EAGAN, Minn. — The Jets are going green with their Color Rush uniforms Sunday, but the game against the Vikings could turn in the red zone.
The Vikings enter the Week 7 game against the Jets tied with Tennessee for the second-best red-zone defense in the league. Minnesota has allowed nine touchdowns on 24 trips (37.5 percent) inside the 20-yard line.
There has been a clear correlation of red-zone dominance to success in the standings for Minnesota. In the four games where the Vikings haven’t lost (with three wins and a tie), Minnesota has kept opponents out of the end zone in 14 of 19 tries.
New York’s offense, meanwhile, ranks at the bottom of the NFL with just six scores on 20 trips (30 percent) in the crucial area. The Jets have converted touchdowns on just three of their past 12 trips inside the 20-yard line.
“We don’t want any team to get into the end zone and score. We want to keep everyone out, no matter who it is,” said Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly. “That’s when it gets down to crunch time, and it’s time to bow up and make a stand.”
Weatherly explained what makes a solid red-zone defense.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Weatherly said. “We have good play calls, we execute well … there’s less space, so the back end is a lot tighter, and our linebackers are tighter.
“Teams tend to simplify what they do in the red zone, so that allows us to pin our ears back as a front and trust our reads and our keys,” Weatherly added.
On the other side of the ball, Minnesota’s offense will see a strong red-zone defense as the Jets are ninth, having allowed nine touchdowns on 20 red-zone trips (45 percent).
The Vikings are tied for 18th in the league as the unit has converted on nine of 17 attempts (52.5 percent).
Minnesota was two of three in Sunday’s win against Arizona, as quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen and ran for a 7-yard score.
The Vikings had been pass heavy before Cousins’ rushing touchdown, as eight of their nine red-zone touchdowns came through the air.
Minnesota doesn’t mind how it scores, but Vikings tight end David Morgan said the offense does want to be able to run the ball consistently inside the 20-yard line.
“Conceptually, you have to be able to run the ball like that,” Morgan said. “Being able to run the ball in short yardage like that … even getting two or three yards a chunk is really big down there.”
Morgan laughed when it was suggested that the red zone is a place where anything goes, an area where the offense is doing all it can to get six points while the defense is using any means necessary to keep the opponent out of the end zone.
But he also suggested that no-holds-barred approach is accurate, too.
“No doubt. The red zone is one of our biggest points of emphasis every week because it’s a big thing down there,” Morgan said. “We’re always trying to get as many touchdowns as we can and limit our kicking game because touchdowns are the way to go.
“We’re continuing to learn what everyone can do and we keep putting in more stuff and figuring out what works and doesn’t work,” Morgan added. “We continue to shape our game and just hope to get better and better.”
Vikings wary of Williams
The Vikings will face a tough player in the middle of New York’s defense.
Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Southern California.
The 24-year-old already has a Pro Bowl to his name and has 15 sacks and two forced fumbles in 54 career games.
“He’s a very explosive player, and just because guys don’t get sacks doesn’t mean they don’t affect the game,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “He’s a strong, physical pass rusher, and I think they’ve got a good amount of five-man pressures that allow him to get a lot of 1-on-1s. That’s been helping him.”
Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson played with Williams for two seasons in New York.
“He’s good. He’s real good,” Richardson said. “High ceiling, tapping into his potential. He’s ballin’. From when I left, he’s still doing the same thing.”
Jets thin in secondary
The Jets defense ranks second in the NFL with 15 takeaways, but the unit could be down a few players on Sunday.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles said safety Marcus Maye and cornerback Buster Skrine will not play against the Vikings.
Maye has a 104-yard interception on the season (but was tackled shy of the end zone), while Skrine has one of New York’s five defensive fumble recoveries.
Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who has one of the Jets 10 interceptions, is listed as doubtful.
New York could be down three starters if Johnson doesn’t play. Skrine is New York’s top nickel cornerback.
“Going in to each game, you really count on them having their best guys there, and then as you get to the game you might change a few things based on availability, but we always prepare for the best guys,” Zimmer said.