There’s no place like home for the Vikings – at least a home full of fans- as the Vikings played their first game at home in front of a full stadium in nearly 700 days. The used the occasion to do something the Vikings have never done before: beat Russell Wilson.
It looked like it would be a track meet in the first half, as neither defense could do much to slow down the other team. The Vikings managed to go up 21-17 after falling behind early, thanks to a well executed two-minute drill, and a near flawless performance by Kirk Cousins.
But the Vikings defense stepped up in the 2nd half, holding Wilson and company scoreless, while adding three field goals of their own, leading to a comfortable 30-17 victory.
So finally getting off the snide with a win and a 1-2 record, who was good and not so today?
Blue Chip Stocks
Kirk Cousins. He had a near flawless performance, going 30/38 for 323 yards, 3 TDs, no turnovers, and a 128.4 passer rating. He made a few clutch throws under pressure as well. Amazing how well he can do when he gets time to throw.
Offensive Line. Cousins performance this year, which is right there with any top QB in the league right now, is largely a product of better pass protection. Credit the Vikings offensive line for doing a better job keeping Kirk clean. Additionally, the Vikings had 140 yards on the ground, with Alexander Mattison leading the way, and getting some good holes to run through. Kudos to new Vikings OL coach Phil Rauscher for getting the most from this group, and doing a better job picking up the twists and blitzes.
Alexander Mattison. The Vikings didn’t miss Dalvin Cook today, because Mattison had a Dalvin Cook game. 26 carries for 112 yards, 4.3 per, and another 6 receptions for 59 yards, 171 yards in all. He doesn’t have Cook’s elusiveness, but he has a bit more power and like Cook can get yards after contact.
Justin Jefferson. JJ was a bit quiet the first two games, with a few drops- and he had another one today- but he also had nine receptions on 11 targets for 118 yards and a TD. That gets him back on track with last season, when he was one of the most productive receivers in the league.
Tyler Conklin. It might be easy to overlook Conklin, but he ended the afternoon with 7 receptions on 8 targets for 70 yards and a TD. one of his best games, if not the best, of his career. Getting him involved in the offense will be a helpful tool for the Vikings down the stretch.
Greg Joseph. He put last week behind him and nailed every FG and PAT attempt. No yipes here.
Buy and Sell
Buy: Mike Zimmer adjusting to unseen looks. Sell: Zimmer giving the offense unseen looks.
Part of this is defensive players adjusting to their individual matchup, but it seems that Zimmer’s defense is more reactive than proactive to begin games, giving up more rather than they confound offenses with early looks. The good news is that as the season wears on, there will be less and less that’s not on tape, which makes Zimmer’s job easier, but there needs to be better communication and initial game planning so they don’t begin every game on their back foot.
Buy: Vikings defense second half performance. Sell: Vikings defensive issues are behind them.
The Vikings were able to hold the Seahawks scoreless in the 2nd half, but they were also missing running back Chris Carson and WR Tyler Lockett for a good deal of the second half. The Vikings are still struggling with tackling and run defense- they gave up 5.9 yards per carry. Pass rush was a little better pressuring Wilson, but still could be better. Coverage still has a ways to go, with Breeland still having issues, and most other DBs giving up plays occasionally, with the result of the Vikings giving up a lot of yards and long drives. They continue to do a good job getting off the field on third down, but when they struggle the opposing offense often does need third down to move the chains.
Buy: Vikings battling and closing out the game comfortably. Sell: Vikings have fixed their game management issues.
The Vikings did a good job in the two-minute drill at the half to pickup a go-ahead touchdown, and the decision to kick the last field goal was defensible, given it made it a 2 TD plus defensive stop game for the Seahawks to win with about 4:20 to play. Going for and getting a TD puts it out of reach, but coming up short could’ve been a momentum shift that allowed another Wilson comeback.
But beyond the analytics on whether to go for it or not, there is the play-calling setup for maximizing end of half football. I think the Vikings are still figuring out their strengths- the offensive line is becoming a bit more reliable- which may make Kubiak and Zimmer more comfortable with their pass offense in clutch drives. There is still a lot more to prove before the Vikings can be seen as clutch offense, but they’re moving in the right direction.
The Vikings have the Browns next Sunday at home. The Browns, led by former Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski, are 2-1 and many see them as Super Bowl contenders. They blew out the Bears at home 26-6, but they have weaknesses. The Vikings will need to improve their run defense to beat the Browns, but the Vikings have the firepower on offense to hold serve with the Browns, despite a Browns defense that looked better against the lowly Bears offense.
The Vikings have a share of first place in the division, despite a 1-2 start, pending the outcome of the Packers game. But regardless of that outcome, everything is on the table for the Vikings. It’s a long season, and losing a couple close road games in September will be meaningless if the Vikings can build on this first-ever victory over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
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