The Minnesota Vikings went to California with their season hanging by a thread. A string of infuriating one-score losses left them 3-5 and desperate for a win against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers took the lead after the first drive of the third quarter, giving Vikings fans a familiar sense of dread. Was their team really about to throw away another double-digit lead? Instead, Minnesota was able to take control of the clock in the second half, tack on two touchdowns and get a big victory in LA.
Here are five numbers that tell the story of the Vikings’ win over the Chargers.
The Vikings’ defense kept Justin Herbert in check on Sunday, holding him to 5.7 yards per attempt. It wasn’t an easy task. The Vikings were going up against one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL while short-staffed on defense. Anthony Barr, Patrick Peterson, Michael Pierce, Danielle Hunter, and Harrison Smith were all out.
Still, the Vikings forced Herbert to take shorter passes instead of stretching the defense out. Half of Herbert’s throws were short of the sticks, and he could not get into a rhythm with all of the uncharacteristic drops from the Chargers’ receivers.
Whatever you think of him as a head coach, Mike Zimmer is due a lot of credit for his game plan this week. He was able to minimize the Chargers’ offense while down multiple key defensive contributors on the road.
The Vikings’ offensive line had an uncharacteristically poor performance. Each lineman allowed three or more pressures. The guard position was again the weak spot as both Oli Udoh and Ezra Cleveland allowed five pressures.
Cousins often had to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible to avoid getting taken to the ground. While all these pressures only culminated in one sack, Cousins had to maneuver his way around the pocket and was called for intentional grounding twice.
Uchenna Nwosu and Joey Bosa had big days, combining for 15 pressures, and they both had a win rate of over 20%. It could have been a long day for the Vikings’ offense if the Chargers had manufactured more interior pressure.
The Vikings were able to win the time-of-possession battle this week with 36:15 after they watched their opponent hold the ball for most of last week’s game. With how short-handed the defense was, the Vikings needed to keep Herbert off the field and force the Chargers’ defense to make big stops against the Vikings’ playmakers.
The Chargers’ longest drive of the day barely took five minutes off the clock, while the Vikings had two possessions that were over six minutes long. Because the defense was not exhausted in late-game situations, they were able to stand tall. They only allowed a field goal on LA’s final drive, maintaining a one-touchdown lead.
Undisciplined play almost killed Minnesota’s chances again this week, as they were penalized for 118 yards. One of the overarching themes this season has been the trouble the Vikings have had with flags. It put them behind in the Cincinnati Bengals game and was a problem in Baltimore last week. The Vikings almost beat themselves again this Sunday.
One of the flags that stands out was the 28-yard pass interference call near the end of the half on Mackinse Alexander. He hooked Keenan Allen’s arm and drew a flag on a pass that was likely out of Allen’s reach anyways. This flag put the Chargers deep in Minnesota territory, where they scored to cut the lead to three.
This penalty was reminiscent of last week when Bashaud Breeland was flagged for impeding Rashod Bateman on an underthrown pass at the end of the half. These mistakes have made the two-minute defense so dreadful. They must be cleaned up if the Vikings want to be a factor in the NFC.
The story of the game was how well Justin Jefferson performed with more targets. Cousins threw to the second-year wideout from LSU 11 times this week, more than he had in the last two weeks combined. It yielded positive results. Jefferson finished with nine catches for 143 yards.
Cousins put his faith in Jefferson this week on multiple occasions, and Jefferson delivered. He made two insane contested grabs, one which all but sealed the victory.
With the uptick in targets, Jefferson was able to covert seven first downs, and he also had five catches of over 15 yards. He was the only Vikings wideout to see an average depth of target over 10 yards.
After all of the frustration over Cousins not getting Jefferson the ball, Klint Kubiak was able to put his star receiver in advantageous positions where he was able to make big plays.