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Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings runs the offense in the first quarter of a game against the Denver Broncos during an NFL preseason game at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on August 11, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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Broncos vs. Vikings: Breaking down Denver’s game plan on Sunday

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Broncos had a much-needed break in Week 10. After their bye, this team travels for two tough road games to see if they can actually keep their incredibly small playoff chances alive.

On Sunday, Denver travels to Minnesota to play the Vikings in a game that should be quite physical. The Vikings are a defensive team that loves to hit, stuff the run and then run the ball down your throat on the other side. Denver has to be ready for the physicality this week’s opponent brings to the field, and they have to attack them with a quarterback making his second career start.

Let’s take a look at how the Broncos will attack the Vikings on both sides of the ball.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

The Broncos are going to face a tough run defense on Sunday. The Vikings have one of the best front sevens in the league and they all can fly to the ball. When Vikings defenders get to the ball-carrier, there is usually a big collision. When the Broncos run, they could try and use some deception to pick up extra yards.

Counter sweep is the name of the game for the Broncos this week. Phillip Lindsay can run this play to perfection, but in the play below you’ll see how Royce Freeman might have some trouble as he is looking for contact instead of properly following his blockers.

The Broncos are No. 16 in the league in terms of rushing yards, averaging 113.2 yards on the ground per game. Freeman has gotten more snaps than Lindsay during the last six weeks, but Lindsay is the more productive back. Both backs should be well rested after the bye as both Freeman (shoulder) and Lindsay (wrist) had been dealing with minor injuries.

Because of their athleticism and strength up front, the Vikings are tough to run against, as evidenced last week as they held superstar running back Ezekiel Elliott to only 47 yards on 20 carries. The players to be most concerned about up front are Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. Both of their safeties, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, provide quality run support and sound tackling. The Vikings defense has allowed an opposing running back to exceed 50 rushing yards just four times in 10 games on the season.

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When the Broncos Pass the Ball

There are not many weaknesses on the Vikings defense, but their secondary has been playing poorly this year. They do have star cornerbacks when it comes to names, but both Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes have been banged up this year and not playing up to their usual high standard.

This game could come down to whether or not Courtland Sutton can have his best game of the year so far. He’s taken the next step in his career and is playing at a high level, but we still haven’t seen the best from Sutton in 2019.

Sutton’s jab step has been one of his best moves all year. Last year, he sometimes didn’t know which foot to put forward when lining up; now, he’s dangerous off the line as he gets into his route. The play below highlights how his jab step off the line can help get him separation downfield.

The Broncos need to keep quarterback Brandon Allen upright on Sunday. Allen is making the second start of his career, and this defense will present many more challenges than what he faced in his first start against the Browns. If the offensive line can buy Allen some time, he can make plays to Sutton.

The Vikings defense has given up 90 yards receiving (or more) to five wide receivers during the last four weeks. However, the Vikings defense has only allowed one running back out of the backfield to have more than 34 yards receiving in 2019. They also cover tight ends quite well with their linebackers and deep safeties. Needless to say, this has to be a big game for Sutton if the Broncos have any chance of winning.

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When the Vikings Run the Ball

The Vikings run early and run often with their potential MVP candidate Dalvin Cook. As a team, the Vikings rank No. 3 in the NFL with an average of 153.0 rushing yards per game. Cook leads the NFL in rushing attempts (203) and rushing yards (991), averaging 4.9 yards per rush with 10 rushing touchdowns – which ranks No. 3 in the NFL.

Cook loves to bounce runs outside if the lane is there. Most backs in the NFL can’t do that because they don’t have the patience to press the hole or the speed to break defensive contain. In the play below, you can see how Cook sets up the defense then breaks outside for an explosive touchdown.

We’ll likely see Cook get 20 carries against the Broncos, a mark that he has surpassed in seven out of 10 games this season. Even when he needs a breather, the Vikings don’t miss a beat with rookie Alexander Mattison coming off the bench.

The Broncos run defense has been better since they imploded against Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette in Week 4. This is going to be an even tougher test against Cook on Sunday.

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When the Vikings Pass the Ball

The Vikings are running the Gary Kubiak offense, so expect to see plenty of play-action passing featuring bootlegs and rollouts by quarterback Kirk Cousins. They are going to be without superstar receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring), so that makes Stefon Diggs (a star in his own right) the top option in the Vikings wide receiver corps.

We’ll see Diggs get covered by Chris Harris Jr. and that could be a great matchup to watch. Without Thielen, the Vikings will continue to turn to rookie Olabisi Johnson (CSU represent!) on the opposite side.

Diggs is going to do his thing, but watch out for Johnson when this team is near the red zone – especially on fade/stop routes.

Johnson has done a good job impersonating Thielen on the field. He’s not as good (obviously), but Johnson is one of the most productive and trustworthy rookie receivers this season. Cousins should look towards Johnson when this team gets inside the 20-yard line.

Cousins has 15 touchdowns and just one interception during the last six games. If Diggs and Johnson are covered, Cousins can find Cook out of the backfield. Cook has had at least six targets and 45 receiving yards per game during the past three games, including a season-high seven receptions for 86 receiving yards in Week 10. In addition to Cook, Cousins looks for tight end Kyle Rudolph who has four touchdowns during the last four games.

The Broncos pass defense is No. 4 in the NFL by allowing an average of just 202.1 passing yards per game. This defense has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in just two games this season; they’ll be hard pressed to keep the Vikings from becoming the third team to reach that number.

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Summary

The Broncos are up against it on the road in Week 11. This game features many challenges, starting with the crowd and going through both the passing game and running game for the Vikings. They’ll need to slow down Cook as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

On the flip side, Sutton has to be the star for the Broncos offense. The Vikings are going to do their best to stuff the Broncos rushing attack and Denver will be forced to look for explosive plays through the air.

With a bye week after this game, the Vikings are likely to be motivated to get a few extra days off. They play a physical style and want to run the ball as much as possible, so I don’t think this score gets too out of hand.

I’ve got the Vikings by a score of 24-16 on Sunday.

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All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Game screenshots from NFL Game Pass. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.