The Minnesota Vikings reeled off another win, this time expected by pundits and bettors alike. A 24-10 drubbing of the New York Giants and Eli Manning.
The fantastic thing about this victory is that the Vikings succeeded in all three phases of the game with only some minor hiccups in between.
Sam Ekstrom covered the offense in detail, but it’s worth mentioning that there were quite a few big players for the team’s first true offensive success of the year.
With three offensive touchdowns—two on the ground and one on the air—Minnesota can take heart in a solid performance from Bradford, who once again had to bounce back from a shaky start; 5 for 9 with 37 yards (4.1 yards per attempt) in the first quarter.
Of the 32 quarterbacks this year with at least ten attempts in the first quarter this year, Bradford ranks 31st in yards per attempt and 28th when adjusting for sacks, interceptions and touchdowns.
In the rest of the game—quarters 2-4—he ranks second among all quarterbacks this year in yards per attempt and in adjusted net yards per attempt.
That first offensive touchdown required a bit of help from a muffed punt, but the offense took control after that. Bradford wasn’t surgical, but he was largely accurate after that disappointing first quarter and more than got the job done, especially on third down (where the Vikings were 8 of 16).
Excellent performances from Jerick McKinnon (who averaged 6.0 yards per carry on his first ten carries) and much of the offensive line complemented the stellar performance that Kyle Rudolph carried through the air. Beyond that, Charles Johnson demonstrated his capability to be a big-play threat with 70 receiving yards on two catches.
The Vikings grabbed five receptions each from Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson while Bradford distributed the ball to nine different receivers, demonstrating the offense’s versatility and flexibility.
It took some breaks for the offense to finally get on track—a lucky muffed punt, some gimmicky plays with Patterson and McKinnon, and an opponent unable to take advantage of busted or tipped plays—but they ultimately performed well, and overcame some unlucky obstacles as well, like poorly timed drops and another missed field goal.
With no sacks given up, very little pressure allowed in general, and some generous holes created in the run game, the offensive line can count this game as a feather in their cap.
Defensively, the story that drove the conversation among fans was the matchup between Xavier Rhodes and Odell Beckham, but the bigger battle may have been up front.
Linval Joseph dominated the game with several run stops and a quarterback hit early in the game. He made life difficult for the Giants offensive line and it wasn’t until they dedicated a second blocker to him that they got anything moving at all.
Joseph, as a nose tackle, will almost never accumulate a good number of statistics but among nose tackles he’s continued his statistical dominance. He maintains his number one ranking in stop rate (forcing an offensive loss by himself on 20 percent of all running snaps he’s in on) and keeping up his high pressure rate, ranking tenth of all nose tackles.
His dominance was felt once more in the run game, and his three stops alone speak well of him. Beyond that, his ability to alter the running paths of Orleans Darkwa and Paul Perkins was invaluable.
Everson Griffen constantly beat Ereck Flowers and consistently ripped underneath his leverage. While it didn’t result in sacks or many quarterback hits, it forced Eli Manning to get rid of the ball (extremely) early and often. In the last few weeks, Manning threw with a passer rating of 55.0 when pressured and Monday’s near-constant pressure from Griffen forced Manning to get rid of the ball quickly without much accuracy or foresight. It was a pressure from Griffen that led to the interception Xavier Rhodes snagged.
Brian Robison seemingly had a quiet night as well, but he generated some pressure against backup right tackle Bobby Hart, even if it wasn’t as obvious as Griffen’s was, coming from a wide nine look. Still, the defense did better with Danielle Hunter in there instead, and regardless of whether he was replacing Griffen or Robison, he added significantly to run defense without sacrificing much in the way of pressure.
Tom Johnson had a good game as well, and though he was occasionally washed out in the running game, he created a tackle for loss and entered the backfield more often than the Giants seemed to have expected.
Unfortunately, the linebackers at the second level couldn’t deliver. Anthony Barr didn’t have an excellent game, but he was too far away from the action on many plays that required his presence. The bigger issue was Eric Kendricks, who made good reads but missed far too many tackles in the game. His lone opportunity to turn things around was a dropped interception. He’ll want to bury this game film.
In the secondary, things were going swimmingly. Aside from Rhodes’ fantastic play—a highlight pass deflection of a pass intended for Odell Beckham, Jr. as well as the deep interception both reflect well on him despite a second quarter where Beckham seemed like he was pulling away and getting cheap yardage.
Instead, a total of 23 yards over the course of the full game (and no catches in the second half) speaks well to who covered him. That wasn’t all Rhodes, either. Harrison Smith played a big role in limiting Beckham while he also racked up more defensive run stops.
Rhodes wasn’t the only excellent performer among the cornerbacks. Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman and Trae Waynes all had excellent games. This was perhaps the first complete game where Waynes showcased good play throughout (albeit in limited snaps) and that’s encouraging. Newman is doing a fantastic job of overcoming the physical obstacles of aging while still providing cornerback play well above league average.
A wide receiver trio that was leading the league in yards before this game was held to 103 when playing the Vikings.
Height doesn't matter to this trio. pic.twitter.com/3PqYLggHcM
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) October 4, 2016
That group had been averaging more than twice as much, 236 yards a game. Even Andrew Sendejo had his moments, though he also had his mistakes and his poor tackling angle (along with Barr’s) on Paul Perkins’ screen was primarily responsible for the Giants’ only play longer than 20 yards.
Add to that a blown run gap on when getting blocked out of the play and a frustrating dropped interception, and Vikings fans were quickly reminded of why they were looking for a new safety. A few games of solid play means that Sendejo’s play isn’t alarming, but it’s notable.
As for the Vikings’ special teams, they did a fantastic job creating field position while limiting them on returns. The Vikings had the second-best average starting field position on offense this week, and that’s in no small part to Patterson’s return (and threat to return) as well as Marcus Sherels’ very smart decisionmaking.
They only allowed one dangerous return (a 44-yard dash by Dwayne Harris) at the beginning of the game and didn’t allow a single punt to be returned. Some of that is on the excellent coverage units spearheaded by Marcus Sherels, Cordarrelle Patterson and Laquon Treadwell, but much of it is on Locke—who had three punts inside the 20 to one touchback and possibly one other poor punt (at best). it’s been a renaissance for him this year, and he’s been playing well.
Unfortunately, “special teams” accompanies several stages—not just kickoffs, punts, kickoff returns and punt returns, but also field goals. And though missing one field goal is fine for most kickers (it happens), it’s decidedly worrisome for Blair Walsh, who has seemingly had occasion to miss kicks in every game.
At the moment, the Vikings simply cannot be confident in Walsh going forward.
With those hiccups in mind—Sam Bradford’s first quarter, Eric Kendricks’ forgettable performance and Blair Walsh’s missed kick—the Vikings were holistically a more complete team than they’ve been all year.
The Vikings will need to repeat this kind of performance in order to absolve worries about sustainability, but this is a fantastic first step and possibly more encouraging than their home opener against the Green Bay Packers.