Last Sunday the Minnesota Vikings were poised for their first win of the season in the desert in Arizona. The Vikings had driven the ball into Cardinals territory and Minnesota kicker Greg Joseph was lining up a straight-ahead 37 field goal. Coach Mike Zimmer felt good about their chances at this point. Although Joseph had earlier missed a PAT, he had also kicked two 52-yard fields goals on the day.
So, what happened? Much to the chagrin of Zimmer, the Vikings, and their fans, Joseph pushed the field goal slightly right and the Vikings left the field with a 0-2 record. Even the Vikings radio voice, Paul Allen initially signaled that the kick was good.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the game to see what worked for the Vikings and where there is obvious room for improvement.
Kirk Cousins looked great
The much-maligned unvaccinated quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings had another outstanding game. The 10-year qb went 22-32 with 244 yards and 3 touchdowns. He led the Vikings to five scoring drives and generally looked in control of the game from start to finish. Even coach Zimmer remarked this week how much Cousins has grown in his leadership role on the team.
After a slow start last week, partially hampered by poor blocking, Dalvin Cook once again showed why he is one of the premier backs in the NFL. Dalvin rushed for 131 yards on 22 carries and added 2 catches for 17 yards to his tally.
It should be noted that the Minnesota Vikings offensive line also acquitted themselves very nicely after a tough week in Cincinnati. Not only did they open up huge holes for Cook to run through, but Cousins was only sacked one-time for a two-yard loss.
K.J. Osborn continued to secure his hold on the number three wide-out position with another outstanding game. He caught five passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted six times during the game showing Cousins’ confidence in the young receiver.
Minnesota Vikings defensive stalwarts
On defense, Danielle Hunter was all-monster all game. He sacked Murray three times and was a dominant force all day on the defensive line. Hunter looked completely healed from the serious neck injury that forced him to miss all of last season. He appears more than ready to assault the all-time NFL sack record for a season held by the Giants Michael Strahan with 22.5 set 20 years ago.
Nick Vigil, switching positions to fill in for the injured Anthony Barr, had another dynamic game. He returned a Kyler Murray pass 38 yards for a pick-six in the third quarter putting the Minnesota Vikings ahead at that point 29-24. He also contributed eight tackles to the effort.
Where was the rest of the pass rush?
Other than Hunter, the rest of the Vikings’ front four did not exert much pressure on Murray. In addition, they allowed the mercurial qb to slip out of containment which led to several key pass completions. Perhaps the return next week of defensive end Everson Griffen will provide this unit with a lift.
Defensive Tackle Dalvin Tomlinson was missing in action. The Minnesota Vikings signed Tomlinson to a two-year $21 million contract to help their defense stuff the run. Against the Cardinals, Tomlinson walked away from the game with one tackle, and Arizona running back Chase Edmonds averaged 5.8 yards on his 8 carries.
Breeland struggles again
The secondary overall looked sluggish, but for the second week in a row, cornerback Bashaud Breeland looked out of position and out of touch. After getting burned by Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase in the first week, Breeland fared no better against the Cardinals.
A.J. Green made him look silly on a short third-quarter touchdown and Breeland eventually left the game with a back injury. Second-year player Cameron Dantzler may get another opportunity at the starting corner position opposite Patrick Peterson.
Not the Minnesota Vikings special teams again!
Besides the aforementioned struggles by the placekicker Joseph, Dede Westbrook had some directional problems on his punt returns. He fielded a Cardinals punt inside the Vikings ten-yard line and proceeded to serpentine his way back to the two, barely avoiding a safety. On a subsequent punt, he fielded another punt at the 10 and inexplicitly called for a fair catch. His decision-making must improve.
Where does the time go?
Once again, the Vikings suffered from poor clock management. After Joseph kicked the first of his two 52-yard field goals right before the half, the Minnesota Vikings were prepared to head to the locker room with a two-point lead.
But instead of kicking the ball through the end zone, Zimmer opted for a squib kick that gave the Cardinals excellent field position with one time out remaining. After some Vikings’ defensive lapses, Arizona kicker Matt Prater nailed a 62-yard field goal as the gun sounded to put the home team ahead by one.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Vikings drove into Cardinals territory for the probable winning field goal. With 40 seconds to go and the ball on the Arizona 19-yard line, Zimmer and the Vikings decided to play it safe and did not attempt a shot at the end zone. This despite the fact that they had one time out remaining. The rest, as they say, is history.
Minnesota Vikings look ahead
So, the Minnesota Vikings have now dug themselves a hole with two playoff-caliber teams on their horizon. First, they return home to play the ticked-off Seattle Seahawks, still smarting from their overtime loss to Tennessee. Then they travel to the Dog Pound to play the always formidable Cleveland Browns. The Purple faithful can only hope for better days.