MINNEAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Saturday meeting with the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
- Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Broadcast: FOX59.
- Spread: Vikings by 3½.
History lesson, Part I:
Brace yourself. We finally have a series that favors the Colts. They hold an overall edge of 18-7-1 and have won six straight. That includes the last two meetings in Minneapolis.
History lesson, Part II:
This is one of those neat series occurrences that carried monumental consequences. The Vikings’ last win over the Colts was a 39-28 decision in the final game of the 1997 season. They beat up Jim Harbaugh and feasted on Kelly Holcomb’s carelessness.
The loss dropped the Colts to a league-worst 3-13. But they only secured the 1st overall pick in the 1998 draft after Jake Plummer directed Arizona’s 29-26 fourth-quarterback comeback over visiting Atlanta. That lifted the Cardinals to 4-12 and gave the Colts the opportunity to select their franchise quarterback.
Welcome in town, Peyton Manning.
History lesson, Part III:
The 10-3 Vikings are tough to figure out. They clinch their first NFC North Division title since 2017 with a win over the Colts, but they’re the first 10-win team with a negative point differential (minus-1) IN LEAGUE HISTORY. Credit being 9-0 in one-score games . . . and whipped by Philadelphia (24-7), Dallas (40-3) and Detroit (34-23).
Weakness vs. weakness:
If only. The Vikings’ deficiency is obvious, but it’s hard to imagine the Colts being in any position to exploit it. Minnesota’s defense ranks 32nd overall (403.7 yards per game allowed), 32nd against the pass (287.2) and tied 24th in points (24.1). Over the past five games, it’s yielded averages of 460.6 total yards, 335.6 passing yards and 30.4 points. The Vikings have given up 23 completions of at least 20 yards during that stretch, second-most in the league.
But again, are the Colts capable of continuing the onslaught? Doubt it. They’re 29th in yards per play (4.9), 26th in yards per rush (4.0) and 28th in yards per pass play (5.9). They’re 31st in scoring (16.1) and have gone for more than 20 only twice.
This would be an ideal time for Matt Ryan to limber up his 37-year-old arm and attack the Vikings down the field. But a lack of protection – 46 sacks, tied for most in the league – and what appears to be Ryan’s lack of trust in that protection have reduced the passing game to short- and medium-range routes. Deep shots are few and far between.
The Colts have just three completions of at least 40 yards, all from rookie wideout Alec Pierce. The Vikings’ Justin Jefferson has six, tied for most in the league.
Ryan’s perimeter protection will be tested once again by Za’Darius Smith (9.5 sacks) and Danielle Hunter (7.0). Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Patrick Peterson are featured in the secondary.
Get JT going:
This is our weekly mention of Jonathan Taylor and his possible impact on whatever the offense does. Establish him early and lean on him throughout. Yes, that’s tough to do without at least the threat of a deep passing game – defenses simply crowd the line of scrimmage – but trying to beat anyone with a one-dimensional passing game that can’t keep the quarterback out of harm’s way is foolhardy.
Taylor is as healthy as he’s been all season and running with more decisiveness and burst. He’s averaged 95 yards per game and 4.7 per attempt over his last five games.
The Vikings’ run defense has run hot and cold. It’s limited opponents to 78 yards or fewer four times, but has been gouged for at least 120 on seven occasions. Not surprisingly, they allowed an average of 149.3 yards on the ground in the losses to the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions.
Avoid a track meet:
This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Gus Bradley’s defense must bring its ‘A’ game. While Minnesota’s defense is a mess, there’s nothing wrong with the offense.
There’s Justin Jefferson and his league-leading 1,500 yards. The 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft is 23 and arguably the best wideout in the league. And there’s wideout Adam Thielen (63 catches, 645 yards, 4 TDs) and tight end T.J. Hockenson (36, 302, 1). And let’s not forget running back Dalvin Cook (213 attempts, 950 yards, 8 TDs).
All quarterback Kirk Cousin has to do is make good decisions and distribute the football accordingly. He’s passed for 3,358 yards with 20 TDs, nine interceptions and a modest 91.1 rating.
But Cousins is gettable and can be rattled. He’s been sacked 33 times, eighth-most in the league.
The Colts’ task against Cousins and his deep supporting cast is made more difficult with cornerbacks Kenny Moore II (ankle) and Brandon Facyson (illness) being ruled out.
Look for Bradley to have top cornerback Stephon Gilmore shadow Jefferson much of the afternoon. That should be interesting.
And the winner is… Vikings 27, Colts 20.
We’ll keep Minnesota’s one-possession win streak intact, but let’s not complicate things. Too much Vikings offense, not enough Colts offense. We expect Indy’s defense to hold up for much of the game, but eventually wear down.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.