Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
I learned long ago that life in the NFL is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Rarely has that statement been more accurate than over the first two games this season for the Vikings. As great as they played in the opening win over the Packers, the Vikings were dreadful against the Eagles when they had so many misplays and missed opportunities on both sides of the ball.
Before the season, I felt the Vikings would be in good shape if they split these difficult first two games. They’ve done that and if there was a better game to win, it certainly was in the division at home against their arch-rivals. Now the Vikings must regroup quickly in a short week with another divisional foe coming to U.S. Bank Stadium for an important clash this Sunday. The Lions will feel confident after beating Washington. All four NFC North teams are 1-1 (among 19 NFL teams to split their first two games). We’ll see where things go after the wake-up call in raucous Philly.
Here are my other reactions to the Monday night clunker:
1. The Vikings defense played poorly in the first half and was not helped by the offense going 3-and-out in the first two possessions and running only 21 plays in that half. The nightmarish tally for first-half total yards was Eagles 347 – Vikings 93, with the Vikings D not stopping the run or the pass.
2. The defense was plagued by missed tackles and outside backers not containing on Jalen Hurts’ two TD runs and by playing soft shell coverage, thus allowing Hurts to shred them with underneath completions, five to DeVonta Smith (for 64 yards) and four to Dallas Goedert (for 74 yards) in the first half. Inside linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks were a step away from breaking up several passes but Hurts was very accurate, and other than two sacks allowed, he had plenty of time to throw as the Vikings rarely blitzed him. It was not a good first half for defensive coordinator Ed Donatell who did not make adjustments to stop the Eagles’ short and intermediate passing game until it was too late.
The Eagles even tried to help the Vikings with five penalties in the first half, three for illegal man downfield. But Hurts would just make an easy completion to pick up a first down. He threw for 251 yards and ran for 50 yards in the first half. The killer play was a 53-yard bomb from Hurts to Quez Watkins when there was a coverage bust between safety Cam Bynum and corner Cam Dantzler (it appeared Bynum was the culprit as he can’t let a receiver get behind him in that situation).
3. The running game was stuffed as Dalvin Cook had only six carries for 17 yards which was surprising a week after Detroit’s D’Andre Swift rushed for 144 yards against the Eagles defense. C.J. Ham is one of the best fullbacks and lead blockers in the league, and he played only three snaps on offense after playing more against the Packers, so he probably needs to be leading Cook more often. The offensive line had a rough night in the run game and not doing a good job picking up Philly blitzes that caused Kirk Cousins to misfire several times.
4. There were way too many missed opportunities on offense. The biggest was Irv Smith Jr.’s drop of a potential TD when he beat the coverage, and Cousins threw a perfect deep ball late in the first half. A touchdown on that play would’ve brought the Vikings within 21-14. Three other drops contributed to killing drives — by Cook, Johnny Mundt, and Alexander Mattison. Time to get on the jugs machine catching balls, guys.
5. Cousins and the offense had chances to get back in the game in the second half, but three interceptions stopped a potential rally. Two of the picks came in the red zone, and one from the Eagles 27-yard line after Patrick Peterson blocked a field goal in the third quarter, and Kris Boyd picked it up and ran 27 yards. That’s at least nine points lost if field goals were the end result. The Vikings were in Eagles territory five times and scored only seven points. That can’t happen.
On the first interception, Justin Jefferson ran a bad route, allowing corner Darius Slay to get in front of him at the goal line to end the important first drive of the second half. The other two interceptions came on bad throws by Cousins, who forced a ball in coverage to Adam Thielen and underthrew Jefferson on an end zone fade while pressured. That followed Hicks’ interception return to the Philly 9-yard line with eight minutes to go, enough time for a big rally that was not to be. Jefferson was held to six catches for 48 yards, but Cousins missed him several times when he was open.
6. The Vikings must improve their third down offense after converting 4 of 12 in Philly (following 4 of 13 against Green Bay). The screen game was repeatedly blown up by the Eagles D, so the Vikings need to do a better job of executing it.
The offense must get back in sync quickly so they can put more points on the board when facing a Detroit team that has averaged 35.5 points per game in the first two weeks (including 35 in their loss to this Eagles team).
7. Special teams were the lone Vikings strong suit on Monday night. There was excellent kickoff coverage (only 6.5 yards per kickoff return with Greg Joseph kicking high and short twice) and 4.5 yards per return on two punts. Ryan Wright was excellent with a 49.2-yard average and three punts inside the 20.
Vikings Coach Kevin O’Connell summed up a bad night for the purple by saying, “It felt at times, me included, that we pressed a little bit. I can promise you our guys, post-game, there’s a feeling of wanting to get right back to work. We know what our standard is and I have to do much, much more to help our guys play to their standard.”
Around the NFL Observations:
1. It was a wild comeback Sunday in the NFL. The team that made the biggest statement to me was Miami. Tua Tagovailoa, who is under pressure to take a big step forward this season, threw four 4th quarter touchdown passes (6 total) to lead a rally from a 35-14 deficit to a 42-38 win in Baltimore. The Dolphins are a team to watch with their explosive pair of wide receivers—Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle– who combined for 22 receptions for 361 yards and 4 TDs in the victory.
How about wily vet Joe Flacco who we thought was washed up, but in relief of injured Zach Wilson, Flacco passed for 307 yards and 4 TDs as he rallied the Jets to a 31-30 victory in Cleveland with two TD passes in the final two minutes (and a rare onside kick recovery in between).
The Cardinals trailed the Raiders 23-7 entering the fourth quarter before Kyler Murray led the comeback, culminating with a 59-yard fumble return in overtime by cornerback Byron Murphy.
Don’t write off the Cowboys just yet. Cooper Rush’s performance in beating the Vikings last year in relief of Dak Prescott was no fluke as he engineered a home victory over Cincinnati (with Prescott once again hurt) that has the defending AFC champs sitting at 0-2.
Green Bay predictably responded after their lousy opener with a convincing 27-10 win over the Bears. And the Bucs and Tom Brady finally beat the Saints 20-10 in a fight-filled game, ending a four-game losing streak to New Orleans since Brady came to Tampa. The 2-0 Bucs now have the early edge in the NFC South with a big home game on Sunday against the Packers.
2. Most impressive team in Week 2—Buffalo (as they were in beating the Rams in Week 1) by throttling last year’s top AFC seed Tennessee 41-7, with Josh Allen continuing his MVP caliber play (317 passing yards, 4 TD tosses). Least impressive—the Colts, who were shut out in Jacksonville 24-0 as Trevor Lawrence played like a No. 1 overall pick (completing 25 of 30 passes for 235 yards and 2 TDs) while Josh Allen (the edge rusher, not the Bills QB) led the way on defense with two sacks of Matt Ryan (who threw three interceptions).
3. Sad to see Marshall, Minnesota-native Trey Lance suffer a broken ankle in the 49ers win over the Seahawks on Sunday, thus ending his first season as starting QB and opening the door for the return of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl