This week has been a whirlwind for the Minnesota Vikings. After their defense was on the field for 98 snaps in Baltimore, they came home to Dalvin Cook's legal troubles and had Dakota Dozier land in the hospital due to COVID. To top off, the Vikings flew out to Los Angeles to face a 5-3 Chargers team that's tied for first place in the AFC West.
With so much going on, it's hard to see the Vikings competing on Sunday. But the Vikings have a tendency to rise up when they're least expected to do so and it could make for an intriguing matchup on Sunday afternoon.
1. A big day for the Vikings rushing attack
One of the on-field headlines for the Vikings has been their desire to stick to the running game. But what once was a strength has turned into a boom-or-bust operation.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cook ranks first among qualifying running backs with 43.7 percent of his carries going for 20 yards or more. While it's nice to have that big play ability, it also means the ground game is lacking consistency. Cook's PFF running grade ranks 43rd among qualifiers and the offensive line has failed to open holes to sustain drives.
The good news is the Chargers could provide an opportunity to get things on track. Los Angeles comes into Sunday's game with the worst run defense in the league, allowing 161.6 yards per game. With Mike Zimmer's defense gassed after last week's performance, there's a good chance Cook will see plenty of action.
2. More targets for Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen
Another bizarre storyline has been the lack of targets for their two star receivers. Jefferson has just five receptions over the past two weeks and Thielen was held to two catches for six yards in last week's loss to the Ravens.
The frustrations started to boil over on Monday when Thielen mentioned that "it's the same thing each week" in regards to the offense. Jefferson vetted his own issues saying the Vikings need to run up the score on teams. It all boils down to getting them the ball.
But that comes down to Kirk Cousins, who seems to be mystified by Cover 2. With two safeties preventing big plays, Cousins has opted to check down to Tyler Conklin, who is tied with Thielen with 13 targets over the past two weeks.
With the Chargers playing a lot of Cover 2, it could make the Vikings force the issue, which hasn't boded well for their offense.
3. The Vikings defense getting gored on the ground
Last week, the Vikings gave up 247 rushing yards to the Ravens but that only tells part of the story. While Minnesota gave up 120 yards to Lamar Jackson, they also allowed 127 combined yards to Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman.
If this were 2014, those numbers would help you win a fantasy football title. But since both appear to be in the twilight of their careers, it highlights a major flaw that will be exploited by the Chargers.
Austin Ekeler has become one of the NFL's top running backs and has topped 100 total yards in five of his eight games. With Minnesota's defense gassed after last week's marathon, it spells bad news for a defense that has allowed 136.6 rushing yards per game, the third-highest total in the NFL.
4. Brandon Staley being aggressive on fourth down
The Vikings have already experienced one aggressive fouth down decision-maker in Dan Campbell this season but Staley takes it to another level for the Chargers.
Entering this week only three teams have more fourth down conversion attempts than Los Angeles, who has 17. They also own a 65.2 percent conversion rate on fourth down, giving them the highest percentage of any team with the same number of attempts.
With Ekeler likely to see success on the ground, Staley may look to extend drives as long as possible to take advantage of the Vikings' exhausted defense.
5. More of the same in Los Angeles
The Vikings have the look of a weary team. With everything that has gone on in the past week, it's hard to see them competing against a team that's in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West.
These are the Vikings, so it could definitely come down to the final play but there is a tension that good teams don't have. Eventually, the pot is going to boil over and there's a good chance that happens in Los Angeles.
Prediction: Chargers 37, Vikings 13