Capitalizing on the opponent’s injured defensive line will no doubt be what head coach Mike Vrabel plans for as the Tennessee Titans travel to Minnesota to do battle with a winless Vikings squad on Sunday afternoon. The Titans start the season 2-0 for the first time since 2008 while the Vikings enter the Week 3 matchup singing a different tune. Minnesota sits at 0-2 for the first time since 2013 when Christian Ponder was under center for the team.
Teams are suffering injuries all over the league at what seems to be a record pace early in 2020. The Vikings are no different. Minnesota will be without linebacker Anthony Barr, as well as defensive end Danielle Hunter, on Sunday. Barr and Hunter are the two highest paid members on the Vikings’ defense.
Vikings will be without two of their top three defenders on Sunday. No Danielle Hunter and now no Anthony Barr. https://t.co/z5UVcH4RMj
— Mike Herndon (@MikeMiracles) September 21, 2020
Typically the signal caller on defense for the Vikings, Barr suffered a season ending pectoral tear injury, which occurred in the second quarter of Minnesota’s Week 2 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The Vikings typically use two linebackers, Barr being one and Eric Kendricks the other. Without the four-time Pro Bowler available, the Vikings defense, which has given up an average of 35.5 points per game — 31st in the NFL –could be in some trouble come Sunday.
With LB Anthony Barr out for the season, the #Vikings have Eric Kendricks, Eric Wilson and rookie Troy Dye as their starters at linebacker. They also have Ryan Connelly and Hardy Nickerson is a candidate to be signed off the practice squad. He played special teams in Week 1.
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 21, 2020
Danielle Hunter was placed on the IR prior to the season with a tweak to a neck injury he apparently suffered in the pre-season. The continued loss of Hunter takes away Minnesota’s biggest threat coming off the edge. Hunter has totaled 14.5 sacks in his last two seasons earning consecutive nods to the Pro Bowl. The Vikings’ defensive line also lost four-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Everson Griffen to free agency in the offseason. Griffen had eight sacks in 2019 to complement Hunter’s dominance on the other side of the D-Line.
What does Minnesota’s injury report mean for the Titans? Well for starters, the Vikings’ front seven will be without its two biggest pieces on Sunday. This Vikings defense has already struggled to stop the run early on this season, allowing opponents to rush for an average of 154.5 yards per game (28th in the NFL). The team clearly missed Barr last week as Colts’ rookie Jonathan Taylor burst onto the scene with 101 yards on 26 totes. Derrick Henry stands to have a potential monster outing on Sunday.
Genuine question: What concerns you more — the Vikings' pass defense or run defense? I can't decide.
— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) September 20, 2020
The Vikings also displayed a vulnerability to the Colts’ tight ends after Barr departed from the game last week. Colts’ tight end Mo Alie-Cox reeled in five catches for 111 yards as the Vikings struggled to match up with him in Barr’s absence. Titans’ tight end Jonnu Smith led the team in receiving against the Jaguars last week with four grabs for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Smith already has three touchdowns on the young season, but it would not be much of a surprise if he, along with Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt, were able to inflict some damage on that Minnesota defense.
You hate to refer to any game three weeks into the season as a “must win,” but that is exactly what Sunday is for the Vikings. Since 1980, only 3.4% of NFL teams that start the season 0-3 have made it to the playoffs. The Titans offense matches up well with a banged up Vikings defense. If the Titans can take advantage of favorable matchups in Minnesota’s front seven, Tennessee should be able to head into Week 4 with a 3-0 record for the first time since *checks notes* 2008.
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