so far, he hasn’t been as explosive as he’s been in past years. However, this week the Vikings need to break that trend against the defense that has slowly allowed more than 100 yards against them in their two most recent games. Those games were against the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets. Prior to that, the Bills had the best run defense in the NFL allowing under 80 rushing yards per game. Which defense will show itself? If the former, Dalvin should have a day. But Minnesota needs to prepare for the latter. 

Running Game Priority

Heading into this week, the Vikings average 4.34 yards per rush, which is tied for 20th in the league with the Houston Texans. Cook’s season-long run is 53 yards. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry. This is overall pretty average. However, it’s when Cook is in space that he is the most dangerous. The more Cook touches the ball, the more effective he and the rest of the offense can be.

This will not be easy against the Bills defense even with them not having safety Jordan Poyer and edge rusher Greg Rousseau. The offensive line will still have to block and defend Cousins against Von Miller and potentially Matt Milano. Without Milano last week, the Buffalo’s defense was unable to stop the Jets running game late in the game.


2. Winning the Free Agent Edge Rusher Battle

Both teams were able to pick up great players in the offseason to enhance their edge-rushing ability. The Bills may have gotten the biggest name in the pass rush game with Miller, but the Vikings were able to get Za’Darius Smith. Both have been productive in their own right, especially Smith. He is tied for second in the league in sacks with 8.5. Smith’s production has pulled some attention away from veteran edge rusher Danielle Hunter on the other side. This allows Hunter to slowly produce more even though he has been adjusting to the system. 

Getting at whoever the QB is

Prior to this weekend, Minnesota’s defense ranks sixth in the league in pressure rate (30.7%) and ninth in sack rate (8%). Smith was also named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October and ranks third in the league with a pressure rate of 16.6 percent. Additionally, Smith and Hunter have combined for eight sacks and 16 quarterback hits in the last three games. They have the ability to get after Allen or Keenum. The Bills offensive line allowed Allen to be pressured on 31% of his dropbacks and sacked five times versus the Jets. It was the most he’s been sacked since Week 9 of 2020. Additionally, these men need to push the Bills offense to struggle running the ball. Allen was the best runner last week with 86 yards on nine carries. Otherwise, the Bills only picked up 48 yards on 13 carries. If this can happen, it will take a lot of pressure off the weakened Vikings secondary.

Banged up back end

If Diggs can get open, it could be a long day no matter who is throwing him the ball. Patrick Peterson or rookie Akayleb Evans will have their hands full for sure even with the small positive streak they have been on. When starter Cam Dantzler went down with an ankle injury during Sunday’s win at Washington, the 6-2, 198-pound rookie corner was able to get a key fourth-down pass defense and two excellent tackles for loss while playing 70% of the defensive snaps. If Evans is able to keep this up, Peterson plays as serviceable as he has, and Harrison Smith is the dominant safety he’s always been, the secondary can hold up. 

3. Keep the Passing Game Going

Obviously, the biggest story going into this week is the Stefon Diggs trade in 2020. That lead to the Vikings drafting their new stud receiver Justin Jefferson. When teams trade players for picks or otherwise, it’s a rarity when both teams benefit highly.

Luckily, both Diggs and Jefferson have been extremely productive since joining their respective teams. Since 2020, Diggs has 290 catches (2nd in the NFL), 3,617 receiving yards (4th) and 25 touchdown receptions (tied for 7th). Over that span, Jefferson has 255 catches (5th), 3,883 receiving yards (1st) and 20 touchdown receptions (12th).

Positive game from Cousins

The games that ended well for the Vikings this season were the ones when Kirk Cousins was throwing the ball relatively effectively. Right now, the Bills’ best corner, Tre’davious White, is trying to heal from last season’s ACL injury and they haven’t released whether or not he will play. If he does, that brings another challenge to Justin Jefferson and the Vikings offense. However, if White doesn’t play, the Vikings need to take advantage of the young Bills secondary even, even if it’s been effective this season. 

Man to Man

Last week, the Jets used a quick passing game to keep Buffalo’s pass rushers at bay, but the Bills ran a massive amount of man coverage. The Vikings have faced the 5th-most man coverage this season (about 35% per game) and generally struggle against it, so look to see if the Bills take advantage, given they’ve been successful at using man coverage recently. This is when Cousins’ ability to spread the ball around to other players will help out. Bringing in star tight end T.J. Hockenson from the Detroit Lions gives Cousins another weapon. In his first game against the Washington Commanders, he had 9 catches which were the most by a Vikings tight end in one game since Week 15 of the 2018 season.

In all, his 9 targets gave him 70 yards. This allowed Jefferson to have a monster day with 7 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. Given now that Cousins has the ability to throw one of them, Cook, or Adam Theilen, the man coverage that gave Jefferson two bad games this year versus the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions may not work as well and the Bills will have to switch to zone coverage. This would be good for the Vikings as the Jets tore up the Bills’ zone defense, gaining 0.57 EPA per play.

Final Score Prediction: 17-14 Vikings over the Bills

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