In last week’s SMR I lamented about being on the road, and how you just always feel a bit out of sync. You get out of your routine, sleeping in a soulless hotel room, driving a rental car, and eating restaurant food. It gets to be a drag. But at some point you get to go home and you can get back into your routine.
The first normal thing you experience is getting back in your truck and driving home. You don’t need to dial up the GPS to figure out where the hell you’re going, you go right to your radio station, and your truck syncs up with the phone so you can bang your music as loud as you want if you feel like going that route. Once you get in the front door, you dump all your dirty clothes in the hamper, throw on some comfy sweats because business casual on the road just sucks...and all is right with the world. You get to sit in your chair, you don’t need to figure what damn channel ESPN is so you can watch the Vikings game, and there’s a nice cold beer in the refrigerator with your name on it.
And that’s kind of how I thought the Vikings game went today against Detroit. They got home from the road, got comfortable, and got back in to their familiar groove. Yeah, it may be boring sometimes, but sometimes you need boring to balance out the hectic.
Nothing beats coming Home, Sweet Home, am I right, Mötley Crüe?
Take me to your heart
Feel me in your bones
Just one more night
And I’m coming off this
Long and winding road
I’m on my way
I’m on my way
Home sweet home
I’m on my way
I’m on my way
Home sweet home
Your SMR that’s pretty boring but still full of quality moments follows.
Stefon Diggs, WR: Diggs was the go to guy for Kirk Cousins today, and his beautiful, 44 yard sideline grab right before halftime set up a short touchdown run by Dalvin Cook that put the Vikes up 17-0. He didn’t score a touchdown, but he was the team’s leading receiver today, hauling in six catches for 92 yards. On the season, he’s up to 997 yards, and will end up with his second straight 1,000 yard season with his first catch next week. Oh, and we’ll come back to the 44 yarder later, but just appreciate this toe drag catch against Darius Slay, Jr., one of the best CB’s in the game:
Harrison Smith, S: Smith had a really solid day. He had two passes defended, one tackle for loss, and had another interception. The pick came late in the third quarter, set the Vikings up with a short field, and Minnesota converted Bailey’s 50 yard field goal to push the lead to 20-0.
Dan Bailey, K: A week after missing an extra point, Bailey was nails today. He hit both his extra points and made both field goal attempts, and one of those was a 50 yarder he drilled.
Danielle Hunter, DE: Hunter was in full beast mode today. He set the tone on defense with a sack on the first series, which was record setting:
.@DHunt94_TX reaches 50.0 career sacks at 25 years and 40 days old, making him the youngest player in NFL history to reach the mark. The record was previously held by Robert Quinn, who reached 50.0 career sacks at 25 years and 167 days of age. #ProBowlVote #DETvsMIN https://t.co/gBJyz72J9h— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) December 8, 2019
He had three sacks total, and the third was crippling for Detroit. It killed a 14 play drive, and knocked them out of gimme field goal range. It was third and two from the Vikings 12, but Hunter got to Blough for a 12 yard loss, making the field goal attempt from Matt Prater 45 yards instead of 29. Prater wound up and threw the best knuckleball I’ve ever seen, something that would baffle Mike Trout and buckle his knees. Unfortunately for Prater, though, he was kicking a football, not throwing a baseball, and it sailed wide right.
No, you read that right: Matt Prater missed a field goal against the Vikings.
The offensive line: The Vikes offensive line really seems to be gelling and coming together, and that’s a real positive sign heading into the final three games. I thought Cousins had all kinds of time to throw the ball today. Just look at the protection on the VIkings first score, the Bisi Johnson TD catch:
That’s a textbook pocket, and that’s what the o-line did most of the afternoon. They opened enough daylight for the Vikings run game to be decent, and only gave up one sack. I’m very encouraged with this unit moving forward, and a particular shout out to Garrett Bradbury and Pat Elflein, who are really coming on strong.
Mike Hughes, CB/PR: After a few rough games, I thought Hughes played pretty well, both as a cornerback and on punt returns. He had a couple nice punt returns and a pass breakup on the day.
