This was the type of game that winning teams win. The Vikings were outplayed at times, and it wasn’t pretty, but they got the W. The Vikings did just enough to stay undefeated in the division with a 28-24 win over Detroit on Sunday.
The Lions Are For Real
Judging by comments in the Facebook groups leading up to this game, serious fans had already caught on to the fact that the Lions are for real this year. They were definitely up to the challenge, and some would argue they deserved to win.
In a lot of ways, the Lions did everything early on that I wanted the Vikings to do. They got the ball to start the game, and drove pretty well on the Vikings. Austin Seibert missed a 48-yard field goal off the post on their first drive, but they were still able to build a 14-0 lead with their two other first-quarter drives. Jamaal Williams scored his first of two touchdowns on the game for the first score, and Jared Goff hit T.J. Hockenson for a short touchdown early in the second quarter.
Jared Goff looked calm behind a stout offensive line (more to come on this later), and the Lions had decided before the game that they no longer believed in punting. The Lions converted their first four fourth-down plays before missing their final two. Still, going 4-6 on fourth down is an impressive stat.
A Second Quarter For The Home Team
The Vikings would seize control of the momentum in the second quarter with consecutive scoring drives. First, there was an Adam Thielen sighting on a short, one-yard throw from Kirk Cousins. Then, Dalvin Cook was able to gain the edge and score on a four-yard scamper later on.
Both Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook rebounded in this game after disappointing week two performances. Thielen had 6 catches for 61 yards and the touchdown, and Cook tallied 96 yards on the ground which included his touchdown run. In a game where Justin Jefferson was held in check, the Vikings needed their other offensive weapons to step up.
The Roller Coaster Continued In The Third
Vikings’ fans were not able to breathe any easier as the second half began. The Lions scored 10 points in the third quarter, and after a Dalvin Cook fumble, the outcome was looking more likely to be a win for the Lions.
The Vikings struggled to put pressure on Goff all game, and he stayed relaxed in the pocket, making very timely throws. Amon-Ra St. Brown had some nice plays en route to a 6-catch, 73-yard performance, but for my money, it was WR Josh Reynolds who really stepped up. While we don’t yet know the extent of the injury, St. Brown was visibly limping throughout most of the second half. Reynolds was the player who seemed to constantly be open for Goff, and he finished with an impressive 6 catches for 96 yards.
Jamaal Williams would add his 2nd touchdown run of the game in the third quarter as well, and the Lions took a 24-14 lead into the final period.
Crunch Time Went The Vikings’ Way
I would like to be able to write here that the Vikings finally woke up, and that they took the game over en route to a comeback victory. Unfortunately, it was much dicier than that. The Vikings’ first fourth-quarter drive ended with a punt, and it did not appear like they were prepared to make a comeback. Then, with over half of the final 15 minutes gone, the Vikings got one touchdown back after Alexander Mattison took it in from six yards out.
The Vikings would need another Lions’ FG miss to get the ball back with one more opportunity. For all of their previous mistakes, the final offensive drive for the Vikings was stellar. Kirk Cousins hit K.J. Osborn twice for over twenty yards, and one of those connections was the go-ahead touchdown. The Vikings would seal the game on a Josh Metellus interception, and they escaped with a 28-24 win.
Themes Of The Game: Lions’ Penalties
The Lions officially had seven penalties for a total of 59 yards, but they were almost all called on their secondary. Specifically, Amani Oruwariye accounted for most of these penalties, and they were costly. On one hand, the penalties were a sign of the physicality the Lions’ secondary was employing versus the Vikings’ wide receivers.
To some extent, it worked, as they were clearly in the heads of both Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. But, you still have to play within the rules of the game. Oruwariye in particular was responsible for several Vikings’ first downs, due to his illegal contact penalties throughout the game. While this can’t be considered the sole reason for the Vikings’ success, excessive penalties in this league will always decrease your chances of winning. The Vikings should have gotten another one late on CB Jeff Okudah, but the call was not made.
Themes Of The Game: Struggling Kickers
I hesitate to hate on the kickers too much in this game, simply because three of the missed field goals were from 50+ yard attempts. However, Austin Seibert did hit the post on a 48-yarder that was a bad miss.
