Another win in another one-possession game for the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings held off the Arizona Cardinals 34-26 in Week Eight, and now have a three-and-a-half-game lead in the NFC North.
Reason One: Dalvin Cook & Company
Dalvin Cook torched the Cardinals’ run defense, racking up 111 yards on 20 carries. He also had a touchdown and added five catches out of the backfield. He continued to look spry on his carries, and running the football is so key for successful teams in this league.
Speaking of which, the Vikings’ running game in general was elite. Alexander Mattison had a touchdown of his own and averaged eight yards per carry. Even Kirk Cousins got in on the act with a surprising 17-yard touchdown scamper on the Vikings’ first drive of the game. He is not known for his speed, but what looked like simply a key conversion on third and four, somehow turned into Kirk outrunning multiple defenders en route to the endzone. We all know Justin Jefferson is this team’s best playmaker, but we have to run the ball as well.
Reason Two: Za’Darius Smith
Za’Darius Smith had three sacks for the Vikings against the Cardinals in Week Eight. He now has at least half a sack in each game except for one and has recorded at least one tackle-for-loss in each game this season.
This acquisition was great in the off-season, and it seems to be getting better further on into the season. His presence is felt in every game, and his production is ramping up. He has five sacks in his last two games and was a huge reason why the Vikings were able to keep Kyler Murray in check.
Reason Three: Eric Kendricks
Kendricks, as per usual, was all over the field on Sunday against the Cardinals. He had seven total tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. My favorite play of his, though, was this pass defensed.
This type of play is what makes him my favorite Vikings player at the moment. The way he tracked the pass and timed his deflection dive summed up his afternoon. He was a step ahead of the Cardinals all day.
Reason Four: A Greg Dortch Muffed Punt
The Vikings caught a huge break at the 10:35 mark of the fourth quarter. Cardinals’ punt returner Greg Dortch could not handle Ryan Wright’s kick, and the Vikings recovered the ball. They would go on to score on a five-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to K.J. Osborn.
At the time of the muffed punt the Vikings were only up 28-26, and getting the ball back was an amazing bit of fortune to swing the momentum our way. The ensuing touchdown would end up being the game-winner even though Greg Joseph missed the extra point – more to come on this later.
Reason Five: Takeaways
The Vikings were plus-two in this department, with Arizona turning the ball over three times in the second half. Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum both had interceptions for the Vikings, and Troy Dye recovered the Dortch fumble.
This defense has been solid at times but has also been exploited at times. When up against a playmaking quarterback like Kyler Murray, teams need to capitalize on mistakes, as the Vikings did. After the Vikings took a 21-17 late in the third, Murray was picked off by Harrison Smith.
Murray, to be fair, was under great duress when he threw this pass, but Smith was able to take advantage. On the ensuing drive Dalvin Cook punched it in, and the Vikings had an all-important two-possession lead. Bynum added his at a crucial time as well, after the Cardinals had made it a one-possession game with about six minutes left to play. Defenses cannot always rely on quarterbacks trying to force the ball but need to take advantage when they do, and this squad was all over it on Sunday.
Reason Six: Containing Kyler Murray
I say this with the caveat that, regardless of defense, “Kyler is going to get his.” He is too great an athlete to be consistently shut down. However, the Vikings held him to 36 rushing yards and picked him off twice.
He did throw for 326 yards on the day, but it is my observation that he did not look comfortable all the time. Not to mention he had DeAndre Hopkins making ridiculous catches, and Rondale Moore netting a couple of big chunk plays. My point is that he had to work hard for all of his production. He had to force plays to happen, and in the end, forced it a little too much.
A Few Reasons Why We Nearly Didn’t Get The Win
While the Vikings are 6-1, the fanbase is still rife with fear that we are winning all of these close games. I have at least two people text me after every game regarding their fear of future heart problems. Because while we were victorious, some factors nearly led us to lose the game.
- DeAndre Hopkins. Whether it was his disgusting one-handed touchdown catch, or his dominance in general with 12 catches on 13 targets, for 159 yards, he was an unstoppable offensive weapon today. He is a big reason why this Cardinals team will be competitive down the stretch.
- Greg Joseph. Greg is still my guy, and still, someone who I think will be a huge contributor in the post-season. Having said that, we need him to figure some things out. The missed extra points are worrisome, to say the least, and I don’t know what happened on that blocked kick. I know it was a 56-yarder, but he kicked it so low it would have been harder not to block. Straighten it out, Greg, I believe in you!
- Weird offensive stalls. I don’t really know how to analyze this, to be honest. We had four fourth-quarter drives, and three of them ended in punts. After having our way with the Cardinals’ defense for large portions of the game, we can’t have these inexplicable slumps, especially late in the game.
Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
I enjoyed finding this tweet when looking up highlights of this game.
I personally love the group celebrations by defenses after a big play. I like that they celebrate like a team, and are fired up. But there is something to be said about Smith in this play. I picture the dramatic protagonist who is never satisfied, knowing that this season has to end in the Super Bowl. What does this mean? Nothing, really, just that we have to be all business all the time! Wait, that’s too extreme, how about we stick with business-casual? We can still celebrate as long as we are focused because this team can go places.
What’s Next For The Purple?
A trap game, NO! The Vikings travel to Washington, and people are already worried they are looking ahead to Week 10 against the Bills instead. I don’t think that’s the case. This team knows they have to take care of business. After close wins against Detroit and Chicago, I believe O’Connell will have his guys ready for the Commanders.
Plus, Kirk Cousins still probably wants more revenge against the team that kept giving him the franchise tag. In his only contest against Washington, he had a 112.3 QB rating in 2019. He threw for 285 yards with an 88.5 completion percentage and the Vikings won 19-9. I’m looking for Kirk to get a couple of TDs this time around.
Enjoy The Now
The last thing, let’s make sure we’re having fun, Vikings fans. We are 6-1, perfect against the NFC North, and have a 3.5-game lead over Green Bay and Chicago. We all know this team has flaws, but let’s also make sure we enjoy this winning streak. SKOL to the bowl!
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