In what has become an all-too-familiar roller coaster of offensive production, the Vikings hit another valley on Sunday. They amassing just 278 total yards and 10 points in Foxboro. Pending Monday night’s game, the Vikings could enter week 14 on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in.
Minnesota started slow, as the first four drives of the game resulted in zero points. Dan Bailey missed yet another field goal, once again from 48 yards, stalling the Vikings’ lone effective drive of the first quarter in a half. It looked like they may find some rhythm when they scored quickly on a seven-play, 74-yard drive to close the half. Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen in the back of the end zone to make it 10-7 going into halftime.
Alas, the second half would look much like the first. Every single Minnesota drive in the second half was either quick and fruitless or overly long and methodical without the yardage to match. Only two drives in the second half lasted longer than three plays. One went just 41 yards on a whopping 12 plays and ended in a field goal while the other went 27 yards on 10 plays and turned it over on downs. That amounts to just 3.1 yards per play on the good drives that half.
Down 14 in the fourth, the Vikings slim hopes of a comeback disappeared when Cousins threw interceptions on back-to-back drives. The first was a deep ball to Aldrick Robinson that was slightly underthrown, but catchable. The defender made a great play, tipping the ball up to his teammate on what would have otherwise not been a turnover-worthy throw. The second was simply a poor decision by Cousins. He was looking for Thielen sitting in the seam but misjudged where the safety in the middle of the field was. The safety undercut Thielen to officially seal the game for New England.
Minnesota’s defense put themselves in solid position to win against a good New England offense. Coming in, the idea was the the Vikings would have to contain the running game, minimize play action and force Tom Brady to beat them with a thousand little paper cuts. While Brady was sharp as a tack, the Patriots moved the ball slowly and picked up chunk yardage with a quicker passing game. Theoretically, a team would hope that holding Brady to 24 points on the road would be adequate.
Eric Kendricks in particular lit up the stat sheet with 16 tackles and an interception. Granted, a number of his tackles were due to the amount of looks James White had out of the backfield, but Kendricks had himself a big box score game.
Rookie Brian O’Neill was also excellent a week after one of his worst games as a pro. While the Patriots’ pass rush has been somewhat lackluster all year, O’Neill wasstill spotless in terms of pressures allowed. He also made some key blocks to spring Dalvin Cook in the run game. Had Cook received more touches, there would probably be more praise going the offensive line’s way for their run blocking performance.
This game was first and foremost an indictment on the Vikings’ offense. Whether that blame falls on Cousins being conservative against gameplan or John DeFilippo for having a poor gameplan is to be seen. But 278 yards of offense is inexcusable. 4.6 yards per attempt on 44 attempts is inexcusable. Only 13 carries when the backs are picking up 7.3 yards each carry is inexcusable.
That last part is why so much spotlight is going to fall on DeFilippo. The running game was excellent in the short spurts he used it. Cook was averaging 9.3 yards per carry, after all. And yet, Cook carried only nine times all game. It is not as if the Vikings were trailing big; it was a one-score game for the majority of the first three quarters. Instead, DeFilippo put the ball in the hands of Cousins over and over again. And with the Patriots bracketing Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Cousins had nowhere to go with the ball except checkdowns, over and over again.
It is not as if Cousins has been averse to pushing the ball downfield or into small windows. If Cousins is checking the ball down constantly, there is a good chance his receivers are nowhere near open. That is a credit to Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ defense, absolutely. But it is also a mark against DeFilippo and the offense.
As luck would have it, the best the offense looked all game was in the two-minute drill to close the half. Thanks to no-huddle offense and quick, rhythm passing, the Vikings moved the ball effortlessly and put the ball in the end zone. For whatever reason, they never again approached that level of execution again.
Defensively, there were problems, as well. True, they held the Patriots offense to 24 points and even turned Brady over once. But the pass rush was almost nonexistent. Thanks to the Patriots’ quick-hitting offense, the Vikings barely got a fingernail to Brady all game. Only one hit on Brady is registered in the box score: Harrison Smith got a shot on him on the dropback that resulted in Kendricks’ interception. Beyond that, Brady had room to make whatever throw he wanted, hence the 75 percent completion and 9.7 yards per attempt.
Fortunately for the Vikings, virtually every other team in the playoff hunt around them laid a similar egg in week 13. The Bears, Packers and Panthers all lost to “weaker” opponents. Washington plays Philadelphia tonight, so one other team will also be included in that group. Less fortunately for Minnesota is that the one team to come away unscathed was their week 14 opponent, Seattle. The Seahawks are currently in the first wild card spot and are riding a three-game win streak.
The Vikings travel to Seattle for Monday Night Football this coming week. While a loss there would not completely eliminate them, it would put them in a spot where they would need to win out to have a hope at the postseason.
–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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