US BANK STADIUM, MN – Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski got his tenure off to an explosive start on Sunday. Even with a few hiccups along the way, the Vikings romped to a 41-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
The Vikings entered Week 15 still clinging to the final NFC wild card spot, despite struggling badly on offense the past two weeks. The team took a huge gamble in firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after last week’s 21-7 loss in Seattle. Enter Stefanski, the longtime positions coach.
For this week, the coaching switch paid dividends. The Vikings’ offense looked unstoppable in the first quarter as they scored touchdowns on all three drives, taking a 21-0 lead.
Minnesota rushed for a season-high 220 yards. Dalvin Cook led the way with a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Latavius Murray pounded out 68 yards and a score on his 15 carries.
In addition to reinvigorating a lethargic ground game, Stefanski also used quarterback Kirk Cousins on play-action and other rollouts to get him moving, which helped key a strong passing attack to complement the running game.
The Vikings ran into trouble in the second quarter that nearly derailed their success. Cousins committed his league-leading 17th turnover, throwing an interception on a screen pass that was returned for a touchdown. The momentum looked to have shifted completely in favor of the Dolphins after running back Kalen Ballage took the second half-opening hand-off 75 yards to the house to cut the Vikings lead to 21-17.
After this play, the Vikings’ defense and special teams took control.
Mike Zimmer would turn up the heat on Miami’s backfield with multiple blitzes and pressures. The results devastated the Dolphins’offense with seven of their nine sacks. The defense also stifled the Dolphins’ run game from that time forward.
Punt returner Marcus Sherels played a critical role in helping to jump-start the Vikings’ offense. After the Dolphins failed to cut the lead further, Sherels took the ensuing punt 70 yards to Miami’s 22-yard line to set up the first of Dan Bailey’s two field goals on the day.
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The Vikings offense would put the finishing touches in the fourth quarter. Cousins hit Aldrick Robinson for a 40-yard touchdown pass and Cook’s provided his second score on the day.
Minnesota will need to put up similar performances over the final two weeks if they intend to get back into the playoffs. With both Washington and Philadelphia winning Sunday, the Vikings can only clinch under two scenarios:
- Win their final two games
- Win one plus losses by Carolina, Washington and Philadelphia
- Kevin Stefanski’s debut was about as successful as one could expect. There were clear differences in his approach from his predecessor, such as extensive zone blocking in the run game and more quarterback rollouts to take advantage of Cousins’ strengths. Albeit the performance came against a middling Dolphins team, the results have to be encouraging when considering that the offense had struggled much of the season, even against weaker competition.
- For the second time this season, the Vikings defense racked up at least nine sacks in a game. The seven that came in the second half were critical in halting Miami’s momentum as they were on the brink of completely flipping the game in their favor. Zimmer’s aggressive second half bought his offense time to regain their footing and get back on track to close out the game.
- Marcus Sherels deserves strong consideration for player of the game. His 70-yard punt return shifted the momentum back to the Vikings. Even though it only led to a field goal, that return may have played the biggest role in knocking the wind out of Miami’s sails.
- Cousins’ turnovers continue to be a problem. However, this one was not entirely on him as a missed block allowed the defender to get into the backfield and pick off the screen pass. That being said, this is an area that Stefanski needs to get under control.
- The only other flaw of concern was Minnesota’s continued inability to put together four quarters of solid football. After building a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, they nearly came undone after the pick-six. This is another problem that has cost them games this season. They were fortunate to overcome it this time, but it still remains a concern.
– Clayton R. Brooks II writes for Full Press Coverage andcovers the Minnesota Vikings. Like and follow @ClaytonRBrooks2. Like and follow@fpc_vikings on Twitter and Full Press Vikings on Facebook.
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