Scouting the Opponent: Minnesota Vikings

Scouting the Opponent is a weekly preview series looking ahead to the Titans upcoming matchup.

The Tennessee Titans (2-0) head north to take on the Minnesota Vikings (0-2) at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Titans scraped out two wins on go-ahead field goals in the closing minutes. The Vikings have not been close to winning yet, falling to the undefeated Green Bay Packers in Week 1 and the 1-1 Indianapolis Colts in Week 2.

For the second consecutive game, the Titans face a team that played the Colts the week before. Let’s take a look at this matchup…

The Stats

These numbers are gathered from a very small sample size of just two games. At this point in the year, one good game in any category can swing a team’s league-wide ranking by a substantial margin. So taking this with a massive grain of salt, let’s see how these two teams compare statistically through two weeks:

Titans/RankMetricVikings/Rank
18thTotal Yards/G30th
20thPassing Yards/G32nd
13thRushing Yards/G20th
17thTotal Points/G20th
25thTotal Yards Allowed/G29th
22ndPass Yards Allowed/G28th
23rdRush Yards Allowed/G28th
12thPoints Allowed/G31st
T-2nd (+3)Turnover DifferentialT-30th (-3)
7th (52%)3rd D ConversionsT-29th (33%)
9thPenalty Yards/G8th
13thDVOA*25th
12thDAVE**22nd
12thOffense DAVE**18th
17thDefense DAVE**22nd
24thRush DVOA – Offense4th
2ndPass DVOA – Offense30th
22ndRush DVOA – Defense23rd
10thPass DVOA – Defense19th
2020 Statistical Comparison

The Vikings are statistically one of the worst teams across the board in the entire league. Not even the Jets rank this low in so many different statistical categories. Do I think this is representative of the talent and coaching in Minnesota? No, I don’t think Minnesota is a bottom-3 team in the NFL. It’s only two games. These numbers will balance out as the season progresses.

The one thing that jumps out most is Minnesota’s offensive rushing DVOA – which, granted, is not adjusted for opponent yet – and the Titans’ defensive rushing DVOA. The Vikings are 4th-best in the NFL, while the Titans are at the moment 22nd in defending the run. The Titans didn’t look great trying to stop James Robinson. This is definitely the most concerning on-paper matchup to note.

Coaches and Personnel

Note: For the earlier part of the schedule, this section will focus on staff changes and roster moves. Once the season is well underway, this will focus more on matchups and key players to watch.

Since taking over as the Vikings head coach in 2014, Mike Zimmer has never started a season 0-2. Zimmer is a well known defensive-minded coach who was once a candidate to take over in Tennessee when leadership elected to hire Ken Whisenhunt instead.

George Edwards, Zimmer’s defensive coordinator since he arrived in Minnesota, left in the offseason to take a position on the Cowboys staff. While ultimately it’s Zimmer’s defense, he promoted his son Adam, formerly the linebackers coach, and his defensive line coach, Andre Patterson, to be co-defensive coordinators in 2020.

Gary Kubiak joined Zimmer’s staff ahead of the 2019 season as an assistant head coach and offensive advisor while Kevin Stefanski was offensive coordinator, and with Stefanski off to Cleveland, Kubiak has taken over, calling plays for the first time since he retired from his head post in Denver after the 2016 season.

Stefanski wasn’t the only one to leave the Vikings this offseason. Star wideout Stefon Diggs was traded to Buffalo for a first-round pick, which was used to select wide receiver Justin Jefferson out of LSU. Jefferson has played the third-most snaps for the team at receiver through two weeks, behind Pro Bowler Adam Thielen and second-year seventh-round pick Bisi Johnson.

On defense, the losses were substantial, most notably cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes and defensive linemen Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph. In the front seven, only two starters returned for the 2020 season. The Vikings then drafted 15 players in April — the most in one class since the league moved to a seven-round format — to fill some of these holes.

Shortly before the season began, Minnesota acquired stud edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville, who fits in as a defensive end in the Vikings’ front. Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith remain as the two clear stand-out players on this defense. But they can’t do everything.

Injuries have led to a trial-by-fire of sorts for the Minnesota rookies. Jeff Gladney out of TCU will likely start at cornerback, but Cameron Dantzler from Mississippi State hasn’t practiced yet this week (as of Friday morning) and may not be able to play. Recently signed linebacker Todd Davis will likely start this game as well after the three players in front of him at the position were all moved to IR.

For more detail on the offensive and defensive line personnel specifically, be sure to read Ryan Watson’s detailed breakdown in this week’s In the Trenches.

Film Study

Due to the NFL’s strict copyright policy which they have chosen to enforce against our website, I unfortunately will not be including any GIFs here. However, we’ve received clearance to use still images, which should help illustrate the concepts.

I will try to embed the plays I’m referencing where able or include links to view them on Twitter or YouTube. Alternatively, you could potentially look up the plays if you have a subscription to NFL Gamepass.

Titans Offense vs Vikings Defense

Over the first two weeks, you can count on one hand how many defenses have performed worse than Minnesota’s. The injuries and youth seem like obvious candidates for blame, but looking closely at the details in Warren Sharp’s 2020 Football Preview, there may be deeper concerns for the Vikings defense that go back to before even last season.

According to Sharp, the Vikings have gone 11-15 against teams rankings in the Top 15 in pass rate and pass efficiency over the last four years. They are 29-10 against teams outside that Top 15. The Vikings have also received a substantial boost when playing at home in a stadium designed specifically to reflect sound from the crowd back onto the field. There will be no fans in the stands for this game, so that advantage will not be present. And the Titans are certainly a Top 15 passing offense in terms of efficiency.

The Vikings have allowed more passing yards than any other team through two weeks with Philip Rivers only throwing for 214 yards in Week 2. That’s how badly Rodgers tore them up the week prior (364 yards passing with four touchdowns).

The main reason is the Vikings’ propensity to give up the deep ball, as Paul Kuharsky pointed out. Teams are testing Minnesota deep to take advantage of their inexperienced cornerbacks.

Add in the injuries to the linebacking corps and secondary and we’re looking at a matchup that is decidedly in favor of the Titans.

The Green Bay Packers put on a show against the Vikings in Week 1, piling on points and eventually winning 43-34. Given that Matt LaFleur installed the offense that Art Smith is running in Tennessee, we may get an idea of how the Vikings will look to defend the Titans by looking at that Green Bay matchup.

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Comments

  1. Curious to learn more about the titans defensive tendencies(blitzing, man percentage, zone, one high). Any websites with that info that you are aware of?

  2. Good stuff. I think you’ve managed to overcome the lack of all-22 footage well. The combo of the pics plus the anchored YouTube links bring it all together.

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