The Vikings’ offense managed to convert just 13 percent of their third down tries, but created enough explosive plays to edge the Jets for a 37-17 win. Daniel House provides a few key takeaways.
The Vikings’ offense managed to convert just 13 percent of their third down tries, but created enough explosive plays to edge the Jets for a 37-17 win. Minnesota’s defense forced four takeaways and running back Latavius Murray ran for a pair of touchdowns as the Vikings jumped into first place in the NFC North.
The Vikings’ offense did just enough to win despite converting just 2 of their 15 third down tries. Minnesota’s play-calling was odd in early down situations as the team struggled to run the ball and favored the wide receiver screen game. This allowed the Jets to be more creative when the Vikings were in third-and-long situations. Several of the play calls were predictable and led to short or negative plays. The Minnesota offense squandered many opportunities with excellent field position. In the first half, they had the football on the Jets’ 35, 44 and 30-yard-lines, but had just three points to show for it.
The Vikings’ offense locked up inside the red zone as the running game struggled and a few penalties placed them in long down situations. One of the only completely smooth drives by the Minnesota offense came on the first series of the game. Wide receiver Adam Thielen hauled in a 34-yard touchdown as the Vikings marched on a 4-play, 68-yard scoring drive. Thielen tied the all-time record after posting his seventh consecutive game with 100 or more receiving yards. His brilliance to open the season should have him in the conversation for some of the league’s top offensive honors.
Kirk Cousins also snuck a deep 34-yard fade into Aldrick Robinson for a score late in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, the Jets’ secondary did a solid job of covering the Vikings’ playmakers up the field. Darryl Roberts knocked away a few passes, including a deep pass over the middle intended for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Minnesota’s offense wasn’t very creative in early downs, which placed them in unfavorable situations on third down. If they were more innovative with their play-calling variety, the game likely would have been much different. As the Vikings started to run more route concepts which forced the secondary to communicate and pass off, the offense started to open up. This was a sound adjustment that helped Minnesota create enough explosive plays to win.
The big key was an occasionally productive running game the Vikings had in the second half. Latavius Murray rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries, adding a pair of scores. The Minnesota offensive line opened a big lane for his 38-yard touchdown run. Center Pat Elflein delivered a key block and Danny Isidora drove into the second level to spring the play. Elflein played extremely well and was a key performer on the offensive line. Isidora also paved some lanes in the running game as he filled in for Tom Compton, who left the game with a knee injury. The team’s pass protection is still occasionally poor, especially with Rashod Hill at left tackle. However, they managed to hold blocks during critical moments of the game. Perhaps the Vikings will consider keeping Brian O’Neill at right tackle when Riley Reiff returns from injury.
The Vikings defense continues to be built around their third down defense and pass rush. At one point, Minnesota had a streak of 20 consecutive third down stops, dating back to last week’s game. Defensive end Stephen Weatherly was making plays off the edge and even dropped into coverage for a pass breakup. Weatherly’s improved pass rushing moves and skills against the run has helped Minnesota overcome the loss of Everson Griffen. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was also impactful on several plays, creating numerous pressures. The entire defensive line helps one another work within favorable situations. When the Vikings can force teams into third-and-long, blitz packages follow. Anthony Barr continued to rush the passer and the coaches sent safety Harrison Smith off blitzes. This type of pressure helped the Vikings create four takeaways, including three interceptions. The entire unit has clamped down against the run, which has helped provide more flexibility from a schematic standpoint on third-and-long.
The Jets were scheming to have multiple tight ends on the field throughout Sunday’s game. Their goal was to have the Vikings’ defense in the base package as much as possible. This allowed them to attack Minnesota’s safeties and linebackers with tight ends. Chris Herndon had a 12-yard touchdown reception and nearly beat Jayron Kearse for an 18-yard score. One weakness the Vikings still have to correct is their coverage off play-action roll-outs in the flat against tight ends. At one point, linebacker Eric Kendricks was beaten in man coverage off a wheel route, too. Kendricks has struggled early in the season, especially as a tackler. Just a few breakdowns throughout games have allowed teams to attack the Vikings’ defense with tight ends. Many of their breakdowns on defense were related to bad matchups or the failure to pass off receivers correctly in the secondary.
Moving forward, it will be worth monitoring the status of several key injuries that occurred late in this game. Linebacker Anthony Barr injured his hamstring in the fourth quarter and did not return. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes also exited slowly with an apparent ankle injury. The Vikings host the Saints next week and will need a healthy defense to compete against an offense with an elite quarterback and explosive weapons.