Ten days will have passed since the Arizona Cardinals last played a football game, while the Minnesota Vikings are coming off their bye week, so 14 days have passed for them. The fresh Vikings are 3.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Let’s get back into the spirit with five good questions with Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman to get to know the Minnesota Vikings.
1. What has the first six games of the Kevin O’Connell experience been like?
The Kevin O’Connell era has been a breath of fresh air in contrast to the last two seasons of the Mike Zimmer era. The team is winning a bit ugly most weeks, but O’Connell has this team believing that they can win even when everything doesn’t go perfectly. In 2020 and 2021, we saw plenty of times when one thing would go wrong for the Vikings and it would snowball to the point where the Vikings couldn’t dig themselves back out of the hole they had created. The team is still learning new schemes on both sides of the ball, particularly the switch to the 3-4 on the defensive side, but they keep doing just enough to win games. Once this team gets more comfortable, they could really be quite dangerous, I think, and O’Connell’s guidance and leadership have a lot to do with that. The fans seem to be on board with how things are going so far, and hopefully as O’Connell and his staff get more comfortable those good things will continue.
2. The defense has been really good at not giving up points, creating turnovers and getting sacks, what has changed most in Ed Donatell’s defense vs Mike Zimmer’s final years?
I think that, between running the same basic defense for eight years and having some guys slow down due to age and injury, the Vikings’ defense under Mike Zimmer in his last couple of years in Minnesota just wasn’t as effective as it could have been. Back in 2017 when you had pretty much everyone in their prime they were dynamic, but as guys got older and continued to have injury issues it sort of limited what the team could do. In switching to the 3-4, teams that play the Vikings have to deal with a lot of things they hadn’t seen previously. It also helps that the team finally has a healthy Danielle Hunter (who had played a total of seven games in the previous two seasons) and added Za’Darius Smith this offseason. Smith is the team’s defensive MVP at this point after escaping from Green Bay, as he’s harassed quarterbacks pretty much every week while dealing with a knee injury. I think the Vikings still have a bit of the element of surprise on their side as they still haven’t played a lot of games with the 3-4 and Ed Donatell really hasn’t shown a whole lot yet. Like the offense, as the players and coaches continue to get more comfortable with each other we’ll see them continue to improve.
3. Talk about what it is like getting to enjoy Justin Jefferson every week.
We as Vikings fans have been ridiculously spoiled at the wide receiver position in recent years with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and now Justin Jefferson. Jefferson is just so much fun to watch. . .most weeks he’s able to get his yardage regardless of how opponents are defending him and he’s really developed a great chemistry with Kirk Cousins to start his Minnesota career. Sure, he has the occasional off game every now and then, like he did earlier this season against Philadelphia and Detroit, but he has far more good games than bad. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens this offseason, as it will be the first opportunity for Jefferson’s camp to start talking about a contract extension for his rookie deal, and if he keeps this up he’s basically going to be able to name his price.
4. Give me one player on offense or defense that is a bit under the radar for the Vikings?
One guy to keep an eye on is safety Camryn Bynum. Everyone knows about Harrison Smith and the Vikings drafted Lewis Cine this past April to eventually take over as one of the team’s starting safeties, but Cine’s injury this season has made Bynum the full-time guy next to Smith in the secondary. He got several starts last year when Smith missed games and acquitted himself very well. With the talent that the Cardinals have at the wide receiver position, not to mention Zach Ertz at tight end, Bynum is going to get some opportunities to make plays in the secondary. He’s a smart player with good instincts and definitely has a knack for being around the football.
5. Draftkings Sportsbook has a Sunday Special for this game ... Justin Jefferson and DeAndre Hopkins both over 100 yards receiving at +500. Do you like it and if someone misses, what side do you see missing?
I think they both get there. I know that Hopkins is just coming back from his suspension and all that, but he’s still DeAndre Hopkins, which means he’s still pretty damn good. The Vikings have had their issues in the secondary, and Hopkins is probably going to see a lot of his old friend Patrick Peterson on Sunday, so that will be a pretty interesting matchup. As far as Jefferson, I’m not sure what the Cardinals are going to try to do to match up with him, but I’m not sure if they have anyone that’s really going to slow him down. I think both guys reaching the century mark in this one is the right bet to make.