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Vikings at Colts Week 2 Preview: Mustn’t

Week 2 can never be a “must win” game, but both the Vikings and Colts must show a lot of improvement to rebound from disappointing season-opening losses.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Things went sideways for Philip Rivers and the Colts Week 1.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings and Colts are heading into their Week 2 matchup like a football version of the Walk of Shame.

They’re mortified about what just happened. They hope that people forget how bad it was, but they know that everyone will be talking about it until next weekend. Everything is still a bit blurry—all they can remember is a guy with a bad mustache taking advantage of them. And they know that if this sort of thing keeps happening, they’re going to get a reputation.

Week 1 was undoubtedly shameful for both teams. The Vikings spent more than 40 minutes of game time watching Aaron Rodgers dissect their green secondary to the tune of 364 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts squandered multiple opportunities with bad mistakes and allowed Gardner Minshew to have more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (one), losing their opener to what many thought would be the worst team in the NFL this season. Losses like that leave a bad taste in your mouth worse than warm, flat keg beer.

Barring a tie, one of these teams is going to be 0-2 to start the 2020 season. While that’s far from a death knell, we all hear the stats about teams that start 0-2 and their chances of making the playoffs every year. This is by no means a “must win” for either team; that said, there are several things each team mustn’t do if they hope to win on Sunday.

For example, the Vikings defense mustn’t replicate...whatever the hell it was that they did against the Packers. There’s nowhere to go but up. After one week, they have the lowest graded defense by PFF and 26th ranked defense in DVOA. As we covered in the game-changing plays article on Monday, the (lack of) coverage by the secondary was probably the main culprit behind the putrid performance. Packers pass catchers found more open space than the Dutton Ranch in Yellowstone for most of the day.

That said, the pass rush mustn’t disappear again either. Yannick Ngakoue had only a handful practices with his new team before taking on David Bakhtiari; that isn’t exactly an ideal way to open your account. His quiet start is forgivable, but his assignment doesn’t get much easier in Week 2. Tackles Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith have both lived up to the draft capital the Colts invested in them. Quenton Nelson is already one of the very best guards in the league just 35 games into his career. Last year the Vikings pummeled Rivers and forced mistakes by flying through a cheesecloth Chargers line. According to Pro Football Focus, Rivers faced pressure on only six of his 47 dropbacks against Jacksonville Week 1.

But even with a legit offensive line, Rivers is still going to Rivers sometimes. Both of his interceptions came from a clean pocket. He also had a really bad interception nullified by a defensive penalty. His fourth quarter interception that helped seal the upset for the Jaguars was a classic example of Rivers trying to play Hero Ball.

Of course, you mustn’t be a starting quarterback in the NFL for the better part of two decades if you don’t have a bunch of amazing throws mixed in with your mistakes. Rivers still racked up 363 yards through the air last week and had a couple of incredible passes.

Rivers won’t be with his full compliment of running backs on Sunday, but he mustn’t fret too much about that. Marlon Mack went down for the season with a torn Achilles, which is a big disappointment coming off of his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2019. However, rookie Jonathan Taylor rushed for over 6,000 yards in three seasons at Wisconsin and has already showed flashes of what could make him special at the next level.

Taylor will likely get the bulk of the carries on Sunday with plenty of Nyheim Hines—who scored both Colts touchdowns against the Jags—mixed in. There are certainly worse ways you could replace an injured running back.

It won’t be just Taylor and T.Y. Hilton at Rivers’ disposal either. Parris Campbell played less than 200 offensive snaps his injury-riddled rookie season in 2019, but he had an impressive game against the Jaguars. Campbell led the Colts in receiving yards, showing off his speed and ability to separate on the same types of crossing routes that Davante Adams gashed the Vikings with last week. Campbell played 58 of his 61 snaps in the slot, and Jeff Gladney looks to be in line for a lot more than nine snaps with Cameron Dantzler ruled out. Tight end Jack Doyle is out for the Colts, which makes the Vikings’ job a little easier on Sunday. But they mustn’t pay too much attention to stopping Hilton and Taylor, or else Campbell could be in line for a big day.

