The Jets travel to the Land of 10,000 Lakes searching for another win when they face the Vikings indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The first "meaningful game in December" in a few years takes the Jets (7-4) to another NFC North venue against a Minnesota (9-2) team that has lost only one of its past nine games, a 40-3 thumping by the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 20. And if there was a special sauce to the Cowboys' victory it was their success in harassing and hounding Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to the tune of seven sacks while Dallas ran up 151 yards on the ground.
Those could be keys for the Green & White (and black) against the purple guys, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, joined by Bart Scott, told team reporter Eric Allen on the latest edition of "The Official Jets Podcast."
"How can you affect Cousins?" Baldinger said. "When you affect the quarterback, you're going to affect the game. You've got to pressure Cousins, he can throw it up if the pressure is applied. That's why he's not been successful in big games and the postseason when the pressure is much bigger. To me, it's the key to the game. I think you have to change up, you can't rush four all the time. Get him to go max protection and limit his options down the field. This team [the Jets] is built around the front four and they have to earn their money up in Minnesota. They have got to get hits on Cousins. Hit them early, the earlier the better. Hit them early and they're going to give it to you late. I'd be preaching that all day long."
Cousins enters the game as the No. 7 passer in the NFL, throwing for 2,760 yards, 17 touchdowns and 9 interceptions (2 at home) and has been sacked 28 times. Justin Jefferson is his go-to receiver. Jefferson is third in the NFL with 81 receptions for 1,232 yards. He's followed by Adam Thielen, who has 54 catches for 553 yards.
"With Kirk Cousins, the ball comes out on time and he has some football acumen," Scott said. "You have to get after this team with four rushers."
Scott added: "On defense, the Jets have to do it in waves. They're going to have to make them one dimensional. Stop the run, get up by two scores and dictate the rules of engagement. If you can get him off his spot Cousins can be affected, getting in his face and getting him to the ground early, make him panic."
The Jets certainly have the defensive chops to stymie nearly any offense -- they boast the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense in points allowed the past 10 weeks (9 games, 142 points).
While the Jets will contend with Minnesota's potent offense, the Green & White offense got a spark in Mike White's first start of the season last week against Chicago. In addition to his 315 yards and 3 touchdown passes, White spread the ball around to 10 receivers in the 31-10 victory
"Everybody gets humbled in this business, I don't care if you're the second pick in the draft, everyone gets humbled," Baldinger said. "Most people have to overcome adversity and it's almost better if it happens early in their career." He added: "When he gets the chance he [White] doesn't look raw. He looks ready."
That early speed bumps were the case for White, who was a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on a roller-coaster ride with the Jets, being cut, re-signed, spending time on the practice squad and getting four starts last season -- and now.
Baldinger said he was especially impressed with the manner in which head coach Robert Saleh handled the change at quarterback from Zach Wilson to White.
"One thing about Robert Saleh is that his team is going to know first," Baldinger said. "He's going to inform his team first. And that's the way it should be. Not through the media or a podcast. Let the players know, you can't ask anything more as a player. As far as Zach goes, the last thing he needs to do is hang his head. Look in the mirror at what can I do to improve. If you're not asking that -- how can I get better for this team -- then you're not asking the right questions."
It's little surprise that Scott believes the Jets "have to make it a physical contest." The "Madbacker" also thinks the Jets have a deep roster that has weathered the loss of RB Breece Hall and OL Alijah Vera-Tucker and have dealt with adversity along the offensive line all season -- and come out the better for it.
"If they're able to take care of business [Sunday], they'll put the league on notice," Scott said. "It's not about who's the best team, it's about who's playing the best at the right time. The Jets have so much depth and may be one of the healthiest teams. They've got good backups, guys coming back from injuries [OL Max Mitchell and George Fant, for example]. The Jets are equipped, they've dealt with adversity. Buffalo has been healthy, but now Von Miller is hurt and they're going to have to adjust and it's going to take a while. Look at Miami, [OL Terron] Armstead is out. The Jets are fine."