The Vikings will conclude a three-game home stand Sunday by hosting the New York Jets and will look to win back-to-back games for the second time this season following their victory over the Carolina Panthers last week.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Jets prepare to battle.
1. Homecoming for Decker, HarvinSunday's game in Minnesota marks a homecoming for two Jets receivers – Eric Decker and Percy Harvin. Decker's homecoming is with respect to the University of Minnesota, site of Sunday's game and alma mater of the receiver. Decker, a Cold Spring, Minn. native, set program records with 227 receptions and 3,119 receiving yards, and in 2008 as a junior he posted Gophers-record 84 receptions for 1,074 yards (12.8 avg.). His success with the Gophers led to the Denver Broncos selecting him in the third round (No. 87 overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft and after four seasons there he signed with the Jets as a free agent.
As for Harvin, Sunday's game is a Vikings homecoming. Harvin was a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2009 and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors that season while helping the Vikings advance to the NFC title game. Harvin played for the Vikings through the 2012 season and was then traded to the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks traded Harvin to the Jets this season.
2. Buckle Up – Jets Running Right at VikingsThe Jets may be 2-10 and without much production in the passing game, but that does not mean they'll be pushovers on Sunday. In fact, the way they ran the ball last and have been running it all season suggests the Vikings are in for a grinder. New York boasts the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL and last week in Miami the offensive line paved the way for eight different rushers to carry the ball 49 times for 277 yards and one touchdown, led by Chris Ivory (16 carries for 62 yards) and Chris Johnson (17 carries for 105 yards). Defensively, the Vikings must get right versus the run. They rank No. 24 in run defense, are allowing 4.4 yards per carry and have surrendered nine rushing touchdowns. Expect things to get physical up front when the Vikings defense is on the field battling the Jets offense.
3. Bridgewater to Strike Through the Air vs. Jets?Vikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater continues to improve and progress. Last week he notched the fourth win of his career, doing so while demonstrating improvement with his early-game production and deep-pass accuracy. As solid as Bridgewater was in the victory, his numbers weren't gaudy. Those looking for the next step in the talented QBs career may be looking for a big box score-type game. Could this be the week it happens? The Jets, while stout against the run, have been porous vs. the pass. New York is allowing 7.4 yards per attempt, has given up 27 touchdowns through the air (compared to just four interceptions), and has had teams generate a season-long passer rating of 106.6 against them (second worst in the League). The primary problem for New York's pass defense has been injuries in the secondary, where former first-round pick Dee Milliner and 2014 third-round pick Dexter McDougle are on injured reserve and projected contributor Dimitri Patterson never made it to the regular season.
4. Greenway Aiming for Team Lead in TacklesChad Greenway entered 2014 having led the Vikings in tackles for six consecutive seasons, tying a franchise record held by Scott Studwell. Three games into the season, though, Anthony Barr had 32 tackles to Greenway's 25 and the veteran linebacker then missed the next three games. Through the first six weeks, Barr had 58 tackles to Greenway's 25. Since returning from injury in Week 7, Greenway has gone on a tear, tallying 68 tackles (he now has 93 for the season) and moving to within six of Barr's total (99). It's not as if Barr's production has fallen off, either. In the last six games, Barr has totaled 41 tackles, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and 2.0 sacks.
Granted, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is not into monitoring individual statistics and that mindset is carried forth by his players, so don't expect Barr or Greenway to comment on this topic. But that Greenway could break a franchise record that is held by such a revered figure in team history and that has stood for so long is a storyline to follow.
5. Vikings Focused on Seeing the Small PictureAs made clear by Zimmer’s post-game locker room speech on Sunday, the Vikings are not focused on doing things now to build for the future. The Vikings are also not looking at the prospects of finishing the season on a five-game winning streak while scoreboard watching to make an improbable run at the postseason. Instead, Zimmer insists his focus and his team's focus is on what's directly in front of them – Sunday's contest versus the Jets.
"Everybody was asking me about, 'well are you getting ready for next year, are you doing this,'" Zimmer said in his post-game press conference on Sunday. "I told the team all week long and continually tell them, I told them last night, that we're about this week coming up and the week after that and the week after that. I don't ever want to be thinking about next year. Not this year, next year, the year after that. I want to be thinking about this year all the time."