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New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings

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SCOUTING THE MATCHUPS

When the Patriots run – Edge: Vikings

The Vikings run defense has been largely average all season: 18th in yards allowed per game (121.6) and 14th per play (4.39). The Patriots rushing attack has been largely average all season long as well: 17th in yards gained per game (117.2) and 26th per play (4.05). But given the state of the Patriots offensive line, which might be without both David Andrews (thigh) and Isaiah Wynn (foot), Minnesota gets the edge. Nose tackle Harrison Phillips is tough inside and helps linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks make plays. The Patriots promising start to the season on the ground has all but disappeared in recent weeks. Since a breakout career performance against Detroit, Rhamondre Stevenson has been held in check. He was limited to 26 yards on 15 carries against the Jets on Sunday. Damien Harris did provide a lift with eight carries for 65 yards, including runs of 30 and 22 yards. But even with those two explosive plays the Patriots managed just 99 yards on 26 carries for a pedestrian 3.8-yard average. With Andrews and Wynn out of the lineup, the Vikings should be able to contain what has become an ordinary running game.

When the Patriots pass – Edge: Patriots

The Vikings secondary has been terrible all season. Minnesota ranks 31st in both passing yards allowed per game (267.3) and per play (7.59). Corners Patrick Peterson, Andrew Booth and Chandon Sullivan join safeties Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum but the group has struggled. As much as they have struggled, Smith (4) and Peterson (3) have combined for seven picks, so protecting the football will be paramount once again. The one area of concern for the Patriots, again given the banged-up nature of the offensive line, will be pass protection. Minnesota has a pair of productive pass rushers in Za’Darius Smith (9.5) and Danielle Hunter (six), who have combined for 15.5 of the Vikings 26 sacks. Mac Jones has struggled dealing with pressure recently having been sacked 16 times over his last three starts including six in each of the outings against the Jets. If Jones can get comfortable he should be able to use Jakobi Meyers and his tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith effectively. Although it wasn’t consistent, Jones was able to use the latter two at times against the Jets. Given the problems the Vikings had with Dallas’ Tony Pollard as a receiver, look for Stevenson to once again be featured in the passing game. This could be a game that Jones is able to show some progress after several weeks of struggles.

When the Vikings run – Edge: Patriots

On paper the Vikings have the pieces for a dynamic running game. Dalvin Cook is one of the most explosive backs in the league, and he averages 5.1 yards per carry for the season and has 799 yards and six touchdowns. But as a team the Vikings have struggled to establish the run, even with Cook in the lineup. Minnesota ranks 24th in the league, averaging 103.6 rushing yards per game. The ranking improves to 16th in average per carry at 4.5, but aside from the big-play ability of Cook, Minnesota struggles to run it consistently. Alexander Mattison spells Cook but hasn’t been as productive, averaging 3.5 yards per carry on 42 attempts. It won’t be any easier without left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who was forced out of the Cowboys loss with a concussion and won’t play on Thanksgiving. Going against a suddenly stout Patriots front won’t be easy, either. After a couple of shaky outings against Baltimore, Green Bay and Chicago, the Patriots front seven has stiffened considerably. New England shut down the Jets ground game and currently ranks 13th, allowing 114.5 yards per game and 17th in average yards per carry (4.47). Given the recent work of Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise and linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai, the Patriots should be able to contain Cook & Co.

When the Vikings pass – Edge: Patriots

At this point the Patriots defense is on a heater, and given Kirk Cousins’ struggles in big spots expect the strong play to continue. Cousins is the triggerman for a Vikings passing attack that ranks 10th in the league, averaging 234.9 yards per game. That total becomes less impressive when examining a bit closer, however. The Vikings average just 6.07 yards per pass attempt, which ranks 26th in the league. That said, the pieces for an explosive offense exist if Cousins gets hot. He’s been rather pedestrian all season, completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,461 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He’s also been sacked 27 times, including seven in Minnesota’s 40-3 loss to the Cowboys. Cousins has one of the game’s best wideouts in Justin Jefferson (72 receptions, 1,093 yards, four touchdowns), and Adam Thielen (45-492-2) is a solid No. 2. But the Vikings haven’t been able to consistently produce offensively, even with the addition of tight end T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson already faced the Patriots this season as a member of the Lions, but since coming to Minnesota via trade he’s been productive. The tight end has 21 catches in three games in Minnesota and has emerged as Cousins’ security outlet. The Patriots pass defense has been outstanding, ranking fourth in the league in both yards allowed per game (188.3) and per play (5.83). And with Matthew Judon (13 sacks) terrorizing opposing quarterbacks expect that strong play to continue.

Special Teams – Edge: Patriots

Rookie Marcus Jones has flashed explosiveness as a punt returner since taking over the role in early October. That flash turned into a blaze with his 84-yard walk-off touchdown to beat the Jets with the game’s only touchdown. That lifted the Patriots into a third-place tie with the Jets and provided a huge lift for the team heading into Thanksgiving. Nick Folk finally proved human as he missed a pair of field goals into the wind against New York, but he remains a huge plus for the Patriots. Minnesota counters with Greg Joseph, who’s connected on 14 of 19 field goals and just 21 of 25 PATs on the season. Michael Palardy replaced the struggling Jake Bailey and had a strong game, averaging 41.1 net yards on his seven punts. Minnesota’s Ryan Wright is enjoying a solid season with 23 of his 48 punts downed inside the 20 with no touchbacks. He’s averaging a solid 43.3 net yards on the season. Jones gives the Patriots an edge in the return game against Minnesota’s Jalen Reagor, who averages just 6.8 yards per punt return. Kene Nwangwu is more effective on kickoffs, averaging 23.9 yards with a long of 39. Both teams have been effective from a coverage standpoint, but Jones give the Patriots the advantage.

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