Breaking down how the Chargers (5-8) and Minnesota Vikings (9-4) match up heading into Sunday’s game at Dignity Health Sports Park.
When Chargers have the ball
A week after dominating a depleted and defeated Jacksonville team, the Chargers offense faces a more suitable challenge in Minnesota, which has every reason to want to win Sunday. Only three teams have better prevented red-zone touchdowns than the Vikings this season, a particularly relevant statistic given the Chargers’ red-zone issues all season. They have reached the end zone only half the time they’ve moved inside the opposition’s 20-yard line, ranking 25th league-wide. Minnesota also is tied for sixth-best with 20 takeaways, while the Chargers are tied for sixth-worst with 22 turnovers. The Vikings have forced at least one turnover in 12 of their 13 games. They have two apiece the last two weeks. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers finally had no turnovers in a 45-10 win over the Jaguars after throwing eight interceptions over three games. Asked to identify the most important reason why the Chargers succeeded as convincingly as they did against Jacksonville, coach Anthony Lynn said it was taking care of the football. A week after Austin Ekeler gained 100 yards in both rushing and receiving, the Chargers could turn more to running back Melvin Gordon, who has played much better in recent weeks. But it won’t be easy. Minnesota is giving up only 19.2 points per game to rank seventh.
When Vikings have the ball
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley identified the Vikings as a “committed run team” and added, “This will be a challenging, put-the-big-boy-pants-on type game for us.” Behind Dalvin Cook (1,108 yards rushing, 503 yards receiving, 13 touchdowns) Minnesota has the NFL’s fourth-best ground game, averaging 135.8 yards. The Vikings have run 397 times and passed 388 times so far. The Chargers have passed 473 times compared with 306 rushes. So the Vikings will attempt to run down the throat of the Chargers defense, meaning middle linebacker Denzel Perryman will have to be especially effective. Perryman missed the game last week after being sent home from Jacksonville for unspecified reasons. His punishment served, he is back in good-enough standing with Lynn. Working off their running success, the Vikings like to go heavy with play action, a pass game that has been efficient and effective. Among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts, Kirk Cousins is fourth in the league in completion percentage behind Drew Brees, Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr. Cousins also has thrown for 24 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Rivers had four interceptions in a Week 11 loss to Kansas City.
When they kick
With another close game being anticipated, this could be the week that Michael Badgley again plays a prominent role. The Chargers kicker made four field goals in his 2019 debut, against Green Bay in Week 9, after missing eight games because of a groin problem. He has been steady — but mostly quiet — since. Dan Bailey is a former long-time Dallas Cowboy in his second year with Minnesota. He’s 18 for 20 on field-goal attempts and 35 of 38 on extra-point tries this season.
Jeff Miller’s prediction
In this space last week, the prediction had the Chargers losing by a point. Instead, they won by five touchdowns. So the Chargers aren’t the only ones failing to meet expectations in 2019. Facing a much tougher assignment now, the Chargers should be fully capable of competing against a team that right now would qualify for the NFC playoffs. But, on another afternoon when Dignity Health Sports Park figures to be packed with rival rooters, this game just means much more to Minnesota.