EAGAN, Minn. — The need for Minnesota to bounce back from losses has not been too frequent in 2022, but on both previous occasions after a loss, the Vikings have returned to the win column.
After falling short in Detroit against the Lions this past Sunday, the Vikings (10-3) return home on a short week to host the Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1) Saturday at noon (CT).
The game will be televised by NFL Network and kicks off a tripleheader of matchups that day.
Minnesota rebounded from its losses to Philadelphia in Week 2 and Dallas in Week 11 with one-score victories each of the following weeks against Detroit and New England, respectively.
The Colts are coming out of their bye week having lost three consecutive games and six of their past seven. Indianapolis, which underwent a coach change in Week 10, has won its games after byes in each of the past four seasons. Minnesota is winless against the past four opponents it has faced after their byes.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said his team has done a great job this season of responding from losses with solid performances.
"It all comes back to our preparation and what we do to prepare for Saturday in a way where we'll go out with confidence that we can play up to our standard and try to get a victory this week against a tough team with a lot of talented players on both sides," O'Connell said. "We've got to have a great plan, be really detailed in our preparation, work the fundamentals, techniques, do the little things right that I think will contribute to us having an opportunity to win the football game."
Minnesota will also have an opportunity to clinch the NFC North division with a win or tie against the Colts or a Detroit loss or tie Sunday against the New York Jets.
Wide receiver Adam Thielen was one of the Minnesota players on the roster the last time the Vikings earned a division title in 2017. Thielen said he's gained experience over the years for how crucial this final stretch of games can be.
"So many years in my career it's coming down to the last two, three games and must-win games," Thielen said. "You think about early in the season, sometimes you're like, 'Well, it is what it is. We've got a long season.' But then you tend to go to those seasons where you miss the playoffs by one game or maybe you made the playoffs by one game and you can look back and see the early games like, 'Man, if we would've just finished that one game, we'd be in the playoffs right now' or 'Man, I'm glad we finished that one game because we are in the playoffs by one game.' So when you start to realize that, you start to realize how important every single week is.
"I think that's why last week was so frustrating because it's like, 'Man, we're right there.' You have that opportunity and you're like, 'We've got to do it. We've got to go win,'" Thielen continued. "We've got to go treat every game as a must-win, backs against the wall, and I think when you have that mentality, you look back and you're like, 'Whoa, we're already at this point in the season, that's crazy.' But every game is so important."
View game action images between matchups of the Vikings and Colts through the years.
Thielen added his message to the younger players on the team is to not focus on the things that are out of their control but to instead maintain attention on the next opponent.
"Really the goal is to come out here to practice to get better, get closer to being prepared for a really tough game on Saturday. I feel like it doesn't matter who you're playing, when you're playing, how you're playing, this league is difficult to win and you've got to bring your best on Saturday," Thielen said. "I think that's the message to the young guys, 'Hey, don't worry about this or that, what seed you are or how close you are to making the playoffs.' Don't worry about that because if you do that and start focusing on those things, this league will swarm you up pretty fast."
Here's what Sam Thiel, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com will be watching for in Saturday's game:
Can the Vikings defense fix its recent issues? | By Sam Thiel
Over the past month, the Vikings defense has had some glaring problems.
Turnovers and sacks have been dwindling. Opposing yards and points have increased substantially.
The past five games, Minnesota has allowed 460.6 total yards per game and an average of 30.4 points to its opponents, the most in the NFL in both categories. It has also only recorded six takeaways and sacks during that stretch.
As a result, the Vikings are currently ranked last in the league in team defense.
Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said Wednesday giving up that much success to opponents will "never be the standard of the organization."
"You've got to be hard on yourself in every situation. You've got to look at the details. That's where you'll improve, but our guys are engaged. These guys work really hard for us. As a staff and players together, we'll work through this. We always have. We always do," Donatell said. "This is a part of it that you want to embrace as a coach, of looking at people and how do you bring them together to work out of this. This will be good for everybody in here to see. We'll work out of this."
Minnesota's defensive struggles have primarily come against the pass. The Vikings rank last in the NFL, giving up 287.2 yards per game through the air.
"We'd like to take some of the air out of the coverage," Donatell said. "You want to be tighter. Whether you're in man or zone, we've got to be tighter on our matches and tighter on people. That makes it harder for people to run their passing game."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.
