EAGAN, Minn. — Sunday will mark 10 days since the Vikings last played a game. Minnesota used the extra time between contests to correct mistakes ahead of its Week 3 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Vikings (0-2) are minus-six in turnover differential yet only a minus-nine in point differential. Hosting the Chargers (0-2) at U.S. Bank Stadium presents an opportunity to get back on track.
"It's been a good week at practice. These guys have really been purposeful and intentional with how we've handled everything this week with a little extra time to prepare," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "Now our focus is solely on being a confident group to go put all that preparation in play against a really good football team. I'm looking forward to being back at home in front of our home crowd and getting that environment to help bring us home, hopefully with our first win, but it will be a heck of a challenge."
O'Connell couldn't be more familiar with the challenge the Chargers present. He spent the 2020 season with Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley when both were on the Rams coaching staff under Sean McVay. The two became best friends.
Staley calls a defense responsible for containing the Vikings second-ranked passing attack. Quarterback Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in passing touchdowns, and Justin Jefferson is first in receiving yards.
But Minnesota is eager to establish its running game that ranks last in the NFL with 34.5 yards per game.
The Vikings traded for running back Cam Akers and signed free agent guard Dalton Risner this week, but it's possible that the debuts for either won't be this Sunday.
O'Connell said he is confident in Alexander Mattison as the team's lead back on Sunday.
"Nothing changes for him. I still have the feelings I had when I first talked about Alex and his role for us and still feel the same," O'Connell said. "There are a thousand things that we can all do better to improve our run game, but as far as Alex Mattison, he's our lead back, and we continue to want to try to build things around him and marry the run and the pass. To improve the run game, it's going to take all 11 guys on the field regardless of what personnel we have, but Alex knows exactly the expectations for him as our lead back, and I think he's excited to continue to attack."
Matchup to Watch: Vikings ground attack vs. Chargers rushing defense
The Vikings have an opportunity to establish their ground attack against the Chargers.
Last week against the Titans, Los Angeles allowed 141 rushing yards. The Chargers game plan centered around stopping All-Pro running back Derrick Henry. Doing so meant keeping an extra defender in the box on most snaps.
The Chargers were in single-high coverage on 58.6 percent of snaps versus Tennessee. However, in Week 1 against the Dolphins, that percentage dropped to 46.7 percent to combat Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and speedster Tyreek Hill. Miami still passed for a robust 466 yards versus the Chargers.
Considering how differently the Titans and Vikings offenses are built, Minnesota should see a lot of two-high shells on Sunday. The Chargers will be without linebacker Eric Kendricks, who played eight seasons with the Vikings.
Minnesota can find some offensive balance on Sunday by running the football.
"We still feel very strongly in Alex [Mattison] and Ty [Chandler] in time in those guys being able to go out there and produce," Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips said. "We know we have to be better in the run game. And a lot of that starts with us. And then with the players fundamentally, and all those things we've addressed and from what I saw yesterday in practice, I think it will improve dramatically."
Six Points: Memorable Week 3 Quotes
Safety Harrison Smith on the defense wanting to create more takeaways:
"That's another area that we have to improve on. The reality is we're, like, minus-6 in turnovers right now, which is a really telling stat line when it comes to wins and losses. So as a defense, we need to pick up our end and create more, whether it's through [forcing] fumbles or interceptions."
Receiver Justin Jefferson on playing every snap:
"I just don't want to miss out on any opportunities. A majority of times when I do come out, we pass the ball. I always think about just staying in the game throughout the whole time. And of course, I want to put force on my matchups. I want to stay in the game just like they're staying in the game. And of course, the conditioning staff has been doing a great job with us, the coaches have been doing a great job with us, just managing the amount of running we're doing throughout the practices and making sure we're good to go on Sundays."
Tight end T.J. Hockenson on preparing for Chargers defense:
"They have a few guys who are really good. They've got Khalil Mack and [Joey] Bosa on each side, and their secondary's pretty good. I mean, Derwin James, and they've got some guys in the secondary who have consistently played at a high level. It's gonna be a fun weekend. We're always excited for the challenge as an offense."
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on the plan for the offensive line after signing Dalton Risner:
"We're going to play the best five combination that we can. I think, looking at the interior offensive line, you'd love to have Garrett [Bradbury] back as fast as possible. … We spent a lot of time over this past weekend as a coaching staff, looking at our run game, looking at what we've done, what we can clearly do better, how we can coach it better, how I can call it better, so I think collectively for that group up front, I want them to be the driving force behind that success, and we're going to work through it. And ultimately, just with that depth now, you feel much more comfortable than maybe you would have for the duration of a long season here, knowing we've already played eight guys in eight quarters – so we'll see how it all shakes out. We'll let Dalton get up to speed and continue to pour into Ezra [Cleveland] and Ed [Ingram] and all those interior guys and hopefully get C.D. (Christian Darrisaw) back … this week."
Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores on Theo Jackson stepping in for Josh Metellus:
"Theo's done a really nice job, really, since the beginning of the offseason program, and he's really built and gotten better day after day after day. So, it really wasn't a surprise that he went in there and was productive. I think the way he prepares gives him an opportunity to go onto the field and step in, in a big game like that. And really early on, give up what was a big play for them but then turn around and make several very good plays for us that helped us within the game. He'll continue to build and get better. We'll try to get him more opportunities. I think he's earned that."
Why did Jackson go in ahead of Lewis Cine?
"I think Lewis is doing a lot of good things. He's obviously worked back from the injury a year ago. Like Theo and a lot of our young players, he's gotten better and developed. Where we sit right now, we just feel like Theo is gonna be the next guy in, and I think Theo has earned that. We'll continue to go that way."
