When asked this week if winning could cure what was ailing the Minnesota Vikings behind the scenes, Mike Zimmer deadpanned, “We just need to win.”
A victory like the one the Vikings recorded Sunday may not heal all wounds, but it was certainly a nice Band-Aid following days of drama surrounding Stefon Diggs absence from Wednesday’s practice and his apparent discontent with the offense.
Minnesota won 28-10 with nearly 500 offensive yards, displaying its best offensive balance yet.
Let’s look at the highlights and lowlights of the Vikings’ performance.
WHAT WAS GOOD
Adam Thielen — who spoke out earlier in the week about the offense’s need for balance — made plays early and often through the air, finishing with 130 yards and two touchdown grabs. Dalvin Cook, meanwhile, notched his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season with 132 yards on the ground to go with 86 through the air — a 218-yard all-purpose outing that was only blemished by a lost fumble near the goal line.
Diggs, who was reportedly fined $200K for missing team functions on Monday and Wednesday, ended with three catches for 44 yards but made the catch on Kirk Cousins‘ first pass of the day that got Minnesota rolling.
Minnesota’s 490 yards were the most on the road in the Mike Zimmer Era, exceeding last season’s 480 in Green Bay. Cousins finished 22 of 27 for 306 yards and two touchdown passes to Thielen. The Giants had little answer for Cousins’ play-action, which entered play a lowly 34th in passer rating across the NFL. The quarterback was free to roll out in the first half as he racked up 278 yards by the break and got Thielen over the 100-yard mark. Cousins led an 11-play, 98-yard touchdown drive to make the score 10-0 early in the second quarter — Minnesota’s longest touchdown drive since Gus Frerotte hit Bernard Berrian for a 99-yard touchdown pass in 2008.
The Vikings moved to 6-3 against rookie quarterbacks, holding Daniel Jones to 55 percent passing and 182 yards while sacking him four times and handing him his first career loss. Minnesota brought frequent blitzes on Jones, hitting him eight times. The Vikings held the Giants twice in the red zone in the second half to prevent a New York rally like the one Jones led two weeks ago in a win versus Tampa Bay.
There was no bigger defensive play than the one Minnesota made with 2:09 left in the first half. After Cook lost a fumble at the 1-yard line to end a likely touchdown drive, the Giants took over near their own goal line trailing 13-7. Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith teamed up to tackle Jonathan Hilliman in the end zone for a safety, salvaging something out of Minnesota’s turnover seconds before. The Vikings got the ball back as a result and added a field goal to take an 18-7 lead into halftime.
Barr had a massive day between the safety, a late interception and several pressures of Jones. So did the Vikings’ defensive line. Everson Griffen recorded a sack and Danielle Hunter got two on a day when the Vikings’ rush continually flushed Jones from the pocket. Ifeadi Odenigbo also got his first career sack while rotating in at 3-technique.
In the secondary, Mike Hughes eased the loss of Mackensie Alexander by breaking up three passes, including one in the end zone.
As a whole, the Vikings defense is off to an amazing start in points allowed. In their first five games opponents have scored 12, 21, 14, 16 and 10 points, respectively, for an average of 14.6 ppg.
WHAT WAS BAD
The Vikings have been among the most penalized teams in the NFL, and that total stayed high on Sunday despite the win. Twelve penalties for 112 yards might have been far more harmful against a better opponent.
Holding penalties in Giants territory set back drives that resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns, a silly Linval Joseph personal foul on a field goal attempt gave the Giants second life inside the 10-yard line, Anthony Harris committed a third-down penalty for the second straight week that extended a drive, Xavier Rhodes was pinned with an illegal contact and a horse collar, and a long pass interference call on Trae Waynes produced another Giants scoring chance.
(Incidentally, Mike Zimmer’s challenge of Waynes’ penalty was also ill-advised based on the precedent officials have set around pass interference challenges.)
Pat Elflein and Garrett Bradbury, off to slow starts this year, both committed holding penalties, while Elflein had to leave the game for a spell with an injury, forcing Dakota Dozier into action for the fourth straight game due to injury.
Not only did Rhodes commit two penalties but he gave up several significant plays in coverage again, most notably Jones’ lone touchdown pass to Darius Slayton that earned Rhodes a tongue-lashing from Zimmer on the sideline. Rhodes was tied for 96th out of 113 qualified corners in yards per coverage snap this season coming into the game.
Aside from penalties, it’s hard to be too picky about Minnesota’s offensive game. But one area of concern continues to be Cousins in the pocket, where he was sacked three times — all of them in the red zone on drives that eventually led to field goals.
Altogether, an encouraging day for the hot and cold Vikings who have alternated wins and losses through five weeks. They’ll likely be favored next Sunday as they host the Philadelphia Eagles — their fourth straight season facing Philadelphia.