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Vikings Stars & Backups Combine for Victory over Chargers

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings won a one-score, but at least relatively speaking, not so close a game against the Chargers on the road, down a number of defensive starters. Overall it was a nice team win for the Vikings, who got big plays from their star players, and some solid play from backups that helped carry the day as well.

It was also a good effort also from the Vikings’ beleaguered coaching staff, with Mike Zimmer choosing to be more aggressive, and doing a better job managing key situations during the game, and Klint Kubiak- at Zimmer’s behest- dialing up some more plays down the field.

Here’s a quick stock market report on individual performances:

Blue Chip Stocks

Justin Jefferson. He got more targets and made more plays as a result. 9 receptions on 11 targets for 143 yards will get you firmly into Blue Chip territory. This was also Jefferson’s 10th game with 100+ receiving yards in his first 25 games- a feat accomplished by only fellow LSU alum OBJ (who had 15) among WRs in the Super Bowl era. Not too shabby.

Kirk Cousins. Cousins took some shots down the field with JJ in man coverage, and was rewarded. He also went 25/37 for 294 yards and 2 TDs - and once again no INTs - en route to a 109.5 passer rating. He could end up the highest graded QB in the league by PFF at this point in the season. His only blemish was a lost fumble, which happened on a pressure in which RT Brian O’Neill hit his arm, causing the pass to go backward, resulting in a lost fumble.

Eric Kendricks. The former UCLA Bruin wowed his old home town with an impressive interception and a drive killing sack early, along with his usual team-leading tackle total.

Dalvin Cook. He finished with 94 yards on 24 carries, and added another 24 yards receiving on 3 receptions, which was good enough to give the Vikings a solid ground game.

Cameron Dantzler. The Chargers only had 195 yards passing, and Justin Herbert wasn’t terribly a lot, so coverage proved to be decent, and Dantzler was perhaps the best performing CB today. Both Breeland and Alexander had costly DPI penalties, which Dantzler avoided, and Dantzler didn’t appear to allow much in his coverage either.

Mason Cole. A shout-out to backup center Mason Cole for putting together another solid game, giving Cousins room to step up on many occasions when he needed to. Time to give him the starting job.

Cam Bynum. The loss of Harrison Smith has proven to be a minor one with Bynum stepping up and playing well in his stead. He had at least one nice PBU, and didn’t appear to allow much in his coverage either.

Greg Joseph. He made ‘em all. 2-2 on field goals, 3-3 on extra points. Decent job on kickoffs. Not much more you can ask for from a kicker.

Solid Investments

Adam Thielen. He was overshadowed by JJ’s performance, but 5 receptions on 7 targets for 65 yards, including a couple key receptions to convert or allow a 4th down conversion.

Tyler Conklin. He only had 3 receptions for 11 yards, but two were of the TD variety- making a couple nice grabs to cash in. Conklin is proving to be a nice red zone weapon, and converting in the red zone is a big part of winning.

Dede Westbrook. He had a nice 45-yard punt return that gave the Vikings offense a very short field.

Junk Bonds

Bashaud Breeland and MacKensie Alexander are candidates here, but despite the DPI penalties and a couple other receptions allowed, they made up for those mistakes a little with some other stops and tackles to keep them from being included here.

Guards Oli Udoh and Ezra Cleveland are also candidates, who each gave up 5 pressures and Udoh had a holding call besides, but again while not good, maybe not quite bad enough to make the junk bond list.

Mike Zimmer Outcoached Brandon Staley

It’s worth mentioning that Mike Zimmer, sitting on the hot seat, outcoached Brandon Staley, who has been one of the oddsmakers favorite for Coach of the Year most of the season. Zimmer was aggressive on 4th downs- he really has most of this season to be honest- and also just had a better game plan than Staley. That might not be worth much if the Vikings aren’t able to stack more wins on this one, but it’s worth noting.

Where To From Here?

The Vikings are now 4-5, and currently the 8th seed in the NFC, one back from making the playoffs. The Vikings schedule now looks a lot more palatable going forward, and conducive to making the back-end of the NFC playoff seeding chart. Including the Chargers, the Vikings have the 21st most difficult remaining schedule in the league by DVOA, and that might potentially become even less so after this weekend.

The Vikings have only two games remaining against teams with a higher DVOA than they have (SF and LAR). The Vikings rank 11th in DVOA prior to the Chargers game, while the 49ers are 9th and the Rams 3rd. The Packers rank 15th in DVOA prior to this weekend. Overall I’d say the two Packers matchups, including the one next week, and the Rams are the toughest games on the Vikings schedule, with very winnable games against the Bears (twice), Lions, 49ers, and Steelers.

At the same time, the team the Vikings need to displace to make the playoffs- the Panthers- have the 2nd most difficult remaining schedule. And the Vikings hold the head-to-head tie-breaker. The Packers, incidentally, have the 5th toughest remaining schedule.

The bottom line here is that if the Vikings can manage to finish more games like they did against the Chargers, they have a plausible path to the playoffs. And at this point in the season, the NFL looks wide open, with no real dominant teams in either conference. But its really not about the competition at this point for the Vikings, its really just about the Vikings. What can they manage to do going forward?

In another of the many unlikely stats for the Vikings this year, one stands out as particularly unusual for a team that is now 4-5: They’ve led by 7 points or more in every game this season- the only team in the league to have done so. It’s really a question of the Vikings being able to take better advantage of the opportunities they’ve had in each and every game.

Next Sunday at home against the Packers will be another key test, and beating the Packers again at US Bank stadium- they beat them last year at home handily- could provide the momentum for the Vikings to begin stacking wins as their schedule gets easier until after Christmas.

Stay tuned.