To put it succinctly, the Vikings dropped the ball in week three, falling 27-6 to the previously winless Buffalo Bills. Vegas has reported it as the third biggest upset in league history.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s shocker in Minneapolis.
Offensive Line is a Serious Problem
The Vikings may be paying a steep price for staying pat upfront while upgrading elsewhere. The offensive line played the worst game of any Vikings line in about a year and a half, and the guys most at fault were supposed to be the steadies. Riley Reiff in particular was nothing short of a revolving door all game. Jerry Hughes looked like Lawrence Taylor working against Reiff, getting at least a half dozen untouched shots at Kirk Cousins and putting Reiff in the quarterback’s lap on many others. The rest of the line was not much better. Buffalo had consistent pressure rushing just four, often through the middle. As Cousins is not a scrambler, the lack of room for him to step up meant he was uncomfortable from the opening snap.
And once again, the running game completely sputtered. Minnesota was down 14 before it got off the bus, so it is understandable that they would stay away from the run. But when the final whistle blew, they had FOUR designed run plays against 61 pass plays. That is a ludicrous margin and play calling has to take some flack for it. And yet, it is somehow understandable, given the early deficit and the fact that the Vikings had only one rush go for over two yards. The line continues to struggle to get a push up front. Oh, and Pat Elflein had a bad snap in his season debut, so there is another notch in the belt.
All in all, do not be shocked if the Vikings look to make some moves in the coming weeks. It is likely too late to get someone in for Thursday’s game, but the consistent struggles of this group will have to be addressed sooner or later.
Cousins Not Sharp, but Tough to Blame Him
Cousins got off to a rough start, to say the least. The pressure got to him early, forcing a fumble on a scramble on the first drive. That fumble was 100 percent on Cousins. The next one, however, goes on Reiff. On the ensuing drive, before Cousins even hit the top of his drop, Jerry Hughes was on Cousins’ back, forcing the ball out. Reiff barely got a hand on him. And for the next few drives, Cousins was not himself. The pressure made him panic a bit and he sailed every downfield throw. Were he able to connect on one or two of them, the Vikings could have stifled the Bills’ momentum earlier and maybe made it a game. Alas, he missed, and that failure goes on him.
As the game progressed, he found a rhythm and made some good throws. The pressure was still constant, but Cousins found a little more comfort outside the pocket. Granted, the Bills softened their coverage, as evidenced by Adam Thielen‘s 14 catches for only 105 yards on 19 targets. But Cousins made some nice throws downfield, as well. Most notable was a perfect deep strike that should have gone for a touchdown, but Stefon Diggs let it go through his hands.
Bottom line on Cousins’ performance: John DeFilippo put the entire offense in his hands. 61 passing plays, 55 attempts. And the offense scored six points. That goes on him, even if others let him down when drives looked promising and the line did him no favors. Were he sharper earlier, they could have made something happen. So while he was not the main perpetrator of the offense’s demise, this game will go as a negative on his 2018 record.
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Defensive Indiscipline Starting to Become a Trend
It is three weeks in a row now in which the Viking defense has proven susceptible to play action and misdirection. Usually sound defenders like Harrison Smith have been caught peeking in the backfield, allowing receivers to slip behind them as a result. That is how Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense moved the ball in the first half. They were not lighting it up with crisp passes or running all that great. No, they were simply setting up the Vikings defense for a play action or misdirection pass then finding the wide open receivers. That is something that, game to game, every defense will deal with. What makes it an issue is that the Vikings are falling victim to it consistently. With the Rams and Eagles, two teams that thrive on such offense, waiting in the wings, the Vikings are showing vulnerability at the wrong time.
The more frustrating trend from the game, however, was the Minnesota penalties. Buffalo ended up with twice as many as the Vikings, but it was the context of the Viking penalties that broke their back. The opening Buffalo drive should have stopped a couple times, but a Linval Joseph helmet-to-helmet penalty and an Anthony Barr facemask kept it alive. Later on, Barr was charged with another personal foul when he horse collared Allen on a short scramble. The penalties demoralized any positive play the defense made in the first half, and that is something that rarely happens to Zimmer defenses.
Speaking of Barr, he played arguably his worst game as a Viking. Penalties, lapses in coverage and a hurdle by Allen made Barr the lowlight star of the day. It has not been a good start to a contract year for the Pro Bowl linebacker.
Best Play of the Game? A Punt
How about some bright spots? For one, Thielen racked up a bunch of catches, albeit short yardage. Secondly, Laquon Treadwell caught all four of his targets after key drops cost the Vikings in week two. Another was Stephen Weatherly getting his first start. Weatherly made a bunch of plays in the run game, recorded several pressures on the quarterback and even got his first career sack.
But the best play of the game for Minnesota goes to punter Matt Wile. Wile punted five times, two of which did not even go 40 yards and one of which sailed into the end zone. But he made up for those poor kicks late in the first half. With the Vikings punting from their own 20, Wile placed an average ball to about the Buffalo 35. The returner let the ball bounce and it rolled. And rolled and rolled and rolled, all the way to the Buffalo 10. A 70 yard punt to change field position. All told, it did nothing as neither the Bills nor the Vikings scored before halftime. But for a brief moment, the U.S. Bank crowd left their feet. For a punt.
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