- Kickoff: Noon Sunday
- Where: U.S. Bank Stadium
- TV: Fox
- Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3; Sirius/XM 113, 232
- Line: Vikings by .5
The Vikings and Chargers — both playoff teams a year ago — are both 0-2 and heading into a Week 3 matchup with a heightened sense of urgency. The Chargers have given up late scores in both their games, while the Vikings have turned the ball over seven times in a pair of one-score losses. For coaches Kevin O'Connell and Brandon Staley, close friends from their time working together on the Rams staff, Sunday's matchup will have plenty to say about the courses of their teams' 2023 seasons.
Here's a look at the key matchups and story lines:
THE BIGGEST STORY LINE
Will the Vikings' new additions play, and will they help the run game? The Vikings spent the week making moves to help an offense that ranks last in the league in both rushing attempts (26) and rushing yards (69) through two games, signing offensive lineman Dalton Risner on Monday before trading for Rams running back Cam Akers on Wednesday. Risner seems more likely than Akers to play on Sunday; coach Kevin O'Connell said Friday that Akers would likely need a little more time to learn the offense after arriving in Minnesota on Wednesday. Whenever the two players see the field, the moves reflect how strongly the Vikings believe they need to quickly improve their run game.
VIKINGS OFFENSE VS. CHARGERS DEFENSE
Battles on the edge. The Vikings are expected to get left tackle Christian Darrisaw back from an ankle injury for Sunday's game. Joey Bosa, the four-time Pro Bowl player who would line up across from Darrisaw, is trying to return from a hamstring injury that limited him to 19 snaps on Sunday against the Titans. Bosa, though, won't be the only pivotal pass rusher the Vikings have to worry about. Khalil Mack, who tormented the Vikings when he was with the Bears, will return to U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since 2021. The Chargers will line him up over Darrisaw when they're in base packages, and he'll face right tackle Brian O'Neill in passing situations.
Jefferson could be in line for a big day. Despite setting an NFL rookie record for receiving yards in 2020, Justin Jefferson finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting that year to Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (a fact the Chargers social media team pointed out in its 2023 schedule release video this spring). Jefferson has won more significant honors since then, but if the runner-up finish still motivates him, he could be set up to send a message against a Chargers secondary that allowed more passing yards than any team in the league through the first two weeks. Asante Samuel Jr., the 5-10 corner the Chargers took in the second round in 2021, will line up across from Jefferson when he's at split end.
VIKINGS DEFENSE VS. CHARGERS OFFENSE
Vikings seek to contain Herbert. In Herbert's 51 NFL starts, he's never posted fewer passing yards than he did on Nov. 15, 2020, when Brian Flores' Dolphins defense limited him to 187 in Miami's 29-21 victory over the Chargers. The Dolphins blitzed Herbert on 17 of his 36 dropbacks that day, according to Pro Football Focus, and Herbert struggled under pressure. Herbert has been pressured only 27.8% of the time this season, but if the Vikings can make him throw under duress, they could keep him from testing their secondary with wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
Ekeler's absence could help. After allowing 259 rushing yards in last week's loss to the Eagles, the Vikings appear to get a break against the Chargers. Running back Austin Ekeler, who sprained his ankle during the Chargers' first game of the year in Miami, will miss his second consecutive game. He ran for 117 yards in Week 1 but has been especially effective as a receiving target for Herbert. Flores has emphasized better technique against the run this week, and without Ekeler, the Chargers ran for only 61 yards in Week 2 against the Titans.
Out: OLB Marcus Davenport (ankle)
Questionable: C Garrett Bradbury (back)
Out: RB Austin Ekeler (ankle), LB Eric Kendricks (hamstring)
Questionable: OLB Joey Bosa (hamstring), LB Daiyan Henley (hamstring), OLB Chris Rumph II (hamstring), DL Christopher Hinton (back)
The fact that both teams are trying to avoid an 0-3 start will bring an extra level of intensity to this one. That might be especially true for the Vikings, who have lost two consecutive games at home, including last season's playoff matchup with the Giants, and their offense should have opportunities to attack the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense if it can protect Kirk Cousins against Bosa and Mack. Ekeler's absence takes away a key component of the Chargers offense as well. At home, the Vikings will find an edge to win a close one, in a game where the over-under of 54 points could be easily eclipsed. Vikings 34, Chargers 31