As the Minnesota Vikings prepare to travel to the New Jersey Meadowlands and play the New York Jets on Sunday, we examine what is impressive and vulnerable about the 3-3 Jets team, and detail ways Minnesota can get out of Jersey with a road victory.
Of all the teams in the NFL, the New York Jets may be the one that the average Minnesota Vikings fan knows little about. In fact, the Jets probably aren’t even the best-known team from New York. The NFC North rarely plays the AFC East. In fact, it was 2014 when the divisions last met.
So let’s take a dive into this 3-3 Jets squad and the Vikings’ chances to beat them this weekend. It’s a road win they would love to have, considering the team will then return to Minnesota for consecutive home games before their bye week.
We’ll start with Teddy Bridgewater. The former beloved Viking quarterback, two full seasons past his abrupt and horrific knee injury, signed with the Jets in the off-season and entered a QB competition with journeyman Josh McCown and newly drafted rookie Sam Darnold from USC.
Teddy, despite playing very well in the preseason, did not win that competition and was promptly traded to the New Orlean Saints, where he will most certainly not be competing for a starting spot for years.
In New York, that left McCown to quickly lose the starting job to rookie Darnold, who has played the entire season. Darnold has shown the same moxie and physical talent as other young NFL QBs in the league, including the Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who both surprised and embarrassed the Vikings in Week 3.
Darnold, the 3rd pick of the 2018 draft, is a big-armed 21-year-old that the Jets traded up handsomely for after being dismissed in the Kirk Cousins offseason sweepstakes. New York seems quite happy with the young man, who despite looking like a rookie on the field at times, has also shown toughness made several big plays on the year.
If they offered a king’s ransom to Cousins, they offered no less than a queen’s to Indianapolis for the third draft spot, swapping first rounders (3 for 14), and giving up their two 2018 2nd-rounders, as well as another 2nd-rounder in 2019.
To date, Darnold has nine touchdowns, seven interceptions, just under 60 percent on completions, and 83.7 quarterback rating in six games.
Still, the New York press has tossed out headlines such as: “Kirk Cousins free-agent gambit may have gifted Jets’ a franchise QB.”
Ah, New York. Not a subtle town.
In consecutive wins in the last two weeks, the Jets have used big plays from their running game to whip the Denver Broncos, and seven field goals to beat the Indy Colts, both wins coming at home.
In their third straight game in New Jersey, they’ll face a revitalized Minnesota Vikings team that has been battle-tested by three young quarterbacks; the 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo, the Bills’ Josh Allen, and the Cardinals’ Josh Rosen.
Minnesota may have learned a few things. Of them, these young guys can run–and make big-time throws if given time.
New York Ground Game
If you don’t know who Jets running back Isaiah Crowell is, it’s a sure bet Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer does.
In the Jets Week 1 demolition of the Detroit Lions (in Detroit), Crowell ran ten times for 102 yards, a 10.2-yard average. Against Denver in week 5, the tailback set the Jets’ rushing record with 15 carries for 219 yards in a 34-16 upset victory.
But hold the line to the Hall-of-Fame. In Weeks 2, 3, and 4, Crowell carried the ball 45 times for 108 yards, a 2.4-yard average.
This means that New York can indeed execute a running attack against a team not geared up against it. In 2018, the Vikings’ run defense has been good but not great in regard to their past stats, but improvement in the last two weeks has been obvious. The chance that Crowell has a huge game is not impossible, but not likely.
Jets In The Air
New York’s receiving squad is pretty good. Robbie Anderson, at 6-foot-3 is the statistical number one. Anderson, who can beat corners deep, finished the 2017 season with just under 1,000 yards.
Number two is Jermaine Kearse, the former Seattle Seahawk that came to New York in a swap for then-Seattle defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, a big dude who now plays for the good guys in purple-and-gold. New York got a second-round pick in the deal that was crucial in sweetening the pot in the trade to draft Sam Darnold.
Kearse has been a steady receiver and had his best career year in 2017 with 65 catches and 810 yards. He’s no Jerry Rice, but has always been a sneaky threat in his games against Minnesota.
The Jets have also added the much-traveled and always dangerous Terrelle Pryor, but the 6-foot-4 receiver has suffered from a groin injury and has made only 14 receptions all season.
Anderson and Kearse caught passes last year from 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown, and considering New York finished with a 5-11 record, it was no great break from the guy who preceded him, Geno Smith.
So, Darnold has his work in front of him, and little to challenge his development. Except, of course, guys like Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith and the myriad of blitz packages that Mike Zimmer will be throwing at him on Sunday.
But that’s all in day’s work for rookie quarterbacks.
On The New York Defense
I’ll make this simple. Turnovers.
New York turned four takeaways into 20 points last week in their win against Indianapolis. The Jets also rank second in the NFL in forced turnovers coming into Sunday’s game.
This weekend, there are not going to be many fans of Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins on the New York defensive side of the ball. The Jets D also knows that Cousins has an NFL-high six fumbles and has lost five. He is also prone to batted balls, including a remarkable five passes knocked down last week in Arizona.
On defense, the Jets bend a bit but don’t do a lot of breaking. They rank 23rd in total yards allowed, but have kept four of their six opponents under 21 points on the season. If the Vikings don’t want to make this a game where they are chasing a lead from errors, Cousins has to look sharp.
With running back Dalvin Cook and left tackle Riley Reiff again out it will be again up to Latavius Murray and the still-forming Minnesota offense line to take some heat off Cousins and the Vikings air attack. The Jets are no clear mark above the Cardinals on defense, but the game is in enemy territory.
And New Jersey, at that.
One big advantage for the Minnesota offense will be the absence of All-Pro cornerback like Patrick Peterson shadowing Stefon Diggs in the Jets’ defensive secondary. No doubt Diggs wanted in on the fun that Adam Thielen was having last week, but Peterson was on top of him all game long.
Both Diggs and Thielen have become mature and reliable players as well as teammates. If both receivers play to form, the Minnesota Vikings have a crack at putting the Jets on their heels and playing pressure against the young Sam Darnold.
That’s the ‘Escape From New York’ plan Mike Zimmer wants to see.