The Vikings at Broncos: One Stat, Quote, and Matchup to Know Ahead of Week 11

Sep 17, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) on the sideline in the fourth quarter against the Washington Commanders at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

At 6-4, the Vikings are feeling pretty good right about now (even with a pile of players sitting in the infirmary). Sean Payton’s 4-5 Broncos await, a game that looks more challenging given Denver’s recent winning streak.

Giving fans a better understanding of what’s to come for the Vikings at Broncos involves PurplePTSD offering up a single statistic, quotation, and matchup to keep in mind. The hope, valued reader, is that the information contained in this piece can function as a bit of a primer for what’s to come in the Sunday afternoon matchup.

Vikings at Broncos: Week 11

Stat: 1-42

The Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings began their seasons in a near identical manner. Both teams slipped to 0-3 before snagging a victory in Week 4. The Week 5 contest, though, resulted in another loss per side.

Since then, Sean Payton and Kevin O’Connell have done a ton to make their teams better. In fact, Minnesota hasn’t lost since falling to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in that Week 5 tilt. Meanwhile, Payton has been able to scrape and claw in recent weeks, moving into a 4-5 record with victories coming against the Chiefs, Packers, and Bills.

Broncos HC Sean Payton
Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines during Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Stunningly, Denver has the NFL’s worst defense, at least when it comes to points against. On average, the Broncos give up 27.6 points against per game. Now, a lot of that poor number emanates from the Week 3 shellacking at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, a team that picked up a whopping 70 points.

Recently, the Broncos’ defense is playing more sound football. Take a peak:

  • Week 6: 19 Points Allowed
  • Week 7: 17 Points Allowed
  • Week 8: 9 Points Allowed
  • Week 9: Bye
  • Week 10: 22 Points Allowed

The Vikings have proven themselves capable of defying the odds. The Falcons and Saints have sneaky talented defenses, so putting together 31 and 27 points is no small feat. O’Connell will need to dig into his bag of tricks to ensure Denver’s improving defense resembles what was on the field in the early weeks of the 2023 season.

Quote: Brian Flores on Losing Jordan Hicks

Can the Vikings overcome yet another substantial loss? The team’s defensive coordinator is hoping so.

“As a team, we’ve gotta, at least this week, rally around some of our younger players,” Flores notes. The DC goes on: “As a group, take care of his many responsibilities within the defense. From green dot communication to what he does in our nickel packages, dime packages. Really all of our packages.”

Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) picks up a Chicago Bears fumble before returning it for a touchdown in the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly, Flores thinks highly of his veteran linebacker.

Hicks is coming off of an underwhelming 2022 season that saw him being misused in the Ed Donatell defense. Flores lets Hicks play much more physical, aggressive football. The simple difference in blitzing totals — being sent just 17 times in 2022 in contrast to already being up to 71 blitzes in 2023 — speaks to the adjusted approach.

Marcus Davenport aside, the Vikings’ defense has been relatively healthy. Losing Hicks is a significant loss, and the defensive coordinator knows it. Ivan Pace is the next man up, but there could also be more chances for Troy Dye and Brian Asamoah. And, perhaps, even Anthony Barr.

Matchup: Byron Murphy Jr. vs. The Larger Denver Pass Catchers

Byron Murphy hasn’t been perfect in 2023. His PFF score — a 51.7 grade that puts him at 89th out of 109 — doesn’t do a good job of capturing the positives from his season. Murphy is far better than being the league’s 89th corner.

Nevertheless, there’s some reason to be concerned about his ability to hang with larger receivers. Both New Orleans touchdowns involved Saints players being too big and strong for Minnesota’s CB1. Guaranteed: Sean Payton noticed that on film and is planning accordingly.

Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (11) catches a pass against the Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Courtland Sutton stands out since he’s 6’4″, 216. Jerry Jeudy is no slouch, standing at 6’1″ and weighing 193 pounds. Don’t be surprised if Payton looks to get one of these larger players on Murphy, testing the 25-year-old CB to see if he’s capable of hanging with the receivers who have a size and weight advantage.

Not having Akayleb Evans in Week 11 only further magnifies the potential matchup issue.

Minnesota demands a ton out of Murphy. His versatility is one of his most impressive attributes, and it’s that ability to move all over the field that allows the Vikings defense to succeed. The challenge, of course, is that he’s tasked with playing all kinds of spots on the field against different players.

Murphy’s ability to keep offering versatility while upping his capacity to handle larger receivers is a sneaky way for the Vikings’ defense to keep getting better.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.