While there was a lot to like in this game, which was similar to the week one win over the Falcons, the Vikings dominating performance came against a pretty bad Raiders team at home.
The Vikings were helped early on by some key Raiders’ penalties that allowed the Vikings to extend drives, and ultimately score touchdowns. But the Vikings defense was stout except for covering TE Darren Waller and a flea-flicker play, leaving the Raiders behind multiple scores from the beginning of the second quarter.
If there is a theme emerging for the Vikings this season, it is a strong running game, solid defense, and winning the turnover battle as the keys to victory. They did that in their two victories, but lost the turnover battle at Green Bay, leading to their only loss so far.
But in these three keys, the Vikings rank #2 in rushing yards, #4 in takeaways, and tied for 5th in points allowed. The only flaw was the 4 giveaways at Green Bay, which led to the only blemish on the win-loss record.
The Vikings haven’t faced a real top defense so far, but will have their first test next week against the Bears, who are currently tied for 5th in fewest rushing yards allowed, with just 68.5 a game. The Vikings offense is averaging 193.7 yards a game.
Here are some notes on the Raiders game.
Dalvin Cook Widens his League Lead in Rushing Yards
Dalvin Cook had 110 yards on 16 carries (6.9 yard average), along with 4 receptions for 33 yards, giving him a total of 143 of the Vikings 385 yards of total offense (37%). That brings Cook to a league-leading total of 375 rushing yards after 3 games (125/game). Cook widened his lead in that respect as Saquon Barkley (2nd behind Cook after 2 games), had only 10 rushing yards before leaving the game with a high ankle sprain. That leaves Christian McCaffrey as the new #2 behind Cook with 318 yards on the ground.
Cook’s 6.6 yards per rushing attempt is also highest among rushers with at least 20 carries.
Vikings Add Another Kubiak Staple to Repertoire
The throwback pass to Adam Thielen for the Vikings first touchdown was, I believe, the first time we’ve seen that play from the Vikings this year.
Here is a similar throwback play performed by Peyton Manning with Kubiak and the Broncos in 2015:
The Vikings’ version of this play is more difficult to execute from a pass protection standpoint, as it is slow-developing, but the throwback concept goes against DB instincts in coverage as they expect a throw to the same side of the field.
So, if pass protection can hold up, it often presents a pretty good opportunity for a shot down the field. We’ll have to wait and see how often the Vikings dial up this down the stretch, but it’s a good option for generating a chunk play.
Passing Game Very Efficient Too
While the Vikings running game behind Dalvin Cook is generating all the buzz, and deservedly so, it is helping the passing game become more efficient too. After three games, the Vikings offense is averaging 5.6 yards per rush attempt, and 7.6 yards per pass attempt, and 6.4 yards per play, which is tied for 4th best in league rankings.
The Vikings averaged 6.5 yards per play against the Raiders, including 8.3 yards per pass play.
Special Teams Perfection
Hopefully this won’t be as noteworthy in the future, but the fact that the Vikings made every field goal and extra point attempt, including a 50-yard field goal, is definitely noteworthy as it hasn’t happened much. I’m not sure the last time Bailey went 6/6 between field goals and extra point attempts, but it certainly isn’t every game. Bravo.
Hopefully this is a sign things are beginning to click in the kicking game.
It was also noteworthy that Bailey also had all touchbacks in his kickoffs, while Britton Colquitt had a very respectable 47.5 yard net punting average. Pretty solid all around.
Irv Smith Jr. Gets Involved
It was nice to see Irv Smith get more involved in the Vikings pass offense, collecting 3 receptions on 3 targets for 60 yards - leading all receivers for the Vikings. Smith led all offensive players in PFF grade, narrowly edging out Dalvin Cook, based on his receiving and blocking against the Raiders. Smith’s development at TE is encouraging, as he looks like a wide receiver in terms of speed and athleticism, but is also learning to block better too. He is a real matchup problem for linebackers, and having a safety cover him is going to provide opportunities elsewhere for Diggs, Thielen, or Cook.
Irv Smith is also proving to be the most complete, so far, of the top tight-ends in the 2019 draft class. Top picks T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant have struggled more in blocking assignments, while other picks like Jace Sternberger and Kahale Warring haven’t played due to injury.
Given his development, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith get more reps in the future.
PFF Grade Standouts
Outside of Irv Smith Jr., Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins rounded out the top grades on offense. The offensive line in general graded higher than normal across the board for the most part, but to a large degree this reflects the level of competition. Only Pat Elflein and Garrett Bradbury allowed any QB pressures, and Cousins actually had a higher passer rating under pressure against the Raiders than when he wasn’t.
Defensively, Everson Griffen led the way with the highest PFF grade, credited with a sack, 3 hurries and 3 stops. Trae Waynes, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Harris rounded out the top 5 grades on defense.
The Psychology of Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins had a workmanlike game, 112.0 passer rating, no turnovers, 15/21 for 174 yards, 1 TD, no sacks. It wasn’t a performance for the ages by any means, but he got the job done and was pretty much mistake-free. Overall, it was a nice bounce-back following the poor decision and throw on first down in the red zone last week that sealed the fate for his team last week, so that was good.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on what appears to be a bit of a change in Cousins’ demeanor.
During the week, Cousins had a couple interviews about the Packers game, including questions about the 4th quarter interception, which he was clearly down about, and made comments to the effect that if he didn’t improve, he wouldn’t be a starting QB anymore.
And following the Raiders game, the tone and body language of Cousins in his post-game press conference seemed a little more like that following a loss, rather than a win. He talked about the team finding it’s identity, and what kind of a team it would be, and remarking that it would be a lot different than last year - essentially becoming a run-first rather than a pass-first offense.
Perhaps the blown comeback attempt and interception, a long-standing criticism of Cousins’ career performance, and the implications of what a run-first offense means in terms of how the team views his skill-set, along with what that means for his future, and future contracts, began to set in.
Whatever the case, Cousins doesn’t seem to be as upbeat, or confident, as he was a month ago, or a year ago, when the Vikings first signed him. Over the past few months, he’s been fairly open and self-aware about his .500 record as a QB, and other shortcomings, and perhaps he’s beginning to see his role differently. Perhaps before he saw himself as a top QB that lacked the supporting cast, a play-maker who can make the deep throws and put up big numbers. But now he sees his role more as a game-manager, who needs to do what’s asked of him, but most importantly not make mistakes. I can’t help but think he’s ego has taken a bit of a hit in the process.
Of course this is all casual observation on my part, but nevertheless worth noting. Back at the beginning of August, I wrote about some perceived changes in Cousins’ demeanor, and perhaps what we’re seeing now is just an extension of those changes.
It will be interesting to see how those changes play-out on the field this season. Cousins has a deserved reputation for pressing at times, particularly trailing in a game. That has led to some bad decisions and forced balls. Perhaps the changes in his outlook, if real, may help him improve in those situations - if he doesn’t feel the pressure of the game is on his shoulders and therefore doesn’t press as much in critical situations. And that would be a good thing. On the other hand, if he’s really just less confident, and not as happy with his role in the offense, that could be a bad thing. We’ll see.
There is a lot to be said for the NFL season being something of a demolition derby, and the Vikings didn’t emerge unscathed despite a pretty good thrashing of the Raiders.
Chad Beebe was taken off on a cart after not being able to put weight on one leg. That could be a variety of issues from a knee or ankle or potentially something else. We’ll have to wait and see what the injury was and the prognosis.
Starting right guard Josh Kline also left the game, apparently with a concussion, as he is now in concussion protocol. Hopefully he’ll be back for next week’s game at Chicago, as he’ll be needed to face a tough Bears defensive front.