Jets-Vikings: 8 Things to Know

Posted Dec 5, 2014

A Run-Heavy Preview of Sunday's Game Between Infrequent Interconference Rivals

On the surface, Minnesota would appear to be a great opponent Sunday for the Jets, suffering through a 2-10 season that includes an 0-5 mark on the road.

The Vikings are a tame 3-3 at their temporary TCF Bank Stadium home on the University of Minnesota campus. And they are one of the franchises we have had unqualified success against, winning eight of our nine meetings, with the only loss coming on the road in 1975, when the commissioner was Rozelle, the quarterbacks were Namath and Tarkenton, and the stadium was Metropolitan.

Yet no NFL opponent should ever be taken for granted, especially this season by our Jets. The Vikes have a top-10 offense, the third-ranked pass rush in the league, and dangerous specialists in at least one area mentioned below.

Here are eight things to know about the Jets-Vikings game, with the bullet points heavy on our running game, just as the Miami game plan was:

1. The Plan Worked

Rex Ryan got as irked as he ever does during news conferences when asked if he could "understand why the run-pass ratio could be misinterpreted" against the Dolphins. "No, I can’t understand it," he said. "You go in with a game plan: What’s the best thing for our team? Well, we need to run the football. And we had talked about trying to establish the running game against a very good defense."

There's nothing wrong with a strategy of running a lot (49 times for 277 yards) and passing a little (15 dropbacks, 13 passes). Of the last 58 NFL teams that threw 15 or fewer passes and rushed for more than 200 yards in a game, only two lost — the Bengals in a 1987 replacement game and the Jets on Monday night. The issue was that ...

2. The Execution Didn't

As Jon Gruden intoned late in the ESPN broadcast, "The Jets are doing everything they can to lose this game." That included a passing game that, even given its relative lack of use, finished meekly with Smith completing three of his last six for 23 yards, one interception and his two sacks, plus a special teams performance that Ryan said was a big part of the game, to which coordinator Thomas McGaughey didn't alibi: "That's the truth." It inexorably led to Caleb Sturgis' 26-yard go-ahead field goal with 1:57 to play, the longest a winning opponent went in a game before taking its first lead since Mike Vanderjagt put the Peyton Manning Colts ahead, 16-13, with 14 seconds to play in the Jets' 16-13 loss in 1999.

3. Big-Time Rush

Nevertheless, the Jets showed one of the greatest rushing first halves in their history. Chris Johnson had his first 100-yard game and his longest run as a Jet, and his 4.3 yards after first contact were the most by a 10-carry Jets back this season since Chris Ivory went for 9.7 in the long-ago opener against Oakland. Also, the two Chrises continue to spearhead an attack that is No. 2 in the NFL in rush yards/game (and also yards/carry), our highest ranking this late in the season since the 2009 team finished the last five weeks at No. 1.

4. Guess the Game Plan I

Considering the Vikings defense is vulnerable to the run (24th in yards allowed/game, 25th in yards allowed/carry), see Rex quote in Item 1.

5. On the Flip Side of the Run

The Jets defense could get a break. Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater is piloting the 30th-ranked passing offense in the league, and Ryan's Jets are 8-1 when facing first-year signalcallers for the first time. What are the reasons for that, Rex? "Because they're rookies. That's probably the main one," he said Thursday. Meanwhile, rookie RB Jerick McKinnon, the Vikes' leading rusher, sat out last Sunday and hasn't practiced yet this week with a low back injury — music to the ears of our run defenders, who are third in the league in both yards allowed/game and yards allowed/carry.

6. Special Issue

The thing the Vikes' specialists may be even better at is blocking punts — they snuffed two last week vs. the Panthers and returned both for TDs. The first was blocked and returned by rookie Adam Thielen. The second was rejected by Jasper Brinkley and run back by Everson Griffen (who also has 11 sacks at DE). Do you think after Ryan Quigley had one punt smothered in the end zone for a TD by the Bills and one last week partially blocked by the Dolphins, the Jets are working overtime on punt block protection? McGaughey: "Big emphasis." Enough said

7. History ... Pre-peats?

The very first meeting in this infrequent rivalry came in 1970, the first year of the AFL-NFL merger and produced the kind of game Rex would love Sunday. That day at Shea, the Jets came in at 3-7 record, the Vikes at 9-1 en route to 12-2 and the playoffs. The QBs weren't even Joe and Tark but rather Al Woodall and Gary Cuozzo. Woodall threw 12 passes with eight completions, one for a touchdown to George Sauer. George Nock, meanwhile, led a 51-carry, 187-yard rushing attack with 117 yards and a TD. And the Jets prevailed, 20-10.

8. Guess the Game Plan II

Will we see a lot more of 49 runs to 15 pass dropbacks this month? Well, after Minnesota there's Tennessee (32nd in rush yards allowed/game), New England (218 rush yards against the Patriots in October) and finally Miami (277 yards Monday night). So far Smith is OK with the program: "The amount of times we pass it I don't think is the important thing," said Geno. "I think the important thing is that we capitalize when we have opportunities." Amen.


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