The Minnesota Vikings clinched the sweep of the NFC North teams in their own stadium. All three groups, the Packers, Lions, and Bears, lost to the Vikings in U.S. Bank Stadium. It may be unusual to face the three division rivals at home in the first five games, but the Vikings took care of business. In an up-and-down performance, Minnesota beat Chicago for the third straight time. The final result was 29-22.
That point is not surprising and can be made after most games. However, it’s noteworthy because his two lackluster performances in Weeks 2 and 3 raised some concerns. Coming off a dominant performance in London against the Saints and star cornerback Marshon Lattimore, Jefferson also conquered a suspect Bears cornerback room without their top coverage player, Jaylon Johnson.
The Bears surprisingly tried to cover him without safety help and double teams with players like Kindle Vildor and rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Jones. The result was a 12-catch, 154-yard stat line. Jefferson barely missed scoring a touchdown as he dove for the end zone once and was ruled short after review.
The star wideout is leading the league in receiving yards after five games. 547 yards. He is undoubtedly unstoppable if he’s defended by just one player and should draw more double coverage again.
Joseph Is Not Automatic
Kicker Greg Joseph could read about his training camp heroics everywhere in July and August, but a real football game is something different. He ended multiple practices in training camp with 60-yard field goals and even made a 58-yarder in the preseason.
However, in the last few games, he’s struggled to convert long-range attempts. Joseph missed a 53-yard try against the Bears. In addition, he had a 51-yarder blocked and hit just one of five kicks of 50 yards or longer. Kicks from that distance are almost a coin flip, so no one should be shocked by a miss from that distance, but it should be noted that the kicker is not as automatic as most thought a few months ago. Struggling kickers are nothing new in Minnesota, even if some folks thoughts that time would be over by now.
The Defense Is Still Struggling
While the Vikings never allowed more than 25 points, that statistic is not a great indicator of defensive success. The Bears are one of the worst offenses in the league, and the Vikings somehow made them look like an explosive unit for significant stretches of the second half. Ed Donatell’s defense is 28th in DVOA and 21st in EPA/play.
Some of the struggles can surely be attributed to the new scheme. Players like Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith never played in a 3-4 defense before. The coverage and the pass rush look a lot different than under former head coach Mike Zimmer. Players are out of position at times, mess up coverages, and simply have mental errors.
It should also be noted that Ed Donatell didn’t call plays in over a decade and has to get used to it as well. It’s possible that the defense needs some more time, and the unit will likely improve soon, but it’s unlikely that the Vikings will field a good defense at any point in 2022.
Dantzler Can Play
A big part of the defense leads to headaches among Vikings fans, but Dantzler is playing at an extremely high level. After an outstanding performance in London against Andy Dalton and the Saints, the third-year cornerback may have turned the corner.
His problem has always been consistency or lack thereof, and good games were often followed by bad ones. It will be interesting to see if he can keep the level up. He allowed a few catches but kept everything for a short gain and added some big run stops.
Dantzler’s time to shine came on the game’s final drive when he missed the tackle on former Viking Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Instead of giving up on the play, he got back to his feet, chased the wideout, and snatched the ball away. The play clinched the game and the victory.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was the big talking point in the offseason. Some people like the passer, others don’t. At the end of the day, he’s getting paid by the Vikings to play at a high level and win football games. In the past, he’s played well, but it didn’t show in the win column.
In 2022, that flipped. Cousins is playing below average for his standards, but the team is still 4-1. In part because of him. Cousins is playing phenomenal football on game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter. In each of the last three games, Cousins led the team to a victory when he orchestrated a scoring drive, passing for the win to K.J. Osborn, setting up a field goal against the Saints, and running for the touchdown against the Bears.
He also set the franchise record with 17 consecutive completions, breaking the record of Tommy Kramer. Like always, Cousins is a polarizing figure. Some say he should be better, so late-game heroics won’t even be necessary. Others say he’s getting it done at the end, and that’s all that matters. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Cousins can play better but has been great in high-leverage moments.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt