Sunday afternoon was a chance for redemption as the Vikings traveled to Philadelphia for an NFC Title Game rematch. Daniel House breaks down the big 23-21 win.
Sunday afternoon was a chance for redemption as the Vikings traveled to Philadelphia for an NFC Title Game rematch.
Ten days separated a disappointing performance by the Minnesota defense at the hands of an explosive Los Angeles Rams team. Sunday was an opportunity to redeem themselves, following a 556-yard thrashing last week. Questions mounted regarding the team’s defense the entire week. Many asked whether they could possibly put the pieces together.
Everyone knew a trip to Philadelphia would set the tone for this season. The Vikings’ pass rush answered the call. Three sacks and numerous quarterback pressures kept Carson Wentz uncomfortable in the pocket. A strip sack by Stephen Weatherly fell into the arms of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who returned the fumble 64 yards for a touchdown. The score helped energize the team and provided a necessary spark. The defensive effort in the first half, combined with several difficult throws by quarterback Kirk Cousins, lifted the Vikings to a huge 23-21 win. Cousins finished the night completing 30 of his 37 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown.
The Vikings’ offense continued to perform well as offensive coordinator John DeFilippo kept the Eagles’ defense on their heels with his play-calling. He set up the wide receiver screen game and took occasional shots deep to attack a Philadelphia secondary without safety Rodney McLeod. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen combined for 17 receptions (21 targets), 207 yards and a touchdown.
Cousins’ highlight pass of the day came when the Eagles sent pressure, he stood tall in the pocket and delivered a perfectly placed 68-yard fade to wide receiver Adam Thielen. The pass had excellent zip and hit Thielen in stride up the right sideline. Cousins also sizzled a pass to the back left corner of the end zone as Thielen ran a beautiful route for a three-yard touchdown. Thielen had seven catches for 116 yards and a touchdown as he became the first player in the Super Bowl era to post 100-plus yard receiving performances in each of the first five games.
Many of the throws Cousins made to Thielen occurred with pressure in his face, but he delivered them with precision. He also managed to slip past pressure to hit Thielen for a key second-and-five conversion late in the fourth quarter. David Morgan had a great block and Latavius Murray chipped beautifully to execute the call. A few plays later, John DeFilippo designed an excellent play-action pass in the flat to Kyle Rudolph to move the chains. It was a key drive late in the game as the Vikings ran 6:24 off the clock. In between the above play calls, Latavius Murray had 27 yards on the ground to run clock. Kicker Dan Bailey drilled a 52-yard field goal to help the Vikings pull off a win. Despite missing two kicks earlier in the game, the free agent signing made the important kick when it mattered most.
This week, the Vikings will need to focus on their red zone offense. They finished 1-for-4 in those situations and settled for field goal attempts. In the future, they’ll need to convert those opportunities into touchdowns.
Defensive success starts with pressure
The Vikings’ success on defense started with the pressure they put on quarterback Carson Wentz. Stephen Weatherly and Danielle Hunter each had a sack and multiple pressures. Minnesota’s defensive line forced Carson Wentz to get rid of the ball quickly. One of the two takeaways were the result of Weatherly getting pressure around the edge. Hunter was all over the field making plays, including against the run. The Vikings controlled the line of scrimmage and helped created turnovers, which were the difference in this game. They did allow some explosive plays and multiple issues occurred due to miscommunications in the secondary. Luckily, each of them led to field goal tries as the Vikings’ defense clamped down in the red zone. There are still wrinkles to clean up in the secondary and at the linebacker position, but Minnesota’s pressure made a huge difference. They also managed to not surrender a big play on the ground and allowed the Eagles to convert just two of their nine third down attempts. This type of success in early downs and ability to get off the field, are attributes that made the Vikings’ defense strong in the past.
There are certainly things to patch, such as red zone offense and aspects of pass coverage, but this was the first game where the Vikings managed to show signs of playing complementary football. Cousins made some big throws to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, while the defense forced two key takeaways that changed the game’s landscape. Dan Bailey missed two kicks, but he managed to drill a long attempt when it mattered most.
After three tough games on the road against Green Bay, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the Vikings now enter a more manageable phase of their schedule. Signs of progress were shown as Minnesota bounced back and proved everyone shouldn’t count them out. The talent is there, but now it’s about putting the pieces together and playing more consistent.
A key win at Philadelphia is certainly a step in the right direction.