Donatell added playing tighter coverage will help the team's pass rush get to the quarterback more.
"We like our four-man rush and they have been so close so many times," Donatell said. "We get a lot of hurries from this group. And it's just that extra little thing if you can hold the coverage just a little bit longer a lot of those rushes will work with four."
An area the Vikings haven't struggled in as much is defending the run. Minnesota currently ranks 16th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 116.5. The Vikings have been even better the past three contests, giving up just under 100 yards (99.7) per game, which ranks 10th.
Minnesota will have the challenge of trying to slow down Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor, who is ninth in attempts (192), 10th in rushing yards (861) and tied for 20th in rushing touchdowns (4).
As a team, Indianapolis is just 26th in rushing (100.2 yards per game) and second-to-last in scoring at 16.1 points per game.
Donatell said being able to work through the challenges his defense has been presented with will ultimately help them improve.
"When you get in tough spots in this league, it's a neat time to work through the strain. Because it's part of it," Donatell said. "You don't win every week. You don't have success every week. But it's that strain that helps you sustain through any of these challenges. So we're up for it. I love the way our guys work. The staff, we've got good minds in there, and we'll do what it takes to adjust and change and improve."
Getting the run game back on track | By Lindsey Young
The Vikings will look to bounce back in their run game after a difficult Week 14 outing.
Dalvin Cook was stifled last week by Detroit, totaling just 23 total yards and 1.5 yards per carry.
Cook and his team certainly weren't happy about the ground game results; they do, however, feel they can get back on track and have a more balanced offense Saturday against the Colts.
"We've just gotta go correct it," Cook said. "There's no sense of panic in this locker room. Great leadership, great coaches. We've just gotta go out here and correct what [we need to] correct."
One aspect that should help is returning Christian Darrisaw to the starting lineup at left tackle. Darrisaw has missed time while in concussion protocol but is now off the injury report and expected to play this weekend. The Vikings also are hoping to have Garrett Bradbury return. The center has been dealing with a back injury and is listed as "questionable" for Saturday.
"We've been playing together all year. So the communication, the blocks … everything we're trying to do, they know how to do it as a tight-knit group," Cook said. "They've been playing together all year, so that'll obviously be a plus for us to have those guys back."
The Colts this season have been allowing opponents an average of 126.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL. Getting some big plays from Cook would be advantageous for Minnesota as it looks to defeat Indy and clinch the NFC North at home. Perhaps just as important for the overall offense, the Vikings need to eliminate negative runs that put the team in adverse down-and-distances.
Prepping for Saturday's influence | By Craig Peters
The Vikings will be playing on a Saturday for the first time in five years.
And they'll be facing a Colts squad being led by Interim Head Coach and former center Jeff Saturday, who was hired before Indianapolis' Week 10 game at Las Vegas. The Colts topped the Raiders and had the Eagles nearly defeated the following week before a late rally by Philadelphia.
Indianapolis followed that home loss with another to Pittsburgh before suffering a 54-19 loss at Dallas before its bye.
That's a four-game sample size with dramatically different games for the Vikings to study what impressions Saturday has had on the team and what he might have tried to change.
O'Connell said he can see "some characteristics of their head coach that have kind of come out over these last few weeks."
"I think they want to be a physical team, which they've always been, with a really good offensive line and really impactful players around their front defensively," O'Connell said. "They've got one of the premier running backs in football, so it makes sense to want to run the football offensively and set up everything you want to do as a complete offense.
"And then defensively, they've always been really, really good – well-coached in attacking the football, they're technically sound, mentally sound. All 11 guys are going to be flying around, and we've got to match that, both in the run and pass game, protection, all those things," he added. "I know that although it was a change there, the characteristics of a lot of their players have come out when I'm studying the tape, and you can see some new things that maybe Coach Saturday's had a responsibility in instilling what he believes. That's every coach in this league – just wants their team to carry characteristics that they feel can help them win."
Saturday's first four games included an uptick in the use of Taylor.
In six games from Week 1 to Week 9, Taylor averaged 17.8 carries and 77.0 rush yards per game and scored one rushing touchdown.
In the past four games under Saturday, Taylor has averaged 21.3 carries and 99.8 rushing yards per game. He's also scored three rushing touchdowns.