Kirk Cousins, QB: Cousins wasn’t spectacular today, but he was efficient and made a couple spectacular throws. He ended the afternoon 24/30 for 242 yards, one touchdown, and most importantly, no turnovers. For a guy that’s been rightfully criticized for his turnover problem, he’s only thrown four interceptions and lost three fumbles all season. And heck, his last two picks were throws that literally bounced off the hands of intended receivers. You can’t get much better than that, kids.
Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, RB1 and RB2: Cook and Mattison combined for 108 yards rushing, and the Vikings did a good job of spelling Cook with Mattison to reduce wear and tear on Cook for the stretch run. Neither guy was extra special today, but they got the job done and moved the chains. Mattison had the highlight of the day between the two though:
Loved the leap from Mattison to get the extra yards and a first down, but Jahlani Tavai futilely low crawling after him is freaking hysterical and just makes me laugh.
None: I’m having a hard time coming up with someone who had a game so bad it was a junk bond. So I’m going to enjoy the win.
Buy: The defensive effort today. I was kind of concerned heading into this game. Rookie David Blough put over 280 yards passing on the Bears defense last week, and Mike Zimmer has a maddening habit of playing a fairly vanilla defense to start a game, allowing young QB’s like Brandon Allen of the Broncos to light up the VIkes like a Christmas tree. Today, the defense set the tone, blitzing and hurrying Blough from the first series, and completely stonewalling a top 10 NFL offense until the game was well decided.
Sell: Offensive penalty on 4th and 1 from the Lions four. In the second quarter the Vikings had a nice drive going, moving from their 35 to the Detroit four. On 4th and one, Mike Zimmer decided to go for it, and Dalvin Cook appeared to get two yards and a first down, setting up a first and goal. But the offense wasn’t set, they were called for an illegal procedure penalty, and Minnesota had to settle for a field goal. Against a better team on a different day, that could have been potentially huge.
Buy: Two minute drive to end the half. After the Prater missed knuckleball, the Vikes took over on their 35 with 1:06 and two timeouts left before halftime. What ensued is what I would argue might be the best two minute drive of the Zimmer era. A combination of great play calling, exceptional use of timeouts, and perfect execution on a big play got the Vikings close to the end zone:
Again, note the great protection for Cousins. It was a great throw, great catch, and two plays later Dalvin Cook walked in, giving Minnesota a 17-0 lead into the locker room.
Sell: Not stepping on the gas pedal to open the second half. Yet, the Vikings didn’t really do anything with that momentum coming out of the half. It seemed like Minnesota went into ‘kill the clock mode’ as opposed to ‘go for the throat’ mode, and part of me understands it. You have a big lead, the Lions have shown zero life on offense, and Minnesota was in complete control of the game. Yet we’ve seen first hand how tenuous 17...or 20...point leads can be.
A weird bounce, a turnover, or a busted play could completely turn the game around, and now what was a game you had in the bag is very much NOT in the bag. For example, on the Vikes first drive, a makeable third and five went to waste when Cousins threw a deep, low percentage pass to Alexander Hollins. Punt. On their second drive, the third and seven call was a run to the left by Dalvin Cook that went for no gain. Punt. The defense remained stout throughout, and the Lions got nothing going until the game was pretty much over, so it wasn’t a big deal. Still, for as much as Mike Zimmer preaches the importance of closing the first half with points and bookending that with points to open the second half, the lack of urgency there was weird.
Buy: Benching Rhodes to start the game. I like the move to bench Xavier Rhodes early in the game. The stat sheet says Rhodes started, but it looked like Mike Hughes started in his place, and played a good part of the first half. Rhodes did play, and it seemed like he responded. I liked it because it sent a message to the defense that they needed to play better, and it appears that the defense got the message loud and clear, as they played as well as they have in two months.
Sell: Walt Coleman’s officiating crew. What a joke of a crew. Their inability to correctly call the most basic of plays is balanced out by their penchant for throwing a flag just as the game is getting into a rhythm. Ticky tack penalties, a blown call that caused Zimmer to throw a challenge flag to overturn, when the side judge was literally looking at the drop happen? It was just a terribly called game.
Buy: This was a boring game. No, it won’t be the NFL Game of the Week, and yeah, it was kind of a snoozefest, but it’s a win. And it’s nine wins for the Vikings on the year, and one game closer to a playoff spot. I’ll happily take it.