If turkey doesn’t put you to sleep on Thursday night, maybe the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots will.
Thursday night will mark the first time in franchise history that the Vikings have hosted a Thanksgiving game, but that’s where the excitement ends. The Patriots and Vikings are likely to have some low-scoring physical contest with The Action Network putting the over/under at 42.5 points.
It may not be the most exciting night, but here are five things you can count on when the Vikings take on the Patriots.
1. Kirk Cousins under pressure
The Vikings’ offensive line held its own early this season but has collapsed in recent weeks. Ed Ingram currently leads all offensive linemen with 40 quarterback pressures allowed this season and Ezra Cleveland ranks eighth with 29.
As a unit, the Vikings have allowed a 40 percent or higher rushing rate in five of their last six games, including a 63 percent rushing rate in Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Vikings will get no rest as they will face a Patriots defense that ranks second in the league with a 29.8% rush rate. His edge pressure is a big reason why.
Matthew Judon leads the league with 13 sacks and Deatrich Wise Jr. ranks 13th among all leading running backs with 38 pressures this season. With Christian Darrisaw out with a concussion, there’s a good chance Bill Belichick salivated like a wet turkey had just landed on his desk when he tossed the tape and will find a way to pressure Cousins.
2. The Patriots targeting Justin Jefferson
In the Vikings’ last meeting with the Patriots, Belichick devised a scheme that tied Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen together throughout. Relying on Laquon Treadwell and a pass-happy scheme under John DeFilippo, the Vikings struggled in a 24-10 loss at Foxborough.
This is an example of how Belichick can take away the best weapons from a team and that’s potentially bad news for Justin Jefferson on Thursday night.
Jefferson was limited to 33 yards against the Cowboys, but it wasn’t his fault. With Cousins under great pressure, there wasn’t much time to give Jefferson the ball on slow-moving plays.
Jefferson wanted the Vikings to adjust to a faster passing game and that could be what we see on Thursday night. There’s a better chance Belichick will do everything he can to stop Jefferson and Minnesota’s secondary weapons will have to step up.
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3. A paper-thin secondary
Another topic for the Vikings is the current state of the secondary. Patrick Peterson has stepped up throughout the season, but Cameron Dantzler remains sidelined with an ankle injury, while Akayleb Evans (concussion) and Andrew Booth Jr. (knee) have been ruled out.
That leaves Duke Shelley playing Peterson. Although he was one of the heroes in the Vikings’ victory over the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 13, he posted an overall PFF rating of 53.7 last season and allowed a 103.8 passer rating when he was attacked.
Though not part of the secondary, linebacker Jordan Hicks could be another pass-coverage liability, giving up 102 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Cowboys.
We saw how easy it was to pick a weak link in the secondary when Dak Prescott threw a team-high eight to Andrew Booth on Sunday. Belichick is likely to try to do the same to take advantage of a battered secondary.
4. The Patriots running the ball
One of the most frustrating aspects of the loss to Dallas was his inability to stop the run. The Cowboys rushed for 151 yards in the blowout and Tony Pollard was especially effective in plowing his way through Minnesota’s defense.
This allowed the Cowboys to keep the ball away from the Vikings and put their defense on the field for just over 37 minutes.
Belichick probably laughed like The Grinch when he saw the tape, knowing he has two capable running backs in Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris.
The Vikings could get Dalvin Tomlinson back after he was limited in practice this week, but he may not be ready for a full workload. The Patriots aren’t a dominant run-blocking unit either, ranking 23rd in PFF’s run-blocking ratings, but if they can master the line of scrimmage, it could be a long night.
5. Bill Belichick’s dominance over the Vikings
Every time Belichick has crossed paths with Vikings, bad things have happened. The Vikings have never beaten the Patriots since they signed Belichick in 2000 and haven’t made the playoffs in a year after playing Belichick.
Although the Vikings pretty much have the NFC North (and the playoff spot that goes with it), there are still concerns that it could lead to a sudden drop.
With Darrisaw out and several other players banged up, it’s unlikely the Vikings will be themselves, especially in a four-day trade. It shouldn’t be a season-long slump, but one that could lead to another loss on Thursday night.