(WCCO)- The Minnesota Vikings are in control of their playoff hopes heading into Week 15. If they beat the Chargers this Sunday, followed by wins over the Packers and Bears in the final two weeks, they are assured of a postseason berth.
While Sunday’s matchup against the 5-8 Chargers is, on paper, the easiest of the final three games, Los Angeles presents some tough challenges for the Vikings. As NFL on CBS analyst Trent Green points out, the Chargers defense, led by coordinator Gus Bradley, has been better than they’re given credit for.
“Their defense has been good. I like what Gus Bradley is doing on the defensive side, they’re getting pressure with (Melvin) Ingram and (Nick) Bosa. It has been a big lift for them to get Derwin James back who missed most of the season because of that foot injury,” said Green. “I think that is going to be the key for the Chargers. Being able to put consistent pressure on Kirk Cousins and try to take it out of his hands.”
The return of James bolsters a secondary that was one of the league’s better units last season and it allows more time for Ingram and Bosa to attempt to collapse the pocket. Cousins has had difficulties when facing pressure before but, Green notes, the Vikings ability to dominate on the ground with Dalvin Cook gives the quarterback more room to operate. That makes it likely that the Chargers focus will be on slowing the star running back.
“With that said, Dalvin Cook is really how that offense runs. It runs through Dalvin Cook and the run game and that is when they get their opportunities to take some shots,” said Green. “The main key for the Chargers will be trying to shut down Dalvin Cook and making it a one-dimensional type game. If you do make it one-dimensional with Bosa and Ingram coming off the edges, it presents a problem.”
Stopping Cook has proven difficult for defenses this season with the 24-year-old averaging 85.2 yards per game and 4.6 per carry. The Chargers run defense has been just average this year, allowing opponents over 108 yards per game. The Vikes got even better news this week as wide receiver Adam Thielen is reportedly likely to return from the hamstring injury that has kept him out of the past four games. With Thielen in the mix, Green thinks that the Vikings will be able to spread the Chargers pass defense thin having to cover their multiple options.
But, perhaps the biggest advantage the Vikings have in this game is the fact that they still have something to play for. While Kirk Cousins and company are in the thick of the playoff race, the Chargers have been eliminated and are just playing out the string. As a former player, Green knows that situation can be difficult to “keep everybody focused on the task at hand.”
The Chargers and Vikings kickoff the late window for CBS at 3:05 p.m. Central Time.