It’s going to be a difficult battle for the Bills in Minneapolis on Sunday. The Vikings are a Super Bowl contender, and they’re coming off of a rare tie in a divisional game versus the Packers, so they’re hungry to get back on the winning track. After looking at how the Bills’ offense matches up against the Vikings D, it’s time to look at the chances of the team’s defense versus Kirk Cousins and company:
Until head coach Sean McDermott took over the play calling duties in the second half of last Sunday’s game versus the Chargers, Buffalo allowed whopping seven touchdown passes without any interceptions. This trend needs to change if Buffalo expects to be competitive this week. The Vikings’ offense is a very dangerous one, led by their new QB Kirk Cousins.
Cousins is exactly what Minnesota expected when paid top money to sign him in free agency. Through two games, the QB has thrown for 669 yards, 6 TDs, and just one interception, with a 108.7 rating. Pro Football Focus has him as the fourth-best QB in the NFL in the first two games, with a 90.8 overall grade. Alongside his stellar WR duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, he will shred the Bills’ secondary if not pressured enough.
On Sunday @athielen19 and @stefondiggs combined for 21 catches on 25 targets, 259 receiving yards, and 3 TDs, and 0 drops. @KirkCousins8 had a passer rating of 149.4 when targeting them. The #Vikings feature the most dangerous WR duo in the NFL.#Skol https://t.co/SwOiiBCKjs— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) September 18, 2018
With McDermott calling the shots, the Bills were able to pressure Philip Rivers in the second half of last Sunday’s game. Jerry Hughes will need to bring his A-game to Minneapolis, and Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander’s stunts will be crucial to beating the Vikings’ very good pass blocking OL. Tre’Davious White will probably be tasked with following Stefon Diggs all over the field, but Adam Thielen will be a huge mismatch against every other CB on the Bills’ roster. Running back Dalvin Cook has the skillset to be used like Los Angeles did with Melvin Gordon, though he has been ruled out for this game. His replacement, Latavius Murray, isn’t the same type of threat in the passing game. Still, rookie Tremaine Edmunds will need to show improvement from last game to stop the Vikings’ powerful backup.
If the Bills’ defense is going to find success next Sunday, they’ll need to take advantage in this area of the Vikings’ offense. The Vikings should miss Cook, ruled out because of a hamstring injury. Through two games, he had only 78 yards on 26 carries and no scores. Don’t be fooled by those numbers, though. Cook is very dangerous in space, already having 18 forced missed tackles, which leads the NFL, according to PFF. His 3.0 yards per carry average isn’t his fault, though. The Vikings’ OL is struggling in the run blocking department and can be exploited there. The backup RB, Latavius Murray, is more of a north-south type of runner, who has power and speed but not the great change of direction skills of the second-year Florida State product. He’s a very good back, but the downgrade from Cook’s level is considerable.
PFF ranks every offensive line in the NFL. The #Vikings have done a solid enough job in pass protection so far this year, but they've really struggled when it comes to run blocking. Dalvin Cook is averaging 0.1 yards before contact per rush.https://t.co/cqtafWSfsh— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) September 19, 2018
The Bills’ defense will need to play a sound and disciplined game, filling gaps correctly and gang tackling Murray. This way, they can put Minnesota’s offense in second- and third-and-long situations, helping the secondary in the passing game, a major need. That may be the only way to slow down the new Vikings’ offense and keep the game a close, low-scoring contest. With Edmunds, Alexander, and Matt Milano playing well against the run in the first two games, I’m confident the Bills’ D can stop the Vikings’ ground game.
After looking at the offensive and defensive matchups from Buffalo’s perspective, it was very close to complete dominance by Minnesota. The only area the Bills got the nod was versus the Vikings’ ground game but it’s still questionable. I believe this week’s opponent has too much talent on both sides of the ball to be threatened by this rebuilding Bills team. The defense will need to play at its best to give the team a chance to win, but even then it’s far from a sure thing.