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Vikings Came To Play, Light Up Eagles: Game Notes

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings came out fast, built an early lead, and lit up the Eagles en route to a 38-20 blow-out. It was also something of a statement win, with Cousins and the passing game coming up big, while still rushing for over 100 yards against the Eagles top run defense, which hadn’t given up a 100 yard rushing game all year.

Defensively the Vikings executed a good game plan, minimizing Zach Ertz, the Eagles leading receiver, and for the most part making the Eagles work for what they got. They also generated a couple turnovers in the second half which killed any Eagles chance of making a comeback.

Special teams was also on its game, thwarting an Eagles fake field goal attempt, and Dan Bailey continuing to boot every opportunity through the uprights.

Eagles linebacker Zach Brown gave the Vikings and Kirk Cousins some billboard material early in the week by calling Cousins the weak link in the offense. Cousins said he didn’t see the comment, but apparently Mike Zimmer did and mentioned it is his post-game locker room speech. Cousins’ performance also shut Brown up, as he wouldn’t answer any questions about Cousins after the game.

Kirk Cousins finished the game 22/29 for 333 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, and a 138.4 passer rating. The lone blemish on Cousins’ card was an interception entirely on Stefon Diggs for failing to catch a well thrown ball to him, instead letting it bounce off his helmet for a gift interception for former Viking Andrew Sendejo. Diggs had another drop as well.

Great Game Plan, Good Execution

The Vikings offense started fast, going up-tempo some, and was able to drive down the field with successful run and pass plays, ending in an opening drive touchdown that really set the stage for the rest of the game.

The Vikings succeeded in multiple pitch plays to Cook (including a reverse to Diggs), which enabled the Vikings to get past the Eagles wide ends - designed to contain the outside zone runs.

The Eagles’ defense, therefore, was not successful in making the Vikings one-dimensional, which allowed play-action to be effective and helped minimize the effectiveness of the Eagles pass rush.

That, in turn, gave Kirk Cousins the time he needed for the deep shots against a poor Eagles secondary that were the difference in the game. Stefon Diggs was able to run by Rasul Douglas multiple times on deep routes, and Cousins was able to connect with him on 2 of them - TD passes of 62 and 51 yards.

The two late touchdown drives, capped off by a deep middle end zone pass to Diggs and a one yard run by Dalvin Cook, also showed good balance between run and pass, with Alexander Mattison breaking off a 35-yard run, and Irv Smith and Bisi Johnson getting targeted by Cousins for some nice passing yards.

Cousins Moving Better

The Vikings began calling more play-action rollouts last week against the Giants, and called a certain number of them against the Eagles as well, which has given Kirk Cousins more practice moving out of the pocket and throwing on the run. That seems to be having some impact on his non-rollout pass attempts as well, as he seems more adept at getting out of the pocket to avoid pressure and make a good throw.

His pass to Diggs (the one that bounced off Diggs’ helmet for an INT) was a good example of Cousins making a good play on his end moving out of the pocket and delivering an accurate throw for what would’ve been a third down conversion.

Cousins pass to Bisi Johnson, after rolling to his right to outrun a blitzing linebacker, was another example of Cousins moving well to avoid pressure, extend the play, and make an accurate throw.

Aggressive Defense and Trae Waynes

The trade-off that goes with more aggressive man coverage is exemplified in Trae Waynes. Waynes was targeted often by Carson Wentz, whether he was covering Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffrey, or Zach Ertz. Waynes gave up some plays, and he made some plays that helped get the defense off the field. And on most of the latter, Vikings fans have been conditioned to hold their breath in anticipation of a defensive pass interference call. But the flag didn’t come. Part of the reason for that is Waynes has been looking back for the ball more, and part of it is the contact is more subtle, and that combination makes it harder for an official to throw a flag. And other times Waynes gave up a big play.

But the alternative is allowing a series of shorter completions in soft or zone coverage. Shorter plays perhaps, but plays that move the chains, extend drives and time of possession. These are also easier for an offense to execute.

And so by playing more aggressive coverage, the Vikings are forcing opponents to execute at a higher level, or fail in their pass attempt. Sometimes that can lead to the Vikings giving up a big play, and sometimes making one, or making it too difficult for the play to succeed.

This is a trade-off the Vikings need to continue to make, most of the time. They have talent all over the field on defense, and need to force opponents to match it, rather than allow short stuff in hope that eventually they make a mistake.

Waynes finished the day allowing four receptions on 11 targets, for 69 yards and a 88.8 passer rating when targeted.

Scheming a Better Offensive Line

Kirk Cousins was only sacked once against a good Eagles defensive front - when Brandon Graham slipped right past Pat Elflein without slowing down. But other than that, the Vikings offensive line was able to keep Cousins relatively free from serious pressure most of the game.

That’s not to say Dakota Dozier manhandled Fletcher Cox - he didn’t. But between the balanced run-pass attack, play-action, and screen game, and not many obvious passing situations, the Eagles defensive front had to hedge their pass rushing bets most of the time.

That, combined with some rollouts and mostly quick passing game, made it difficult for any Eagle to get to Cousins.

And all that makes the job of a Vikings offensive lineman, particularly in pass protection, just a little easier.

Individual Player Grades

Kirk Cousins led all Vikings with an elite 93.0 grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Among offensive starters he was followed by Stefon Diggs (81.6), Brian O’Neill (79.3), and Adam Thielen (70.4).

Defensively, MacKensie Alexander topped the list, with an elite 91.9 overall grade. He was followed by Eric Kendricks (91.5), Anthony Harris (90.4), and Everson Griffen (77.1).

Despite some continuing miscues, the Vikings offensive line seems to be solidifying. Brian O’Neill is becoming a top right tackle. Garrett Bradbury had another good performance. And Rashod Hill didn’t allow a pressure in 22 pass blocking snaps. Pat Elflein wasn’t as good, but not nearly as bad as he was earlier this season. Dakota Dozier, filling in for Josh Kline at right guard, didn’t grade well overall, but didn’t give up a sack either despite drawing Fletcher Cox most often in past protection.

Schedule Looks a Bit Easier

Next week at Detroit will be a tough division game, but then there’s Washington at home. And what looked like a pretty tough two-game road trip at Kansas City and Dallas, suddenly looks a bit more manageable. Detroit showed that man coverage and inside pressure can beat the Chiefs offense, while the 3-3 Cowboys just lost to the Jets. Then the struggling Broncos come to town. The Vikings then have a bye-week to figure out how to beat the Seahawks in Seattle.

That sets up basically home games the rest of the season, once you realize the Chargers have no home field advantage at “Dignity Health Sports Park.” The other three games are home division games, that will be critical, but home field advantage will be important.

Bottom Line

The Vikings are building momentum, and at 4-2, everything is possible. Every unit is clicking for the Vikings - passing game and run game, defense, and special teams as Dan Bailey (and Britton Colquitt) continue to deliver.

Equally important, the Vikings coaching staff has stepped-up their game since the week 4 loss at Chicago. Mike Zimmer has become more aggressive in his defensive game plan, which better utilizes his players skill sets, and offensively the Vikings are using more of Gary Kubiak’s offense, which does the same on that side of the ball. And the Vikings’ players are responding with confidence.

That bodes well for the future.

Official NFL Game Summary

The official game summary is here.