The Vikings played the Redskins on Thursday night. They won. Ugly. That was the theme of the game. Ugly. The Vikings were 17 point favorites at home, playing a poor 1-6 Redskins team that had to travel on a short week.
So how did the Vikings go about winning ugly? Well, there are basically two ways to win ugly generally. The first is to generally play poorly the whole game, but get bailed out with a few key plays against an opponent not playing well. The second is to play okay most of the game but make some key mistakes that prevent a better result against an opponent not playing well.
In this case, the Vikings were this latter form of ugly winners.
It seemed clear going into this game that the goal was simply to get out with a W against a struggling Redskins team and move on. It was a short week, not much time to prepare, not much to suggest it would be a big prime time game with something on the line. And so the Vikings came out with less focus and intensity than we’ve seen recently, but managed to do many things well in securing the victory.
The Vikings won the game because they had 434 yards of offense, held the Redskins to half that, dominated time of possession, didn’t allow a touchdown on defense, won the turnover battle, never had to punt, and didn’t miss a field goal or extra point.
All of that suggests a dominant victory on the scoreboard. But a more comfortable than dominant 19-9 was the final score. The reason was because they had difficulty scoring touchdowns.
The Vikings had led the league in red zone TD conversion percentage, coming in at around a 70% clip, but managed to officially go only 1 for 4 (25%) in the red zone Thursday night.
The reasons for the stalled drives in the red zone was first a holding penalty on Laquon Treadwell after the Vikings had driven 86 yards to the Redskins 5 yard line.
The second red zone attempt failed after Kirk Cousins was sacked twice in three plays.
A third attempt, which may not be credited as a ‘red zone’ attempt because they got to the 20, but not inside the 20, stalled on a Pat Elflein holding penalty.
In all three drives, the Vikings offense could not overcome the setbacks in the red zone (or close to it).
Add to that another Stefon Diggs turnover - he’s been responsible for 4 turnovers so far this year - and a failed 4th and 1 attempt in Vikings territory, and that made a handful of drives cut short by critical mistakes.
Had the Vikings maintained their red zone conversion rate, the final score would’ve been 31-9, rather than 19-9.
Defense Allows Only Three Points in Second Half
Redskins QB Case Keenum did not return for the second half due to a concussion, which resulted in rookie first-round backup Dwayne Haskins taking over. The Redskins managed only one field goal the rest of the game, and a total of 14 plays.
It’s a fair question whether the poor performance of the Redskins offense was of their own making or because of the stout Vikings defense, but the season-to-date results of the Redskins offense suggests the former, particularly with Haskins at quarterback.
Haskins threw an interception after two plays on a drive, which along with a couple three-and-outs, had the Redskins offense watching most of the 2nd half on the sideline. Their only significant production came on back-to-back plays to Adrian Peterson - a run and a pass - that yielded 50 yards and ultimately a field goal.
Old School Pounding
Both Mike Zimmer and Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan, who’s been an offensive line coach for the past half-dozen years or so, are old school coaches who’d be happy to win with a strong running game and solid defense.
But it was Zimmer who had the upper-hand late in the game, up 19-9 against an offense that had done next to nothing the second half. So, with 8:42 left in the game, the Vikings began their final drive of the game.
It was a total of 16 plays. All of them rushing attempts. Every single play. Clearly the Redskins defense had to be getting tired - they were on the field 22 of the last 30 minutes of the game - and the Vikings were content to work their advantage, pound the ball, and run out the clock.
Inside the Redskins 10 yard line, the Vikings were content to run down the clock, foregoing a more concerted effort to score a touchdown, and also going for it on 4th and 7 rather than kicking a field goal.
Nothing wrong with that. Unless you took the Vikings to cover the 17 point spread. But for the Vikings coaching staff, at that point in the game, in those circumstances, why do anything else? They drafted Alexander Mattison for a reason, and with a comfortable lead and a defense that shut-down the opposing offense, this is how they prefer to close-out games. I’m sure there were no complaints from the offensive line, either.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) had a number of seemingly unusual grades for this game. It wasn’t a particularly strong effort from the offensive line in terms of pass blocking compared to recent weeks, but the starting offensive linemen had 5 of the top 8 grades on offense for the Vikings. Riley Reiff was the highest graded player on offense (89.1), followed by Kirk Cousins, Stefon Diggs, and Alexander Mattison.
The offensive line grades were helped considerably by higher run-blocking grades. Pat Elflein, for example, who gave up a sack and had a couple (questionable?) holding penalties, had a poor 28.5 pass blocking grade. But he also had a 80.3 run blocking grade, undoubtedly helped by the 16 run plays at the end of the game when the Redskins defense was tired. That resulted in a 76.9 overall grade, which was 5th best among offensive players, and 2nd best among offensive linemen.
But with Dalvin Cook rushing for 98 yards on 23 carries, and Alexander Mattison for 61 yards on 13 carries (4.4 yard average overall) the offensive line must have been doing something right, even though it looked overpowered at times early on.
Kirk Cousins, while not having any TD passes, was very efficient otherwise, going 23/26 for 285 yards and a 112.3 passer rating.
Defensively, only Danielle Hunter had an elite (91.1) overall grade. Eric Kendricks was 2nd, with a 75.1, breaking his streak of elite graded games, but still very solid.
On the other end of the spectrum, Xavier Rhodes continues to get poor grades, perhaps more for his penalties as for completions allowed. He seems to have gone from best to worst among Vikings cornerbacks over the course of two years, and apart from Week 1, hasn’t really had a good game in coverage. His 30.2 overall grade against the Redskins reflected poor grades in both coverage and tackling.
It wasn’t the best performance by the Vikings this season, and against a better opponent it could’ve been a loss. But Thursday night games seldom bring out the best in NFL teams, working on a short week with less time to prepare, so grinding out a win without any injuries was good enough, if not all that entertaining.
The Vikings now have some extra days of rest and preparation before heading down to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, who may or may not have Patrick Mahomes back by then.
This next two game road stretch at the Chiefs and Cowboys - both playoff contenders - should give a better assessment of where the Vikings rank in the post-season pecking order.