In a change of pace from the last few games, it was tough to find negatives with the Vikings’ performance Sunday night. In a key division game, they showed the talent level that led many to pick them to win the NFC North at the beginning of the season.
Here are Three Ups and Three Downs from Sunday’s big win over the Packers.
Passing Game’s Return to Form
24 points does not exactly indicate an explosive offensive performance. But the offense was able to move the ball through the air in a way fans have not seen for a few weeks. Kirk Cousins was much sharper, missing far fewer throws and showing impeccable accuracy when taking shots into tight windows. Adam Thielen exploded after a couple week break from the 100-yard club. Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph were heavily involved all game. And most importantly, John DeFilippo’s play-calling better suited his creative reputation. He used space more effectively to get Diggs, Thielen and Dalvin Cook into situations to make plays. As a result, the passing game had its best performance since week five.
Up the Middle on Defense
Sheldon Richardson came away from Sunday with the numbers to the tune of seven tackles and two sacks, but everyone up the middle on the Vikings defense, from Richardson to Linval Joseph to Anthony Barr to Eric Kendricks played their part. Green Bay had trouble all game converting in short yardage situations, largely thanks to the work of Joseph. Richardson was dominant cleaning up the pocket. Kendricks and Barr had great games in coverage. All in all, those four on their own took away several dimensions of the Packers offense.
Improvement Up Front on Offense
It was not a perfect day for the Vikings’ offensive line, but it was certainly a step up from where it has been. Cousins had far more time to throw, taking only four hits and working from a clean pocket most of the night. Riley Reiff in particular had a great night in pass pro, while Pat Elflein jumped off the screen when he made a key block to spring Cook for a touchdown on a swing screen. Certainly a step in the right direction after a lackluster run of games from that group.
Cousins’ Primetime Monkey
That is to say, he got said monkey down off his back, at least for the time being. Cousins had played fairly well in primetime games in 2018, but he was without a win to show for it. In fact, going back to his time in Washington, Cousins has always struggled to win big games. On Sunday, however, in what was for all intents and purposes the biggest game of the Vikings’ season to date, Cousins had arguably his most efficient performance with season highs in both yards per attempt and passer rating. And most importantly, the Vikings came out on top.
Vikings and Kickers, the Least Iconic Pair
As for the actual negatives, there is something funky going on with regards to the Vikings kicking situation. We have already profiled Mike Priefer’s sketchy history as a kicking coach, but things are only getting worse. First of all, Dan Bailey has been as iffy as anyone on kicks of 40 yards or more. After missing from 48 and 56 Sunday, he is now down to 50 percent from that range on the season. But to add insult to injury, rookie Daniel Carlson has caught fire since leaving Minnesota. In five games with the Raiders, he has made seven of eight field goals and all eight extra points he has attempted. He even hit a game-winner against Arizona two weeks ago. That has to further call in to question the job the Vikings’ special teams coach has done for his kickers.
The Right Side of the Line
Pressure on Cousins was less than usual overall on Sunday. However, when he did see it, it almost always came from the right side of the line. Rookie Brian O’Neill allowed five pressures on the night, and veteran Mike Remmers allowed a brutal sack when he seemed to believe the play was supposed to be a screen. He slung Packers lineman Dean Lowry straight into Cousins for the easiest sack of his life.
While it was O’Neill’s first really bad performance of his career, the situation was exacerbated when he went down in the third quarter with a possible concussion. It is unclear as of yet what long-term effects that will have i.e. missing time.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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