Dominance at Home Could Be Minnesota's Ticket to Building Playoff Resume

Photo Credit: Jeffery Becker (USA Today Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings have now jumped out to 28-0 and 21-0 leads in their first two home games. Their defense has allowed seven meaningful points prior to garbage time. That’s fewer than the number of sacks they’ve recorded in those two games (8). The take-give margin in the two victories stands at 4-0. They’ve rushed for a combined 383 yards.

If the Vikings are to compile a record good enough to position themselves for a playoff run, their flat-out dominance at home may be the best way to do it.

Minnesota has long relied on a home-field edge that dates back to the Met Stadium days, where opposing teams were no match on frigid December afternoons. The Metrodome created an edge with its jet-engine-like noise. Even at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings posted an 11-5 mark in their two seasons.

Since opening U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings are 19-7 in their home confines, which are perfectly suited acoustically to help their defense unsettle offenses and give emerging running back Dalvin Cook a fast track to rack up yardage.

Both the Falcons and Raiders, making their first-ever regular season appearances at U.S. Bank Stadium, seemed unprepared to face the unique atmosphere and dropped out of contention early in the second half. Kirk Cousins hasn’t thrown a single pass in either fourth quarter so far in the Vikings’ two wins.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, “I just saw a couple weeks ago Atlanta came in here and was behind 28-0 at the end of the third. If you fall behind against this team early, they have the closers that make it very difficult on you, and the noise doesn’t help.”

In 12 of their 26 home games at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings have scored a first-quarter touchdown to score the game’s first points. They’ve won all 12.

“When we get a lead and we allow those guys to pin their ears back and rush the passer,” said tight end Kyle Rudolph, “and I’ve played against them for the past five months, it’s not fun. They are really good at getting after the quarterback.”

So why is home success any more important for the Vikings in 2019 than previous years?

Look no further than Minnesota’s brutal road schedule in the second half of the season, where they play all four road games against playoff teams from last season: at Chiefs, at Cowboys, at Seahawks, at Chargers.

Kansas City might be the best team in football. The Cowboys have started 3-0. The Vikings have a horrific track record in Seattle. The Chargers won 12 games last year.

That list doesn’t include, of course, next Sunday’s tilt in Chicago, where the Vikings have rarely won.

Knowing Kirk Cousins’ struggles in big games and road games — pick your poison — the Vikings need to bank home wins badly.

The Philadelphia Eagles come to Minneapolis in two weeks in what will surely be a charged atmosphere against a conference rival. The next three, however, come against the Redskins, Broncos and Lions.

Washington is off to an 0-2 start with a depleted roster, and Denver is 0-3 with a past-his-prime Joe Flacco at quarterback. Washington and Denver, like the Falcons and Raiders, will be making their first U.S. Bank Stadium appearances.

Detroit may be a better team than pundits thought, but the Vikings will likely be favored in that contest. Then Minnesota ends with gut-check division games against Green Bay and Chicago that may decide the NFC North champion. Minnesota is 3-0 at U.S. Bank Stadium against Green Bay; 2-1 against Chicago.

There’s no reason the Vikings can’t pursue a 7-1 or 8-0 home mark if they can jump opponents early like they have thus far.

“Any time you run the ball the way we did and our defense plays the way they did,” Cousins said, “you’re going to be in a lot of football games and have a chance to do something and be pretty dangerous.”

So far, their suffocating starts have left opponents without an answer.

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