The Vikings have perhaps their toughest game of the regular season this Sunday at Buffalo. Or so we thought. But now Bills QB Josh Allen is officially listed as questionable for the game, having not practiced Wednesday and Thursday, and limited on Friday.
My guess is that he doesn’t play, and the Bills will have a few key defensive players sidelined as well, while the Vikings will be without Dalvin Tomlinson again and Cam Dantzler.
Given all that, how do the Vikings and Bill match up? Let’s take a look.
Vikings Offense vs. Bills Defense
Josh Allen or not, the Bills have the top ranked defense in the league in points allowed, and 3rd best in yards allowed. But the Bills’ defense is banged up and will be without their two starting safeties- Micah Hyde (who’s on IR) and Jordan Poyer who’s listed as out. They’ll also be without DE Greg Rousseau (out), CB Kaiir Elam (doubtful), and perhaps LB Tremaine Edmunds as well (questionable) who like Josh Allen didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday.
Being short-handed like this will definitely have an impact on the Bills’ defense. The Bills’ defensive coordinator is former Vikings’ head coach Leslie Frazier, but Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott is a former defensive coordinator as well.
As you can see by the PFF grading, the matchup for the Vikings offense against the shorthanded Bills is a pretty good one. Even more so if LB Edmunds doesn’t go, which may well be the case. That would leave Von Miller, who faced Darrisaw last year and had only one pressure, and LB Matt Milano as the only really good players on the Bills defense.
The Bills defense, with Leslie Frazier as coordinator, is not exotic. They play a lot of two-high safety-based zone coverage, with about 20% Cover 1 man and 15% Cover 2 man. They don’t blitz a lot. They’ve relied on having two good safeties, two top linebackers, and two top edge rushers to get the job done, with decent players at other positions.
But against the Vikings, they’ll be down both safeties, one edge rusher, and maybe one linebacker too. In addition, they’re thin at cornerback. That complicates things for Frazier and McDermott’s defense.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills ran more Cover 2 man against the Vikings as that has been effective in the past. But the Bills’ secondary isn’t that good right now, and they also struggled against the run last weekend, so there should be opportunities for the Vikings offense if they can execute well.
Matt Milano is a good cover linebacker- one of the best according to PFF- but he’s also 6’0”, 223 pounds, so there is a definite size advantage for TJ Hockenson. Milano and Edmunds had a rough night against Travis Kelce week six, allowing him 5 receptions on 5 targets for 87 yards. Hockenson may not be Travis Kelce, but he could have some success against the Bills’ linebackers.
Bills Offense vs. Vikings Defense
The Bills seem to be doing all they can in gamesmanship with Josh Allen’s game status, who is listed as questionable, including what appeared to be some media manipulation on Friday, where Josh Allen wasn’t present during the media portion of practice, but was seen running off the field at the end of practice when the media was once again let in. The Bills line has decreased a bit more to -3 from -3.5 a couple days ago, so the betting community at least isn’t buying that Allen will play on Sunday.
I’m in that camp for a couple reasons. First, Allen’s health is more important for the Bills down the stretch, so allowing his elbow time to heal is paramount for their season goals to having him play Sunday against the Vikings. Secondly, Allen also suffered a similar UCL elbow injury in 2018 and missed four games as a result. Difficult to see why the Bills play it differently this time, at least this week.
But whether it’s Josh Allen or Case Keenum at quarterback for the Bills, their offense isn’t likely to change much. They won’t have Allen’s running ability, but otherwise I’d expect the same Bills offense with Keenum at the helm.
Diggs is the go-to receiver, Davis they like to take a few shots with over the course of the game, TE Dawson Knox to move the chains on occasion, and a running back by committee approach with Devin Singletary, newly acquired Nyheim Hines, and Dalvin’s little brother James Cook getting reps. I expect Singletary to get the most. The Bills have a solid running game which I expect them to lean on a bit more if Allen is sidelined.
The biggest weakness for the Bills offense is their offensive line. Apart from left tackle Dion Dawkins, not much for stout linemen upfront. I expect that will lead to pressure and sack opportunities for Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, which could rattle Case Keenum if he is indeed the QB on Sunday.
Key Matchups to Watch
There will be a number of interesting matchups in this game to keep an eye on. Here are some of the more notable.
Christian Darrisaw vs. Von Miller
Darrisaw shutdown Miller last season against the Rams, allowing just one hurry, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can shut him down again on Sunday. The Bills need Miller to pressure Cousins on Sunday, so if he gets shut down by Darrisaw, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bills move him to the other side or test the interior line over the course of the game.
Patrick Peterson vs. Stefon Diggs
Peterson is playing at his highest level in years judging by his PFF grade and ten pass break-ups, but Diggs will be a challenge. Diggs typically lines up on the right side most often for the Bills but has played nearly as much on the left side and about 20% in the slot. They may decide to matchup Diggs most often against rookie Akayleb Evans, who’s getting his first start. Expect Evans to be targeted most often in any case.
Kevin O’Connell vs. Leslie Frazier
In a battle between Vikings’ head coaches former and present, the chess match between O’Connell and Frazier could be an interesting one to watch unfold.
Vikings Run Game vs. the Bills Run Defense
The Vikings are the third best run blocking team in the league according to PFF, while the Bills rank 21st in run defense grade and 23rd in tackling grade. Will the Vikings be able to run the ball well against the Bills?
Vikings Run Defense vs. Bills Run Game
The Vikings have the second-best run defense grade and the third best tackling grade according to PFF, while the Bills have the sixth best run grade. Will the Vikings be able to slow down the Bills run game?
Justin Jefferson and Cam Bynum vs. Stefon Diggs
All three were involved in the Stefon Diggs trade. Which side has a greater impact on the game Sunday?
TJ Hockenson vs. Matt Milano
Hockenson gets his second start against one of the best linebackers in coverage. Another solid performance Sunday by Hockenson will begin to draw defensive attention the rest of the season and may be a big factor for the Vikings offense to begin hitting on all cylinders.
Kirk Cousins vs. the Big Game
It’s not prime time and the Bills will likely be playing shorthanded, but this is still the type of game that will draw greater scrutiny of Cousins’ performance. Media Chainz can turn to rope quickly following a disappointing performance and a loss. On the other hand, a strong performance in Orchard Park may encourage the thought that if Matthew Stafford can do it... so can Kirk.
The Bills like turnovers. They’re near the top of the league in both giveaways and takeaways. The Vikings have done a good job generating a positive turnover margin (+0.8 per game average is tied for 3rd best) and whoever is QB for the Bills should provide opportunities for takeaways. Apart from the Eagles game, the Vikings have done a good job taking care of the ball, and they’ll need to keep that trend going to beat the Bills on the road.
It looks like it won’t be a particularly bad weather game in Buffalo with the current forecast indicating only a 20% or so chance of rain/snow during gametime with a high around 40 and winds gusting to around 15 mph. But that could change. Something to keep an eye on.
What will be the result on Sunday?
This poll is closed
Vikings win by 1-5 points
Vikings win by 6-10 points
Vikings win by 11+ points
Bills win by 1-5 points
Bills win by 6-10 points
Bills win by 11+ points