The Vikings won their second straight game of the season. A lot was the same success, strong games from Adam Thielen and Kirk Cousins. Yet another strong game from Danielle Hunter. In addition to them, who broke out, what worked? And what didn’t?
Third Down Defense
The Vikings can credit the defense for their victory on Sunday, who turned in their second consecutive strong performance, showing signs of life that they are the group we expected them to be all year. The mantra of the defense last year was third-down stops, something they did not allow the Cardinals to convert once on Sunday, as Arizona went 0-for-10.
Anthony Barr was a common scapegoat for the first four games, but on Sunday, he made the splash plays we’ve been accustomed to seeing through the years. On the Cardinals first red zone drive, he blitzed and batted down a pass to force a field goal. He was constantly in the backfield, pressuring Josh Rosen, and even if he didn’t register a sack, he allowed the rest of the defense to take down the quarterback. He also forced and recovered a fumble. Barr is a versatile piece of the Vikings defense. He can cover tight ends and running backs, but he’s also one of the best pass rushers on the team. Barr playing at a high level brings out the best in the defense.
The ‘Other’ Cornerbacks
Xavier Rhodes’ prowess at cornerback usually forces the opposing team to pick on Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Well, on Sunday, Waynes and Alexander both played incredible games. Waynes was all over the field. He made stops in the running game and broke up several passes throughout the game to force the Cardinals off the field. He has shown steady improvement since his rookie season and Sunday was further proof of that.
Alexander also had his best game of the season after a rocky start to the year. He also had a few pass break ups, combined with some great stops at the line of scrimmage, blowing up a couple of the Cardinals screen passes. He also got home for a sack on a cornerback blitz. With the Vikings playing more nickel, its imperative that Alexander continue to improve throughout the season, especially since…
Mike Hughes Tore His ACL
The worst news from Sunday was that the Vikings first-round cornerback tore his ACL. Hughes had a promising start to his career, and his versatility and playmaking ability at cornerback is going to be missed. He was mostly playing in the nickel, but also was able to be pushed outside if need be. The amount of playing time that Hughes received is indicative of what Mike Zimmer thinks of him. Often, Zimmer sits his first-rounders for a large portion of the season, but Hughes was thrown into the thick of it. It’s a small sample size, but it seems like the Vikings hit on this draft pick. Let’s hope Hughes makes a full recovery. In the meantime, he will be replaced by a combination of Alexander and Jayron Kearse/George Iloka.
With Andrew Sendejo and Everson Griffen being out, in addition to Hughes going down, the Vikings showcased why depth is so important in the NFL. Stephen Weatherly played another solid game at defensive end, and George Iloka, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse combined to replace Sedejo at safety.
Mike Hughes wasn’t necessarily starting, as Alexander is the starter, but he is a rotational piece that provided additional depth and kept the cornerbacks fresh. Having Alexander and a versatile safety like Jayron Kearse will prove vital in replacing him. Overall, the defense didn’t miss a beat without two starters (plus Hughes, who plays about half the snaps on defense), and it’s a testament to the depth and talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Brian O’Neill, Starter?
Shifting over to offense, Brian O’Neill received his first start of the season due to Reilly Reiff being inactive with a foot injury. O’Neill passed the test, proving to be a solid pass blocker, in addition to opening a few holes for Latavius Murray as the running game came to life (almost 200-yards! A welcome surprise). When the Vikings drafted O’Neill, he was labeled a project, but he looks to be progressing quicker than expected. When Reiff returns, it’s possible that O’Neill stays at right tackle, as he seems to be more consistent than current starter Rashod Hill.
Looking ahead, the other piece of O’Neill’s success is the outlook of the offensive line. If O’Neill can develop along center Pat Elflein, those are two solid pieces to build around on the offensive line. Reiff is also solid, and the guards have been serviceable. If the Vikings decide to take another offensive lineman early in the next draft, they might have a youthful core to build their line around.
The Jets in New York (New Jersey). The Vikings took care of business at home on Sunday and will look to continue this winning streak against another inferior opponent. The Jets have been playing well, but a quick look at their resume and they haven’t beaten anyone of merit (Lions, Broncos, Colts). The Vikings are currently 3.5-point favorites, and I think it should be higher with the way the team has been playing. The defense will be a major test for rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, and I expect the Vikings to roll, though winning on the road isn’t always easy (and every time I say that I will go back to the Bills game to remind myself that anything can happen). The Jets do boast one of the better defenses in the league, so that will be a challenge, but I anticipate another dominant defensive performance and favorable field position for the offense.
Vikings 27, Jets 13
After the Jets, they have a marquee game at home against the Saints, and then stay home against Lions before their bye week. A 6-2-1 record is not out of the question, in fact, it should be expected. Skol.