Winning ugly is code for a good defensive win, and that is exactly what the Vikings pulled out Sunday. The offense was just good enough to make things happen, while the defense returned to more of their 2017 form.
The Bar for Hyperbole with Vikings Receivers
Every week, more and more grandiose statements about Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs become fact. They both continue to make big time plays, run the crispest routes and make a somewhat one-dimensional Vikings offense look elite. Starting with Diggs, he was the Vikings leading rusher through three quarters. Latavius Murray only surpassed him when the Vikings were trying to burn some clock on a fourth quarter drive. And Diggs held the lead while still hauling in a team-high 10 receptions.
Thielen’s achievement had a little more historic implications. He surpassed the 100-yard mark on a 68-yard reception in the third quarter, which made him the first player in the Super Bowl era to have 100-yard receiving games in each of the first five games of the season. On top of that, the Vikings also called on Thielen to field a punt in crunch time, and fall on the Eagles’ onside kick in the final minutes. His hands have become the most trusted in all the Twin Cities.
Cousin Under Duress
It is no secret that Kirk Cousins has faced a lot of pressure, and performed well in spite of it. But this game especially was a great showcase for his poise. He does not scoot around the pocket as well as other quarterbacks, but he can shift to find windows, deliver the ball and take a hit if he has to. On several occasions, Cousins had at least three Eagles pass rushers bearing down on him, but did not panic and delivered a good ball downfield for big gains. He was once again turnover-free, throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown while only being sacked once. That is a testament to Cousins’ pocket presence, as he was hit a whopping 11 times, but only took a loss the one time. Imagine what he could do with more time.
This is not to say the rookie was perfect. He whiffed on a few blocks and allowed a pressure or two. That said, considering he was not scheduled to play and was going up against one of the better defensive lines in football, O’Neill showed why he deserved to be the Vikings’ second round pick this year. He held a more-than-capable pass rusher in Chris Long down for much of the game, and even stepped up against Fletcher Cox, one of the best defensive players in football. What was especially impressive was his strides in the run game. He was caught leaning a couple times early. But he settled in, opened up some nice windows and even got to the second level fairly well as the game progressed. While he may not be in the plans this year, O’Neill should be starting before long.
By that, I mean literally, Carson Wentz went down. The Vikings brought a ton of pressure on Wentz all game, finishing with three sacks and eight hits. One of those sacks, a sack-fumble by Stephen Weatherly, ended up in a recovery and a 64-yard rumble into the end zone by Linval Joseph. Joseph himself had a sack, as did Danielle Hunter, giving him at least one in each of the Vikings’ first five games of the season. But more importantly, Minnesota’s pressure kept Wentz from getting comfortable for three whole quarters. It was not until the Vikings dropped back into prevent defense that Wentz was able to sit back and pick them apart. Speaking of which…
Some Bizarre Coaching Decisions from Both Sides
The decision to drop everyone back into deep zone in the fourth quarter almost cost the Vikings in this one. The cliche joke is “prevent defense only prevents you from winning,” but in this case, it was somewhat true. Up nine with 2:47 left to play, Mike Zimmer played a no-deep-ball defense, inviting checkdowns galore. Well, Wentz took them, dumping off four-yard passes that went 10, 15, 20 yards. On first-and-10 from near midfield, this was the Vikings’ pre-snap look:
They dropped into a deep Tampa-2 before the ball was snapped. This play went for four yards, only because Jordan Matthews foolishly ran out of bounds immediately, despite the looming two minute warning.
The Vikings won, so it worked out. But Zimmer’s strategy allowed the Eagles, down two scores, to march 75 yards unabated in under two minutes. Had they recovered the onside kick, this could have haunted him.
For the sake of fairness, an equal mention to Doug Pederson for challenging a fourth quarter Diggs catch. Upon further review, not only did Diggs make the catch with both feet in, he got the third foot inbounds, as well. That was an all-timer of misjudged challenges, one that cost them a timeout in the fourth quarter of a close game.
Running Backs Sans Dalvin Cook
Minnesota’s running game has hardly been elite with Cook healthy, but without him, it reached yet a step lower. Murray had nothing going before the fourth, out-rushed by Diggs, who carried the ball twice. Roc Thomas and Mike Boone combined for nine yards on five carries. But worst of all, Thomas dropped a swing screen that was a backwards pass, resulting in a fumble that the Eagles recovered. Philadelphia fortunately punted on the ensuing drive, otherwise Thomas would be more of the goat than he is today.
The Vikings’ offense has looked excellent thus far, despite being purely passing-based. Cousins, Thielen and Diggs have simply been good enough to carry the load. That will not necessarily continue. Something as to come from the running game at some point, one would assume.
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