Week 15 Preview: Minnesota Vikings vs Indianapolis Colts

Justin Ekstrom
Cover32
Dec 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Vikings won 25-16. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Vikings won 25-16. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are now 1-0 in their self-proclaimed playoffs due to a much needed victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars by the score of  25-16. Although the victory was nice, much more work is needed if the purple plan to march into the postseason.

Even if the Vikings win their remaining games, they still would need outside help as they received no such good news on Sunday. With the Lions, Redskins and Buccaneers all winning, the Vikings have added pressure to win all their remaining games.

Adding to the uphill climb, the Falcons and Packers looked unstoppable in convincing offensive onslaughts against alleged great defenses. Also adding insult to injury, the Giants defeated the unstoppable Cowboys for the second time this season.

The next step towards the improbable playoff berth is at home against the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday; it can be viewed on CBS at noon, Central Time.

A victory over the Colts this week would complete an AFC South sweep for the Vikings who have already beaten the Titans and Texans to go with their most recent victory over the Jaguars.

The Colts, however, are coming off a tough divisional loss to the Houston Texans by a score of 22-17. The loss came at the hands of a Texans’ team that only had one road victory before this matchup occurred. Colts’ quarterback, Andrew Luck threw two interceptions and lost a fumble to ensure the defeat.

The Colts and Vikings both need the win as the loser will most assuredly be out of the playoffs this season. Both teams have battered first-overall selections being “protected” by ailing offensive lines that are among the worst in the league.

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Essentials to win the game

As Ben Goessling of ESPN stated, “21 may be the magic number for the Vikings.” Also according to Goessling, the Vikings are 6-0 when they score more than 20; 1-6 when they score less than 20. Even this past game, 20 looked like it was going to be hard to come by until the Vikings finally broke it open with a pair of touchdowns. Touchdowns will be valuable against a team quarterbacked by Andrew Luck this Sunday.

The Colts have shown they may even have a worse offensive line than the Vikings do. If the Vikings want to win the game, they will take advantage of the mismatch by racking up the sacks.

Possible downfalls to avoid

The Vikings lost the turnover battle this past week to a team that was minus-18 coming into the game. That feat cannot be duplicated when facing a dynamic quarterback like Luck. The Colts sit near the bottom in terms of give-take with a ratio of minus-5, if that trend continues, the Vikings should win this game.

Scrambling quarterbacks have been the death of the Vikings’ defense during this second-half skid. The young pass rushers in purple better know who they are facing this week; Luck can kill with his legs as quickly as his arm. When the Colts are in the red zone, the Vikings will have to be mindful of their contain lanes to avoid Luck breaking off a touchdown run.

Player spotlight

According to ESPN’s FPI rankingsthe Colts rank third in special teams efficiency mostly due to Adam Vinatieri and his place kicking expertise. Not to be outdone, punter, Pat McAfee, leads the league in net punting, averaging 46.7 yards per punt. In addition, the Colts are also averaging 26.3 yards per kickoff return; good enough for third best in the NFL and giving them one of the best special teams units in the league.

Is this finally the week Marcus Sherels returns? His presence is missed the most on this special team’s unit that becomes average, at best, without him.

The Colts have a banged up secondary that just lost Patrick Robinson for the rest of the season. According to Colts.com writer, Kevin Bowen, Rashaan Melvin will now start at corner across from Vontae Davis. Even before Robinson’s injury the Colts’ secodary had been giving up an average of 7.6 yards per passing attempt, via ESPN Stats and Info

With the Colts’ secondary banged up, it may be time to take the lid off the top with Charles Johnson. Fans will cringe at the mention of the name, however, he has the speed needed for the big play, he just needs to catch the ball this time. Otherwise, this may be the week we see another gaudy stat line from Stefon Diggs and/or Cordarrelle Patterson to go with the consistent play of Adam Thielen.

Game Projection

The last time the Colts played the Vikings was week two of the 2012 regular season. As many will remember, that was Luck’s rookie season. Luck did not play like a rookie, though as he threw two touchdown passes to lead the Colts to a 23-20 victory.

This game could shape up much like that 2012 affair as the Colts will look to build a lead early in this contest as well. The entire NFL knows the Vikings’ defense can handle being down a score or two but are best when they are winning the contest.

With Harrison Smith questionable and unlikely to suit up, Luck will target his play-makers on the outside much more than he would if Smith played. The Vikings secondary looked out of sorts against a young receiving corps in Jacksonville; the Colts will spread the defense much like they did and look for the tight end in the middle.

The Vikings will have to adjust defensively but will eventually make the day a living hell for Luck as his offensive line is still working out some kinks. Linval Joseph steps up in a big way this week to stop the bleeding after the Colts bolt out to a quick offensive onslaught.

Once the Vikings adjust defensively, their offense can go to work with the deep-ball. Sam Bradford has looked much more comfortable in and outside the pocket in recent weeks and the receivers are beginning to bear fruit.

As mentioned above, the receiving corps of the Vikings may be in for a big week if they can capitalize against a much-maligned Colts’ secondary. If Bradford fails to go above 300 yards in this contest, he may never accomplish that feat.

The Vikings are not built to compete in a shootout but Minnesota’s imposing defense has the ability to fluster Luck and keep them from getting into an aerial showdown with the Colts. This game has the look of another four-sack-performance from the defensive front of the Vikings. Should they accomplish four or more sacks, Luck should add to his interception total making it nearly impossible for him to add to his legacy of fourth-quarter-comebacks.

The last time the Vikings defeated the Colts, Randy Moss was in his final year at Marshall University and the “Manning face” was still grimacing at Tennessee. The Vikings and their fans see that change as they see the purple victorious in a defensive performance for the ages by the score of 27-17.

— Justin Ekstrom can be followed on Twitter @thesportscrib21 and believes a Vikings’ playoff berth is improbable but not impossible; Skol! Be sure to follow and comment about vikings32 on Facebook and Twitter

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