Naturally, my concern lies more with the Vikings K Greg Joseph. After a lights-out preseason, I tagged Greg Joseph as a player who could be a significant factor in winning us games this year. And while his missed field goals today were from 56 yards out, I still expect him to make them, especially indoors. Had he made both kicks, the Vikings would not have had to complete a late-game comeback. The Vikings were fortunate that the opposing kicker was also off today, and I expect a rebound performance from Greg in London next week.
The Vikings BIG Glaring Issue
I mentioned at the start of this article that this felt like a game that “good teams just win” amid a successful season. The Vikings were able to overcome a mediocre performance and beat a good team within the division. But, it also further highlighted what I think is this team’s biggest weakness going forward.
Although the Vikings won, the pass rush continues to be non-existent. It is looking more and more like the Packers’ depleted offensive line was the reason for our success in week 1. Against both the Eagles and the Lions, the Vikings were unable to make things uncomfortable for the opposing quarterback. Jared Goff looked very good against the Vikings, and again it was because he had all the time in the world to make decisions. I don’t think we can fairly evaluate our secondary until they are given a fair shake by getting help from the front seven.
The Lions were able to exploit this with some slower-developing plays over the middle because they knew Goff would have time to wait for his receivers to get open. Last year, our pass rush was an Achilles heel as well, but we had the excuse of an injured Danielle Hunter. This season, we not only have Hunter at full strength, but we brought in Za’Darius Smith. I need to look more at the film before I determine if it’s more due to our defensive scheme or due to our players’ execution, but either way, we need to get to the quarterback if we want to compete deep into the playoffs. This is now the second consecutive week where our pass rush was completely negated by a quality offensive line, and we can’t rely on injuries to help us down the stretch.
Improvements From The Game In Philadelphia
For all of our struggles on Sunday, the Vikings at least showed they wanted to rectify some of the mistakes they made against the Eagles. Here are 5 positives I took away from this game:
- Dalvin Cook and the running game were involved. We still lost the time of possession battle, but there was a definite commitment to the run. Further, it was a successful commitment as well. The Vikings ran for over 120 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. While this didn’t help them score on every drive, they did get 30 first downs. This was seven more than the Lions on the day, and it at least gave our defense a chance to catch their breath.
- Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn got involved. Fans (myself included) were clamoring for Thielen to get more looks especially, and today’s game did just that. While it meant that JJ had less of an impact on the game, it should at least show future opponents that they’ll still get burned if they devote their resources to slowing down Justin Jefferson.
- While I was deeply disappointed in the Vikings’ pass rush, I was encouraged by our pass protection. It wasn’t perfect, but we only gave up one sack, and it was vastly improved compared to last Monday night. We still need to improve our blitz pick-up, but the offense was able to get going regardless.
- Speaking of the offense getting going, it looked like the Vikings coaches were on the same page with Kirk Cousins, for the most part. Obviously, there were mistakes, but I liked the sets when they went no-huddle, and overall I felt they had a good handle on what they wanted to do in terms of the game plan.
- The defense looked better. I say better because I am not going to pretend that they completely redeemed themselves after last week in Philadelphia, but they improved. They gave up nearly 100 fewer yards and made many more key plays when it mattered. Again, this defense will need a pass rush to be successful in the future, but in response to a terrible performance, they were much improved. Not to mention, they also had to play without the services of one Harrison Smith.
Maybe Not What We Wanted, But What We Needed
I’m sure all Vikings fans were wanting what I wanted: a dominating performance to reassure the fan base. But now that the dust has settled, I’m glad it was a struggle. We needed our coaches and players to grind out a win when it looked grim.
We needed to see this team deal with continued adversity after last week. And, we needed to see if we could win against a team that didn’t make a lot of mistakes. The Lions only had one turnover on Sunday, and we needed to see that we can win by being just a little more efficient when it mattered. Good teams win ugly games sometimes, and that’s what I think the Vikings accomplished today. I think this is exactly the sort of elixir the Vikings needed to feel good heading into the game against the Saints next week.
The Vikings are 2-1 with both of their wins coming against division opponents. While we can’t erase the Eagles game from history, this Vikings squad is in good shape. They head to London next week to play the Saints in an “away” game, and I think it’s a game we are more than capable of winning. So let’s get ready for the SKOL chant at 8:30 in the morning!
What were your biggest takeaways from today’s game? Let me know @Jlime8 on Twitter! Also, make sure you stay on The Daily Skol for more Vikings content, and give the whole crew a follow @DailySkol on Twitter!