Vikings

Vikings 42, Lions 30: 3 Studs, 2 Duds and 1 Game-Changing Play

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta (USA Today Sports)

Are the Minnesota Vikings suddenly an offensive juggernaut?

Since falling flat in a 16-6 loss at Chicago to drop to 2-2, the Vikings have scored 28, 38 and 42 points in three convincing wins. Sunday’s at Detroit was the closest of the bunch, a contest that was tied 21-21 at halftime before the Vikings scored early in the second half and put the game away late with a clutch touchdown drive to win their first divisional game of the season. The 42-30 victory featured numerous offensive stars but may have exposed some defensive liabilities.

Let’s sum up this game by giving you three standouts, two underwhelming elements and one game-altering play.

3 STUDS

Kirk Cousins was brilliant for a third straight game. Against a beaten up Lions defense that lost Darius Slay, Damon Harrison and Jarrod Davis at various points throughout the afternoon, Minnesota’s quarterback — under the microscope just three weeks ago — has 10 touchdowns passes and one interception (on Stefon Diggs’ dropped pass last week) during the Vikings’ three-game winning streak.

Cousins continued his resurgence in the play-action game and took apart Detroit’s struggling secondary, despite losing star receiver Adam Thielen to a hamstring injury in the first quarter, though Thielen helped with Cousins’ first touchdown pass, making a diving catch in the back of the end zone on an extremely difficult throw by Cousins. Thielen ostensibly injured his hamstring during the dive.

Cousins finished the day 24 of 34 with 337 yards and four touchdowns with a 141.4 rating. His biggest throw of the game came with just over two minutes to go and the Vikings trying to run the clock out, leading 35-30. Instead of running into a stacked line of scrimmage, Cousins play-actioned and launched a deep ball to Diggs, who strutted inside the 5-yard line to set up Minnesota’s game-clinching score.

Even without Thielen, the Vikings offense didn’t miss a beat, stringing together four straight touchdown drives to keep up with the Lions’ offense, which nearly matched them drive for drive. He hit Bisi Johnson and C.J. Ham for both of their first career touchdown catches. And for the first time this year, the Vikings really relied on their tight ends Irv Smith Jr., and Kyle Rudolph in the passing game, hitting them 10 times for 118 yards. The same week that Rudolph was haled for his sacrificial work as a blocker, he was rewarded with a season-high 58 yards and a touchdown.

Part of the reason Cousins had so much success through the air was his offensive line. With Riley Reiff (ankle) and Josh Kline (foot) healthy, Cousins wasn’t sacked and only hit three times, per ESPN stats. For an offensive line that has seen three of its starters miss time, getting all five together and playing at that level has to be great to see for Gary Kubiak, Kevin Stefanski and Rick Dennison.

The right side of the line, especially, continues to be rock solid. Brian O’Neill has yet to allow a sack in his career, and Kline has been the team’s best interior blocker.

Not only was Cousins kept clean, but Dalvin Cook had plenty of room to run, going off for 142 yards and two scores.

Cook had perhaps his finest game of the season.

While he didn’t quite set a season-high in rushing yards (154 @ Green Bay), his production came primarily after contact and kept third-down conversions reasonable with his consistency on first and second down. The Vikings had an average third-down-to-go distance of 3rd and 4.9, and Cook had 10 carries of seven yards or more, including a touchdown run of eight yards to cap the first drive of the second half.

The Lions have yet to hold a team below 100 yards on the ground this year, and the Vikings took advantage, especially against a banged-up Harrison, the big nose tackle, who missed part of the game with a groin injury.

With the Vikings on the Lions’ 4-yard line late, Cook capped his day with another tough touchdown run, breaking a tackle and juking a defensive back on his way to the end zone.

2 DUDS

We’ll lump the Vikings corners together for this one, but Xavier Rhodes had a brutal day in coverage against Marvin Jones, who had four touchdowns — two against Rhodes.

The Vikings corner took a pass interference penalty on the game’s opening drive, which eventually resulted in Jones’ first touchdown — a telling sign for the day to come. Both of Jones’ scores against Rhodes came on shallow out routes where Rhodes failed to get his head turned and let Jones make nice contested catches. After Jones’ final touchdown, Rhodes was shown yelling emotionally on the sideline.

Rhodes had allowed a 110.4 passer rating against him this season but was only charged with giving up one touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. He’ll be pegged with two more after Sunday’s game. Mike Zimmer has said that Rhodes needs to continue working on his technique and reduce the penalties. He’s been getting flagged at least once most games for being overly physical. If the team’s top corner keeps struggling, more teams could pass on the Vikings like the Lions did Sunday as Matthew Stafford went for 364 yards.

In addition, Trae Waynes and Mike Hughes also gave up touchdowns to Jones, and both missed a tackle in the game as receivers ducked under them. Both earned some redemption later, however, as Hughes snuffed out a two-point conversion and Waynes intercepted Stafford to get the Vikings in victory formation late in the fourth.

Stefon Diggs had a drop that seemed like a game-changer at the time. With the Vikings leading 28-24 early in the fourth quarter, Cousins aired it out for an open Diggs in the left corner of the end zone on the third down, but the ball slipped through Diggs’ hands. This came one week after Diggs dropped two passes in Minnesota’s win over Philadelphia.

The drop was exacerbated by Dan Bailey’s missed field goal on the next play, keeping the door open for the Lions to take the lead with a touchdown.

Diggs had an uncharacteristically high drop rate of 11.5% entering play on Sunday. While his explosive plays have overshadowed his drops the past two weeks, his suspect hands are still a concern. Fortunately for Diggs, his 66-yard catch on Cousins’ late play-action ended his day on a positive note and vaulted him up to 142 yards.

1 GAME-CHANGING PLAY

Eric Kendricks was the defensive star in Minnesota’s 38-20 win over Philadelphia, and he stood out again against Detroit, coming up with a pass breakup on the biggest play of the day.

After Diggs’ drop and Bailey’s miss, the Lions faced 4th and 2 at the Minnesota 41-yard line. Detroit stacked the line of scrimmage, but Stafford ran a play-action rollout to the left. Kendricks read it perfectly and broke up the pass to J.D. McKissic, getting the Vikings the ball back up by four.

On a day when the secondary was mediocre, the front seven stepped up in the second half.

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