The Skinny Post: Vikings Return Home to Begin 3-Game Sprint for Postseason Berth

EAGAN, Minn. — Minnesota’s push for the playoffs continues, but the Vikings will have a new look to their offense Sunday against the Dolphins.

Kevin Stefanski is now the Vikings Interim Offensive Coordinator after the Vikings let go of John DeFilippo earlier this week.

Stefanksi, who has been with the Vikings since 2006, had been the Vikings quarterbacks coach in 2017 and this season.

“All of us, it’s been a little bit different, and we are working through it,” Stefanski said. “We are charged with winning a game on Sunday. Time doesn’t stop for anybody.

“I’ve been really impressed with our players. I’ve been really impressed with our assistant coaches,” Stefanski added. “We are kind of charging forward and putting a game plan together.”

It remains to be seen how much different the Vikings offense will look going forward, but Minnesota has three games left to try and secure a spot in the postseason.

The Vikings currently sit at 6-6-1 and are the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoff picture. Minnesota is also alive for the division title, but it needs some help.

Miami is also in contention for the playoffs on the AFC side. The Dolphins are 7-6 and have won two straight games.

Kickoff is noon (CT) Sunday from U.S. Bank Stadium.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday’s contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Win or go home | By @Eric_L_Smith

The Vikings came into the season with lofty expectations that included a deep playoff run and a division title.

Yet as the league heads into the final stretch of the season, a division title is almost out of reach for the Vikings. But a playoff berth is not, and if Minnesota can get in, who knows what will happen?

But if you want to make the dance, it starts with a win Sunday at home against Miami, a team that has struggled mightily on the road this season. The Dolphins are 1-5 on the road (with their only road win coming against Oakland), and they have lost five straight games away from sunny Florida.

Miami’s defense has allowed nearly 30 points and more than 400 yards per game on the road, while the Dolphins offense averages a hair over 17 points per game and has eclipsed the 300-yard mark just twice on an opponents’ home field.

The Vikings have one of the best home-field advantages in the league, including a loud and raucous fan base that makes it difficult for opposing offenses, especially on third down.

This one is simple: win, and the Vikings increase their already favorable odds of playing in January. Lose, and a roller-coaster season becomes even more frustrating.

A step up on special teams | By @LindseyMNSports

Vikings players and coaches alike have talked about ways their respective areas need to improve after back-to-back losses, and special teams is not exempt from that discussion.

Against the Seahawks in Week 14, kicker Dan Bailey had a field goal attempt blocked when the officials didn’t penalize Bobby Wagner for leapfrogging the line with help from teammates.

The previous week at New England, punter Matt Wile was late getting onto the field to hold for Bailey, and that field goal also was unsuccessful. Minnesota’s return game and coverage teams have been up and down all season. As of late, running back Ameer Abdullah has shown flashes at kick returner after signing with the Vikings in November.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he’d like to see a step forward across the board on special teams.

“We need to do a better job in all areas,” Zimmer told media members this week. “I’d like to be a lot more explosive on special teams than what we have been.”

Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said the units “need to get better.”

“We’re shuffling guys in and out like most teams are this time of year,” Priefer said. “We’ve got to block them up better, and we’ve got to start this weekend against Miami.”

Complementary football | By @pcraigers

The Vikings have had success during Zimmer’s tenure with making complementary football a key part of victories because of the role that field position plays in the sport.

Offenses have generally protected the football. Even when drives haven’t resulted in points, the unit has moved the sticks and enabled the punt team to flip the field. Conversely, the defense and special teams return units have helped provide advantageous field position.

For whatever reason this year, however, complementary football has been fleeting.

Minnesota’s defense struggled early, and the Vikings were unable to get a victory in Los Angeles, despite scoring 31 points (the second-highest total of the season). Zimmer and the unit were successful in making adjustments since then.

Turnovers have resulted in points for opponents and undermined the defense’s improved performances against other teams in the playoff field.

“I think early in the year, we struggled a little bit defensively,” Zimmer said. “Then the second part of the year, the offense has really struggled. And then special teams really hasn’t helped us flip the field position nearly as much as I would have hoped.”

Stefanski mentioned complementary football three times during his first media session on Thursday.

Can the Vikings connect the dots down the stretch?

“We’ll have to see. I believe that these guys can play good together,” Zimmer said. “We’ll just have to see.”

View all of the cleats that the Vikings players will wear to support their initiatives during "My Cause, My Cleats" Week.

Substantial Stats

— Dolphins running back — and Future Hall of Famer — Frank Gore is fourth all-time with 14,734 career rushing yards. He has rushed for at least 950 yards in 11 of his 13 completed seasons, and is on pace for 944 yards in 2018.

— Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is a Miami native and attended Miami Central High School, where he ran for 4,267 total yards and 64 touchdowns while leading the Rockets to a 52-5 record.

— The last time Minnesota and Miami met in the regular season, the teams combined for 41 points in the fourth quarter in a wacky game that the Dolphins won 37-35.

— Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter has 12.5 sacks through 13 games, which ties his career high set in 2016. Hunter has 38 sacks in his first four seasons with the Vikings, trailing only Jared Allen (62) and Alan Page (39) for the most sacks in his first four seasons in Purple.

Quotable

“Everybody understands the stakes of this particular game and the next couple of games. Our guys are pretty smart guys; they understand that. But I have a lot of confidence in this group. We have really good guys on this team, and they understand where they’re at. There’s obviously pressure, but there’s pressure every single week. That doesn’t change anything. It’s going out and performing and doing the best, and I don’t think that we’ll play tight.”

— Zimmer

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