Vikings Legend Kyle Rudolph on returning to Minnesota to retire as a Viking:
"I joked around a few times that you look around at my career, and that's what I was. Obviously, I spent the majority of my career here. It meant everything for me. I had the opportunity to go play for two other organizations, but just what this organization means to me … it's far more than an organization and a team; it's a family. The Wilfs were always very adamant, especially after my time here was over, that I was always a member of this family."
Cousins needs one touchdown pass to move into sole possession of second place in franchise history. Cousins is tied with Tommy Kramer (159). After that, only Fran Tarkenton has thrown more scores for Minnesota (239).
With four more TD passes, Cousins will move into the top 20 all-time in NFL history. He trails Dave Krieg by three entering Week 3 after passing Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen and Dan Fouts with four at Philadelphia.
Jefferson is the fifth player since 1970 to have 150-plus receiving yards in Weeks 1 and 2 of a season and the first since Steve Smith, Sr., in 2011. The other three players are Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner (1981), James Lofton (1983) and Tim Brown (1997). No player has ever started a season with three consecutive games of 150-plus receiving yards.
Kyle Rudolph, I'll always remember you as being one of the best tight ends the Vikings ever had. I was sad to hear when you were [released]. I'm sad to hear you're even retiring now. I know that if you were still playing you and T.J. would be one hell of a tandem. Who knows, maybe this could really happen Kyle? You're the best.
— Patrick Stauffacher
Love starting this week's segments with some thoughts of goodwill toward Rudy, who officially retired from football this week but plans to continue his philanthropic efforts. It's so easy to understand why Rudolph is so beloved here based on his on-field results and positive off-field impacts.
It was a real treat to cover his playing career and see firsthand (and relay through content) the differences he made in the lives of so many.
He's completely at peace with his decision and has so much to look forward to as he makes a foray into broadcasting games and expands his community work.
Rudolph did mention that he believes the position group is in really good shape going forward, noting the current top tandem of Hockenson and Josh Oliver. It will be neat to see the reception Rudolph receives during Sunday's game. He's earned a great ovation from the fans.
I don't understand our plan as such. O'Connell insists that we become the Minnesota Rams. I mean, Cam Akers in exchange for [a 2026 draft pick]. He's averaged 1.3 yards over the past three years, compared with Kareem Hunt's 4.3 over the same time. We let Hunt walk away, why? They know they need help at the RB position, didn't want to pay [Dalvin] Cook, and they probably feel that Mattison may not be the answer but seriously, Cam Akers?
I don't get it.
— Nicholas Balkou
As mentioned earlier in this post, O'Connell reiterated his faith in Mattison to be the team's lead back. The run game requires all 11 players doing things the right way over and over and over again. There are specifics within each run play that must be executed by everyone. NFL defenders are good enough to cause disruptions.
Vikings coaches took a deep dive to identify all the hiccups the running game has encountered so far. It's really kind of unprecedented to struggle so much in the running game but deliver as much success with moving the football as the Vikings have had so far in 2023. The biggest problem has been coughing up the pigskin after advancing it to prime scoring position or deep within Vikings territory.
O'Connell worked with Akers in Los Angeles and likes the way he runs the football. Akers' promise as a rookie second-round pick in 2020 was derailed in 2021 by an Achilles injury that Akers suffered just before that training camp. He returned for the postseason to help the Rams win Super Bowl LVI.
Akers said Friday that he knows "90 percent" of the playbook, and O'Connell said the running back is in great shape.
The deal involved a conditional swap of picks in 2026 between the Vikings (a sixth for Minnesota) and Rams (a seventh) if certain performance metrics are hit. The exchange may seem a little odd, but the trade prevented Akers possibly being picked up via waivers by another team.
It's unlikely that Akers will play against the Chargers, but his knowledge of so much of the system gives him a chance to contribute faster.
I wanted to ask why the Vikings won't consider different offensive line combinations instead of going forward with the same starting group every week? They signed David Quessenberry from Buffalo and now Dalton Risner from Denver. Why not try guys on other parts of the line? Skol!
— Joshua Kiel in Owatonna, Minnesota (Lifelong fan since 1987)
Appreciate this question. Much of the communication in this space and from the Vikings to other outlets through media sessions was a belief that continuity for the offensive line would yield results.
Minnesota brought back each of its starters on the offensive line from a year ago, as well as multiple reserves to add continuity among its depth.
The problem is, so far this season, that the Vikings have played eight offensive linemen in eight quarters of football.
Bradbury leaving the Tampa Bay game just a few plays into the season, and Christian Darrisaw suffering an ankle injury in Week 1 that prevented him from playing on short rest in Week 2 was less than ideal.
Not having a starting left tackle and center against a group that features many players who helped the Eagles lead the league in sacks in 2022 is less than ideal, especially at their place.
Olisaemeka Udoh started in Darrisaw's place but left the Eagles game with a quadriceps tendon injury that ended his season. Quessenberry, who was acquired after his release by Buffalo, relieved Udoh and showed his readiness at the end of the game.
Austin Schlottmann has been filling in for Bradbury, who is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Chargers.
Risner has only been here for a few days, but he sounds ready to accept any role, which included time on the defensive scout team this week to help the offense prepare for the Chargers. O'Connell said the Vikings want the best five, so there could be some changes as the season progresses, but they've also made it pretty clear that Darrisaw and Brian O'Neill are the bookends and that Bradbury will head back to the starting role when able, which is less of a knock on Schlottmann than a compliment toward Bradbury.
The Vikings can be optimistic about trying to clear injury hurdles early and trying to find the right combination going forward.