Week 10 of the NFL season is here, and there are a number of good games to watch. The red-hot New England Patriots, 5-4, host the 5-4 Cleveland Browns, who are off a resounding win against the Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, the 4-4 Atlanta Falcons, who won three of their last four games, travel down to Arlington to play against the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys, who lost a baffling game against the Denver Broncos last week.
Meanwhile, the 5-3 Los Angeles Chargers are still trying to dig themselves out of a hole. After a close win against a mediocre Philadelphia Eagles team last week, the Chargers are hosting the 3-5 Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings lost their last two games in close battles against great teams: the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens. Even though they lost both games, they only lost by a combined gap of seven points. That can be interpreted as one of two things: either they are able to keep it close against great teams, or they are unable to close out upset wins. In the end, it just comes down to how optimistic or pessimistic a fan is. But what are some interesting matchups for this game? Are there any issues for Chargers fans to be concerned about? Here is a deeper dive into this Chargers-Vikings preview.
Chargers Fans’ Worst Nightmare
Any pessimistic Chargers fan could see this coming: the Chargers’ run defense will have a lot on their plate against the Vikings. The Minnesota Vikings have Dalvin Cook, who is arguably the best running back the Chargers have faced this season. Sure, the Chargers have faced Ezekiel Elliot on the Cowboys and Nick Chubb on the Browns, but Cook has constantly been in the top thre running backs conversation for the past few years. Cook has 554 rushing yards on 115 attempts (4.8 yards per carry) with two touchdowns for the Vikings this season. Though he hasn’t scored often this season, he truly is the engine for the Vikings offense. And with the Chargers’ run defense struggling so much this season against admittedly difficult matchups, fans can expect a disappointing performance for the Chargers’ run defense yet again.
Justin Jefferson lit the NFL on fire in his rookie season last year. As a wide receiver, he was in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but lost to Justin Herbert on the Chargers. Jefferson had arguably the best rookie season for a wide receiver since former Viking Stefon Diggs. Though still playing at an elite level, Jefferson’s production has slightly dipped this season. With 46 receptions for 634 yards (13.7 yards per reception) and four touchdowns, Jefferson is still the type of player that defensive coordinators need to gameplan for.
Jefferson’s primary matchup this week is rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who has been having a strong rookie campaign himself. The Chargers’ run defense may be struggling heavily, but the same cannot be said for their pass defense. Ranked third in the league for passing yards allowed, the Chargers’ pass defense is elite, thanks in large part to Samuel Jr. and safety Derwin James. For a good amount of the season, Samuel Jr. was in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons has all but ran away with the award at this point. Samuel Jr., who returns to the Chargers from the concussion protocol, will have his hands full with Jefferson.
It’s odd to pair a wide receiver and safety as a “matchup”, but in this case, it makes some sense. Mike Williams is one of the premier deep threats in the NFL. Even before his 2021 Renaissance season, Williams was a YPR (yards per reception) monster. In 2019, Williams had 49 receptions for 1,001 yards, which comes out to about 20.4 yards per reception, along with two touchdowns. Throughout his career, Williams averages around 16.4 yards per reception, which is remarkably high, given the large sample size. Paired with Keenan Allen, who specializes in carving defenses with short-to-midrange receptions, Williams perfectly complements him as a deep threat.
With that said, it makes sense to pair a deep threat with a safety, who will likely be covering him in zone read plays on deep routes. Xavier Woods is one of the better safeties in the NFL. Though not “elite” by any means, he will certainly not be a pushover to Williams. With 50 tackles, a sack, and two interceptions, Woods has been an above-average free safety for the Vikings. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert will need to be wary of Woods’s presence on deep throws.
Summary and Predictions
The Minnesota Vikings are reminiscent of the 2019 Chargers, in a way. The Vikings are 3-5, but none of their losses have been decided by more than a possession (eight points or less). In five losses, the Vikings have lost by a total of 18 points, which averages out to a score margin of about 3.6 points. The Chargers in 2019 finished 5-11, netting them the no. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (with which they picked Justin Herbert). Nine of those 11 losses were decided by eight points or less. It was an extremely frustrating season for Chargers fans, as expected.
Now, the 2021 Vikings are not as mediocre as the 2019 Chargers. This is not to say that the Vikings will be seeing an early pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, it does show one thing: they can keep with the best, but they can’t seem to pull out wins. Who is to say it won’t be any different against the Chargers? Justin Herbert’s dominance in the pass game will be a favorable matchup against the middling Vikings’ pass defense. The game will come down to this: will Herbert and Co. be able to outpace Dalvin Cook? Or will the VIkings’ solid pass game give the VIkings’ offense the edge it needs, even against one of the league’s best pass defenses?
In the end, Chargers fans should expect a close game. Whether the Chargers pull out a win will depend on whether the Chargers can shake off this slump they’re in. This has been the Chargers-VIkings preview.