What to Watch For: Vikings vs Patriots
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Joe Calabro, GoLocalProv Sports Team
The Patriots come into the game with a record of 8-3, while Minnesota comes in with a record of 6-4-1.
“This has really been an impressive team to watch. I think that Coach [Mike] Zimmer’s done, as usual, a tremendous job with his team. 13-3 last year, we saw a little bit of them at the end of the year, and then obviously this year, getting the schedule, a team we weren’t familiar with. We spent some time on them over the offseason and it looks like, to me, they’re even better than they were last year. They’re a very, very good football team. They have good talent,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference.
See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below
Game time is set for 4:25 p.m.
Patriots vs Vikings
Sunday’s game will be the 13th all-time meeting between the Patriot and the Vikings, with New England leading the series 8-4.
The last meeting came in September of 2014, when the Patriots cruised past Minnesota 30-7 in Minnesota.
The last Minnesota win came in September of 2000, when they edged New England 21-13 in Foxboro.
Patriots in December
The calendar has flipped to December, which historically has been a good sign for the Patriots.
Since Tom Brady took over in 2001, New England is 33-4 at home in the month of December.
The four losses include a 2014 loss to Buffalo in which Jimmy Garoppolo played more snaps than Tom Brady, a loss in 2002 to the Jets, 2012 to the San Francisco 49ers and a loss to the Eagles in 2015.
“I think we understand our team and I think we understand the other teams better. I think just the mark of a good team is one that improves as the season goes. I don’t think we ever take the foot off the pedal. We’re trying to play well in December. This is when all these games – they all count the same but you know, this time of year, you’ve got to be playing your best, and I think that’s what we all realize,” said Brady.
See What to Watch for in the Slideshow Below
Converting on third downs could be the difference in the game for the Patriots.
Minnesota has the NFL’s best third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert at just 27.6% of the time.
"They’ve got good safeties, good linebackers and their d-line can rush and stop the run. It’s definitely going to be a challenge, both in the pass game and run game. We’ve just got to go out and be prepared for both. We want to be able to run the ball. We want to be able to pass the ball, so we’ve got to have a good overall game versus guys like this," said Gronkowski.
The Patriots rank as the 14th best third-down offense in the NFL, converting 39.9% of the time.
The Patriots red zone offense continues to be inconsistent.
Overall the Patriots have the NFL’s 13th best red zone offense, while the Vikings have the best red zone defense.
"Yes, red zone’s crucial. The points, when you get down there, you’ve got to put points on the board. Every time we’ve been down there we haven’t been doing that and what you want to do is put up touchdowns and at minimum, leave with a field goal. So it’s going to be crucial once again, every single week. The red zone’s huge," said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski during his press conference on Wednesday.
The last time the Patriots faced the number one red zone defense was against the Tennesee Titans, and it did not go so well.
With Gronkowski and running back Sony Michel healthy and in the lineup, the Patriots offense will look to pick up the slack inside the 20s.
The Patriots secondary is going to have their hands full on Sunday going up against Minnesota's star receiver Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Diggs comes into the game with 79 catches for 790 yards and six touchdowns on the season.
Thielen has hauled in 93 catches for 1,138 yards and eight touchdowns so far.
"You can go down the list. There’s some pretty good duos out there, but you look at these guys, I mean, it’s like 90-something and 80-something catches, it’s one guy over 1,000 yards, the other guy’s on his way to 1,000 yards. And I think the hardest thing as you go down, Thielen, Diggs, [Kyle] Rudolph – these guys are catching like almost 70 percent of the balls thrown to them," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty during his press conference on Thursday.
Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks 30th in the league in averaged pass length and average pass length per completion.
Cousins is second in the league in pass attempts behind Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Patriots offensive line will be in for a big challenge this week going up against the Vikings defense.
Led by Danielle Hunter, the Vikings lead the league in sacks per pass attempt (36 sacks), with Hunter notching 11.5. But six other Vikings have at least three sacks on the season.
"I think they rush really good with their front four, but they also have some real good scheme stuff, so you’ve got to prepare for both. Sometimes they look like they’re coming and they don’t, but you’ve still got to deal with their really good players up front. Sometimes they do come and you’ve got to deal with their linebackers or safeties. It’s a challenging defense," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during his Friday press conference.
The Vikings defense is fifth in the league in passing yards against and fifth in the league in rushing yards against.
They have only given up more than 300 total yards once in the last six games.
Earlier this week, the New England Patriots activated running back Rex Burkhead off of injured reserve meaning that he is available to play.
Burkhead was placed on injured reserve after suffering a neck injury during the Patriots week three loss to the Detroit Lions.
"We had a lengthy discussion. I think we both had an understanding of what the situation was, what needed to be done and how to do it. He’s been very diligent and consistent with his approach to it, and I’d say as we got closer to the opportunity to bring him back to being eligible to practice and then ultimately being eligible to play, he consistently met or exceeded kind of targets or things that he needed to show or do or be able to do to move forward," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his press conference on Wednesday.
Burkhead has been plagued by injuries throughout his career with the Patriots.
In the three games that Burkhead played this season, he put up 86 rushing yards on 24 carries, as well as, three catches for 31 yards.
In two seasons with the Patriots, Burkhead has played just 13 games.
He has 88 carries for 350 yards and five touchdowns.
Burkhead also has 33 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
If he can play and stay healthy, he will contribute in both the passing game and the run game, taking some pressure off Sony Michel and James White.