The Colts seem poised to score some points against the Vikings’ suspect defense. Can the Vikings keep up? Dear reader, you mustn’t worry! Please allow me to instill all sorts of confidence in you with a resounding...maybe!

Kirk Cousins looked good for the most part against the Packers, although 18:44 of possession is a minuscule sample size. Some of the throws he made when the Vikings were trying to make a game of it late were very impressive. He even successfully scrambled a few times! (Even if his running looked like Elaine Benes dancing.) But of course, we’re talking about Kirk Cousins here; it’s almost a weekly requirement that his performance is polarizing in one way or another. The Athletic’s Chad Graff wrote about Cousins’ decision to bomb a crucial 4th & 3 pass to Tajae Sharpe. He concluded that it was a microcosm of how the Cousins’ over-dependence on play design and lack of improvisation is one of his biggest faults. Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press wrote about the same play and came to an even harsher conclusion. Nobody’s arguing that Cousins was the main reason the Vikings are 0-1, but we shouldn’t pretend that he was going punch for punch with Rodgers either.

The Vikings offensive line turned in a Week 1 performance that could be best categorized as “not good, but not as bad as we feared either” against Green Bay. Cousins was pressured on only eight of his 31 dropbacks, which was a massive improvement compared to the two Packers games in 2019. Pat Elflein allowed five of those pressures, and now he’s on Injured Reserve for at least three weeks. It appears that Dru Samia is in line to start at right guard against the Colts. Many Vikings fans believe that it couldn’t possibly get any worse than Elflein at guard and welcome the opportunity to see Samia in action.

Personally, I’m hopeful for Samia and liked his selection in the fourth round last year. But I’m going to file his start in the “careful what you wish for” folder for now. We last saw DeForest Buckner annihilating the interior Vikings offensive line as a member of the 49ers in the Divisional playoffs last season. Buckner mustn’t be the type of player a second-year guard wants to see across from him in his first career start. Justin Houston is going to be a problem on the edge as well. If the Vikings are going to maximize their opportunities, exploit Indy’s weaknesses on defense, and let Dalvin Cook cook, they mustn’t suffer many drive-crushing setbacks.

And yes, there are some weaknesses to exploit on that Colts defense. Indianapolis is solid against the run and linebacker Darius Leonard has performed well in the middle since being drafted in 2018. But as Zak Keefer of The Athletic pointed out, the Colts also played a lot of soft Cover 2 in Week 1 and were summarily picked apart by Minshew. Cousins is a savant when it comes to taking what the defense gives him; hopefully Justin Jefferson and Irv Smith Jr. will play a bigger role in the underneath passing game this week.

Of course, there’s one matchup that Vikings fans are champing at the bit to see. If we don’t see Adam Thielen roast Xavier Rhodes like it was a 2019 Training Camp practice at least once or twice, I will personally feel gypped. After enduring Rhodes’ precipitous decline over the past two years, we deserve at least that much! Points should be available in bunches on both sides Sunday; it might come down to the team that avoids handing points to their opponents.

Drew Magary’s “Why Your Team Sucks” article about the Vikings is my absolute favorite football read of every season. Drew is a lifelong Vikings fan, and as we all know, nobody can disparage the Vikings quite like Vikings fans. His cutting wit drills directly into the fragile psyche of everyone that has been emotionally abused by this team over the years. (The “failed Blues Clues replacement host” line about Cousins absolutely killed me.) After an embarrassing loss like the one suffered at the hands of the Packers last week, it would be easy to jump right into Debbie Downer Mode and consider the season doomed. And to be honest, the Colts probably have fewer things to clean up after Week 1. Their biggest mistakes were self-inflicted. The Vikings simply might not have the talent and experience in certain areas right now.

