Wed, 28 Oct 2020

5 Vikings-Titans Storylines to Watch

Minnesota Vikings
24 Sep 2020, 04:37 GMT+10

Craig Peters

The Vikings (0-2) are pivoting from a rough start to the season and preparing to face a tough Titans squad.

Minnesota is yet to play in a close game in 2020, and Tennessee has claimed its wins by two points and three points on clutch kicks by Stephen Gostkowski.

After missing his first three field goal attempts and his second extra point attempt in a Titans uniform, the former Patriot hit a 25-yarder with 17 seconds left in Denver in Week 1. He built on that last week by drilling a 49-yarder with 1:36 remaining to edge Jacksonville.

The noon (CT) tilt will be broadcast by CBS (WCCO in the Twin Cities). It will be just the 14th all-time meeting between the franchises and Tennessee's first appearance at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Here are five storylines to watch this week, as well as a link below to the game preview by the Vikings PR staff and a list of connections between the teams.

Week 3: Vikings-Titans Game Preview [PDF]

1. Reduce the self-harm

The Vikings haven't shown an ability to overcome mistakes so far this season, which has raised the magnitude of each miscue.

Until a team is able to erase errors with key plays, it must avoid making so many mistakes.

As Head Coach Mike Zimmer put it after Sunday's loss in Indianapolis, "We can't start winning until we stop losing."

"And right now, we are doing things to beat ourselves - with the turnovers and the sacks and safeties and penalties on third downs on defense," Zimmer said. "I'm just not going to deal with it anymore."

It will be interesting to see how Zimmer and the Vikings go about correcting the mistakes when team meetings have been different this year because of COVID-19.

The 2015 and 2017 Vikings won the NFC North after 2-2 starts in each season, and last year's squad also opened 2-2 on the way to a 10-6 mark and playoff appearance.

The Vikings can again start a season 2-2, but they can't do so without first getting to 1-2. There's a lot of football season left, and Minnesota has the opportunity to determine what kind of football is played.

2. A Cousins comeback

For some reason, Kirk Cousins and September don't get along as well as the quarterback and October. The data goes beyond Cousins' arrival in Minnesota in 2018 but certainly has been reinforced during his time in purple. What's more, he's been even better in November games.

Here are his career splits for September, October and November from pro-football-reference.com:

But before playing meaningful games in October or November, the Vikings must try to salvage September 2020 with a bounce-back performance from the 15.9 passer rating that Cousins totaled Sunday against the Colts.

In 2018, Cousins suffered three turnovers against the Bills on a day when the Vikings were completely out of whack. He returned the following week and threw for 422 yards and three scores in a high-flying affair claimed by the Rams.

Last season, he struggled at Green Bay and Chicago in September and followed each game with an impressive outing on his way to winning NFC Player of the Month for October.

It's not all on Cousins, but if the QB finds his rhythm, the entire offense will play better.

3. Taming Tannehill

Speaking of comebacks by quarterbacks, how about the wave that Ryan Tannehill is riding?

The former first-round pick of the Dolphins (eighth overall in 2012) has been elite since joining the Titans last season and earning Comeback Player of the Year honors from The Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America.

Tannehill led the NFL in 2019 in passer rating (117.5), yards per attempt (10.2) and yards per completion (13.6).

He's picked up where he left off, completing 47 of 67 passes (70.1 percent) for 488 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating through two weeks is 120.7. By comparison, in six seasons with the Dolphins, Tannehill's career passer rating was 87.0.

The Titans are 9-3 in games started by Tannehill, whose lowest passer rating in a start for Tennessee is 82.3 in a loss at Carolina last November, followed by a 92.2 in a loss to Houston in December.

Here are his stats when starting for the Titans:

4. Corralling 'King Henry'

Prior to Tannehill's surge, the conversation about slowing down the Titans offense began with stopping Derrick Henry. Rest assured, it's still a major goal for the 2019 rushing champ (1,540 yards) who leads the NFL with 56 carries already in 2020.

"King Henry" is a hard person to bring down. Since his 2016 rookie season, he ranks second in the NFL with 97 broken tackles and 2,353 rushing yards after contact.

He'll be facing a Vikings team that, according to Sport Radar, has missed 20 tackles through two games, which ranks fifth-worst in the NFL. Sport Radar assessed 67 missed tackles to the Vikings defense in all of 2019.

