Things are still dire in Viking-land, but it feels good to get a win. Once again, the Vikings have an elite trio of skill players in Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook. That reality helps to raise both the floor and ceiling. Being able to succeed, though, will largely depend on Kirk Cousins‘ ability to continue progressing and Mike Zimmer’s ability to get the most out of the defense. In other words, the Vikings have plenty to work on.
In our Monday Impressions, we offered a dozen thoughts on the Vikings. At this point, we’re going to reflect on three main takeaways after re-watching the game: the emergence of the rookie corners, playing with a lead, and some Dan Bailey struggles.
The Young Corners
On Sunday, Gladney played every snap; Dantzler played every snap except for two. Both corners did a nice job in run support. Both are willing to play physically. Zimmer had them play inside and out. During the offseason, we wrongly suggested that Zimmer would protect his young corners by limiting how much he asks of them. The injuries have contributed to their need to play more, but we’ve been wrong so far.
Over at Zone Coverage, Sam Ekstrom did a nice job of breaking down their performance. Go back and re-watch the opening drive. Gladney made the play on both second and third down to force the punt. Getting an initial 3 & out was huge for a defense that has struggled to get off the field. There were rougher moments for both players, but their overall performance was strong.
Holton Hill also did some good things in the game, but he had a couple costly penalties. The key for Hill (and Gladney/Dantzler, for that matter) really rests in consistency. Nevertheless, Sunday was a positive step.
Playing With the Lead
It’s easy to forget, but the Minnesota Vikings have actually led in every game this season. In the past two weeks, the Vikings have had a two-score lead in the second half. Things didn’t go well against the Titans, but we hung on against the Texans.
At this point, the Vikings inspire very little confidence when they have a lead. There are several reasons, the most prominent of which being the inconsistent defensive play and the often underwhelming play from Cousins. As a result, the Vikings need to adopt a different mentality.
The 2020 Vikings are far, far different than the 2017 Vikings. In 2017, Minnesota could sit on a lead and play conservatively. Those days are behind us. The Vikings need a sense of urgency when they have the ball, a desire to always be scrounging up points. A perfect example rests in the final seconds of the opening half. Rather than push for a chance to score, the Vikings opted to run out the clock. There is risk with being aggressive, but there is also reward. The Vikings don’t appear to be good enough to not take risks.
After a strong opening to the season, Bailey has now missed two field goals. Zimmer is notoriously impatient with his kickers; unless something dramatic happens, Bailey is the Vikings kicker for the season.
Bailey has been perfect on extra points, but has missed two important field goals. We lost by one point against the Titans, so the extra three points would have certainly helped. Another issue, though, is that missing field goals gives opposing teams a shorter field. With the defense still adjusting, the Vikings simply can’t afford to give other teams favorable field position.
In Bailey’s defense, we’ll simply note that the pressure may be impacting his accuracy. His missed FG on Sunday went just right of the mark; the Texans had a player applying plenty of pressure from the left, perhaps forcing Bailey to adjust his kicking angle slightly. His missed FG against the Titans featured a similar scenario. ST coordinator Marwan Maalouf will need to ensure that the protection is tight so that Bailey feels comfortable.
As we suggested at the top, the Vikings still have plenty to work on. Enjoy the win, but they’ll need to be better on Sunday to beat Seattle.