But I’m not going to panic just yet. The Vikings offense showed enough in catch-up mode last week to instill some confidence that they can score enough points to hide the defense’s weaknesses. While that defense was certainly atrocious, much of what the Packers did last week was due to Rodgers just being really freaking good. Rivers has shown time and again that he can’t stay out of his own way for a full 60 minutes. While his offensive supporting cast is better than what he had with the Chargers last season—especially up front—I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more trademark Rivers errors swing this game in Minnesota’s favor. As long as the defense can actually get off the field this week, I think we should see some incremental improvement. I’ll take the Vikings to beat the Colts for the first time this century in a close, high-scoring game in a mostly-empty Lucas Oil Stadium.

If I’m wrong and the Vikings fall to 0-2, we mustn’t think about how much worse it might get this season. Because it’s too damn depressing.

Prediction

Vikings 30, Colts 27


And now for the rest of my Week 2 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

Bengals over BROWNS

Already 0-1 to start the week. Who knew the Browns actually had a ton of weapons on offense? Oh, that’s right, everyone. They just finally showed up on Thursday night. Again, my apologies to Joe Burrow. (But congrats to Kevin Stefanski on his first win!)

COWBOYS over Falcons

An underachieving team coached by Mike McCarthy, you say?! I for one am shocked. I’m still picking Dallas to roll over Atlanta’s shoddy defense though.

Bills over DOLPHINS

For the past several years, a group of friends and I have done an NFL wins pool where eight of us pick four teams each in a snake draft. This year, the last two teams chosen were the first two teams on Buffalo’s schedule. I’m not sure if the Bills are for real yet, but I know they need to take care of business again this week if we’re going to take them seriously.

Giants over BEARS

The Giants didn’t really do anything that stood out on Monday night, but I don’t want to live in a world where Mitch Trubisky starts 2-0.

STEELERS over Broncos

Pittsburgh’s defense looked pretty scary Week 1. I tried to watch the entire Broncos game last Monday, but watching Drew Lock play is like taking three shots of NyQuil.

PACKERS over Lions

I’m excited to see what kind of gadget plays and sneaky tricks the Packers offense pulls out of their bag this week to steal another win over Detroit.

Oh I’m sorry, did I say the Packers? I meant to say the referees.

TITANS over Jaguars

The battle for sole possession of first place in the AFC South early in the season, just like everyone expected. Tennessee’s defense won’t let Minshew look as good as Indianapolis did Week 1.

Rams over EAGLES

After what Washington did to Carson Wentz in the opener, Aaron Donald might be charged with involuntary manslaughter after this game.

49ers over JETS

My Survivor Pool pick of the week, 1-0 on the season after the Bills handled the Jets in the opener. I hate picking road teams in survivor pools, especially with George Kittle out. But the Niners can’t fall to 0-2 when the only bright spot on the Jets (rookie tackle Mekhi Becton) is already banged up.

BUCCANEERS over Panthers

I think the Bucs will bounce back after Brady’s surprisingly good Jameis Winston impression in Week 1.

CARDINALS over Football Team

If Week 1 was any indication, the NFC West is going to be insanely competitive this year. Would you completely rule out all four teams making the postseason now that it’s technically possible? I sure wouldn’t.

Chiefs over CHARGERS

By his standards, Patrick Mahomes didn’t even play particularly well in the opener and the Chiefs still hung 34 points on Houston with ease. I know the Chargers defense will present more problems, but I don’t see how LA’s offense will be able to keep up.

Ravens over TEXANS

Kansas City and Baltimore to start the season. Who did Bill O’Brien piss off in the NFL scheduling department? (At least it sounds like the Texans will be able to have fans when they host the Vikings in a couple weeks.)

SEAHAWKS over Patriots

Seattle letting Russell Wilson cook and New England turning Cam Newton into a real-life Madden quarterback were two of the more entertaining storylines to come out of Week 1. I’m excited to watch them face off on Sunday night.

Saints over RAIDERS

With Michael Thomas probably missing this game (and already murdering my fantasy team), I was super tempted to pick the Raiders to win their first game in Las Vegas. But I can’t pick Derek Carr to actually show up in a big game yet.

Last week: 10-6
Season so far: 10-6