5. Vikings backs are on the mat

The Vikings have often thrived as underdogs under Zimmer. The loss of Anthony Barr for the season to a torn pectoral muscle adds to the challenges of a defense under renovation that will play its third game without fellow Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter.

History says no team wants to open a season 0-2 because just 12.1 percent (30 of 247) of teams that have done so between 1990 and 2019 have gone on to make the playoffs.

Nearly a quarter of the teams (78 of 315) that have opened 1-2 in that span made the playoffs. Only 2.7 percent of the teams (four of 146) that opened 0-3 appeared in the postseason.

Six teams from each conference made the playoffs from 1990-2019, and the number of participants has increased to seven from the AFC and seven from the NFC for 2020.

Expect a gritty effort Sunday.

Vikings-Titans Connections

Vikings receiver Tajae Sharpe played for the Titans from 2016-19. He was drafted by Tennessee in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and totaled 92 receptions for 1,167 yards and eight scores in 47 games with the Titans.

Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu spent six months on the Titans coaching staff in 2010.

Titans tight end MyCole Pruitt was a fifth-round pick of the Vikings in 2015. He appeared in all 16 games and made three starts as a rookie. He played in two games for Minnesota in 2016 before joining Chicago. Pruitt played on game for Houston in 2017 and joined Tennessee in 2018.

Titans fullback/running back Khari Blasingame signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Tennessee signed Blasingame off Minnesota's practice squad in November.

Titans tight ends coach Todd Downing coached Vikings tight ends in 2018. Downing, a native of Eden Prairie, began his coaching career in Minnesota as a Vikings intern and coaching assistant (2001-02) and followed as a football systems analyst (2003-04) and offensive quality control coach (2005).

Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons' brother, Dylan Bradley, signed with the Vikings as a rookie free agent in 2017. Bradley spent that season on the Vikings practice squad.

Professional Connections

Vikings P Britton Colquitt and Titans P Brett Kern competed for the Broncos punting job in 2009. Kern won the gig but was released by Denver after six games and immediately claimed by Tennessee. Colquitt returned to Denver in December 2009 and first played for the Broncos in 2010.

Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins and Tennessee LB Will Compton were teammates in Washington, overlapping from 2013-17.

Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones and backup Titans QB Logan Woodside overlapped with the Bengals.

Minnesota Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf overlapped with Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Senorise Perry and G/C Jamil Douglas with the Miami Dolphins.

Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer was assistant linebackers coach of the Chiefs in 2010 when Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel played linebacker in Kansas City.

Titans CB Johnathan Joseph played for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer (then Bengals defensive coordinator) in Cincinnati from 2008-10 and for Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak (then Texans head coach) in Houston from 2011-13.

Vikings backup QB Sean Mannion teamed with Titans G Rodger Saffold III while they were with the Rams, overlapping from 2015-18.

College Connections

Vikings WR Justin Jefferson and Titans CB Kristian Fulton teamed at LSU.

Minnesota TE Irv Smith, Jr., and Tennessee LB Rashaan Evans teamed at Alabama.

Vikings DT Jaleel Johnson and Titans S Amani Hooker teamed at Iowa.

Minnesota CB Cameron Dantzler and Tennessee DT Jeffery Simmons teamed at Mississippi State.

Vikings RB Ameer Abdullah teamed at Nebraska with Titans LB Will Compton and S Joshua Kalu.

Minnesota C Garrett Bradbury and Tennessee DE Larrell Murchison teamed at N.C. State.

Vikings LBs Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr (on Injured Reserve) teamed with Titans LB Jayon Brown at UCLA.

Minnesota Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson and assistant defensive line coach Imarjaye Albury, Sr., overlapped with Tennessee TE Jonnu Smith at Florida International.

Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu overlapped with Titans LB Jayon Brown and DE Matt Dickerson at UCLA.

Minnesota quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak was at Texas A&M with Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill.

Local connections

Vikings safety Harrison Smith grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. He won 2006 Gatorade Player of the Year and Tennessee Mr. Football Back of the Year in Class 3A honors during his final season at Knoxville Catholic High School.

Vikings punter Britton Colquitt also is from Knoxville. He punted collegiately at the University of Tennessee after earning All-State honors in his junior and senior.

Vikings Senior Defensive Assistant Dom Capers served as defensive backs coach at the University of Tennessee from 1980-81.

Titans safety Amani Hooker is from Minneapolis. He played at Park Center High School and was First-Team All-State and a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Football Award in 2015.

Titans cornerback Chris Jackson was born in Minneapolis.

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