Kirk Cousins bounced back, going 22/27 for 306 yards, 2 TDs and a 138.6 passer rating.
Dalvin Cook also bounced back, with 132 yards rushing (6.3/attempt) and 86 yards receiving (14.3/catch) for 218 yards total from scrimmage.
Dan Bailey was perfect kicking, making two extra points and going 4/4 from the field, while Adam Thielen had 130 yards receiving, and Anthony Barr had a safety and interception.
But for all the great individual performances, the game ball might go to the Vikings coaching staff, who put together a much better game plan against the Giants than they did last week against the Bears, which allowed them to get more from their top players.
It’s All About A Better Game Plan
But for all the great individual stats, it was the Vikings game plan - on both sides of the ball - that carried the day and allowed most players to be at their best.
Let’s start with offense.
The Vikings ran a number of play-action rollouts in this game, a play that was not seen much at all last week at Chicago, along with a steady diet of screen passes. Take a look at all 27 of Cousins’ pass attempts:
There were relatively few shotgun, stand-and-deliver-type passes called, which really took the pressure off of Cousins - and the offensive line. The second aspect of the passing play calls was that there were more short- to intermediate-length targets for Cousins to throw to. Last week against the Bears, often there were a couple deep routes and a check down, and the Vikings receivers weren’t as open on those deep routes, which led to check downs - especially when under pressure - which Cousins was a lot more against the Bears than the Giants.
The Bears also just have a flat out better defense than the Giants, with a much better secondary, which made passing and receivers getting open more difficult. They also covered the screen passes better, limiting their success. The Vikings executed the screen passes much better against the Giants, and if they continue to improve this aspect of their game, it will help a lot against defenses dialing up pressure.
I also noticed that this game plan had a lot more “Kubiak” plays, as far as I could tell, compared to “Stefanski” plays, particularly in the passing game. The screens and rollouts with multiple crossing routes are vintage Kubiak, and the Vikings ran a steady diet of them the entire game.
The element of misdirection, which is the heart of Kubiak’s offense, was really on display against the Giants and helped the Vikings sustain some long drives. This in turn led to dominating time of possession, and wearing out the Giants’ defense, which eventually began to yield some big runs.
All these things are classic Kubiak, and this game plan looks to have his fingerprints on it much more than the last one against the Bears. We’ll see what happens going forward.
Defensive Game Plan Better Too
Last week Mike Zimmer talked about the need for tighter coverage. Last week against the Bears the Vikings played looser coverage, whether man or zone, which allowed the Bears to sustain drives. This week against the Giants, coverage was tighter. The Vikings often went with mainly man coverage, except in the red zone. Going with more aggressive coverage led to some lapses - notably Xavier Rhodes giving up a long TD pass - but for the most part it worked well and kept the Giants’ passing game in check.
Below is the film of the Vikings defense in coverage, and you’ll notice tighter coverage than last week against the Bears. Mike Zimmer also dialed up blitzes more often than normal, which were effective more often than not.
Here is the 4th quarter:
Barr’s interception on the last play got cut off, but other than that, you can see all of Daniel Jones’ passing attempts against the Vikings defense, and how Zimmer game planned against them.
Early on, except in the red zone, the Vikings were generally playing tight man coverage - which they didn’t do against Chicago or Green Bay, and led to early deficits. The Vikings defensive game plan forced the Giants to execute at a higher level to be successful passing. They had some successful plays, most notably the long TD pass over Xavier Rhodes, and they got a DPI against Trae Waynes which was a bit ticky-tack, but for the most part the Vikings held up reasonably well in terms of giving up anything deep - and were able to defense a number of deep shots the Giants took.
You could tell Mike Zimmer was a little out of his comfort zone, or a bit more tense, running with more aggressive coverage and pressure packages than he’s been running previously. He laid into Xavier Rhodes pretty good for getting beat on the TD pass, and was not happy about the DPI call against Trae Waynes, which he challenged.
But after the game he seemed pleased with the outcome and said being aggressive on defense is something they need to do a bit more of in the future.
Adam Thielen was the highest graded player for the Vikings on offense, with an elite 92.4 grade from PFF, followed by Kirk Cousins with an 84.7 overall grade.
Bit of a drop-off after that, but it’s noteworthy that Pat Elflein was the highest graded starting offensive lineman for the Vikings against the Giants, which continues a steady improvement over the past few weeks, including the Bears game. His 72.2 overall grade against the Giants was the best grade of his career.
Garrett Bradbury also had easily the best grade of his career, coming in at 66.7. Riley Reiff also bounced back with a particularly strong pass blocking grade (89.5), after a rough outing in Chicago.
Defensively, the Vikings were led by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, who both finished with elite grades of 90.9 and 90.4 respectively.
Ifeadi Odenigbo made the most of his increased playing time, with an 83.0 overall grade.
Mike Hughes was targeted more than any other defensive back (10 targets), but allowed only a 68.3 passer rating when targeted and had 3 key pass break-ups, including a late TD attempt. Very promising game for the young CB, showing he is getting back to form after missing a year with a knee injury.
Trae Waynes was targeted 7 times, but allowed only 9 receiving yards on those targets and a 62.2 passer rating. He did have the one DPI penalty, however. Waynes has historically graded much better in man coverage compared to zone, so playing more man coverage fits with his strengths.
On the other hand, Xavier Rhodes struggled in coverage, allowing a 142.5 passer rating when targeted. Rhodes has not been trending in the right direction for the past couple years, and has been trending lower so far this year. Mike Zimmer has talked to Rhodes about “playing up to his contract,” and had words for him after he gave up the TD pass. At this point Rhodes, who never looks 100%, needs to play considerably better or this may be his last season with the Vikings.
It was a good road win for the Vikings, but once again against a bottom half team. But it did mark, perhaps, an important shift in game planning approach which could prove to important down the road.
We’ll see when the Vikings face off against a better opponent in the Eagles next weekend, whether the Vikings can break from the trend of beating poor teams but losing to winning teams - a trend that’s been in place since the beginning of last season.