Picking up right where they left off last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings returned home Sunday and handled business against another NFC North division foe, the Detroit Lions.
Minnesota beat Detroit 34-20, as both teams' records went to 3-5, still looking up at the Chicago Bears and Packers in the division.
Here are the most important lessons we learned from this matchup.
5. Detroit Couldn’t Take Advantage Of The Vikings' Banged Up Secondary
Coming into the game, the Vikings had a plethora of cornerbacks either ruled out or nicked up, which was something that Lions could have taken advantage of, on paper.
However, missing their own field-stretcher in WR Kenny Golladay did not allow them to take full advantage of this Minnesota deficiency.
Before Lions QB Matthew Stafford was forced from the Vikings game with a head injury, his longest pass of the day went for 20 yards. Long time reliable slot WR Danny Amendola finished the game with 77 yards on 7 catches, and 10 targets, but his production and target share demonstrated that the Lions were not comfortable pushing the ball downfield against the Vikings without their top threat in Golladay.
4. The Lions’ Special Teams Unit Came To Play
The Lions are usually in good hands in the special teams department with long time reliable kicker Matt Prater handling scoring chances, but the players in the “third phase” of the football game really shined in this matchup.
Detroit blocked two punt attempts from Vikings punter Britton Colquitt, once in the second quarter, and again in the 4th quarter. That makes a total of 3 blocked punts for the Lions in their last two games, which is the type of statistic that usually breaks right for teams in the win column. Unfortunately for them, they were not able to parlay these difference making plays into victories last week versus Indianapolis, or this week against the Vikings.
3. Detroit Should Be In the Market For a New QB
While this loss doesn’t completely eliminate the Lions from playoff contention, especially with the extra playoff team added this season, the end result leaves them with a different level of confidence. Had they won this game, they would’ve been 4-4, firmly at .500 and in the mix for the final wild card spot in the NFC.
Now, sitting at 2 games under .500, and with starting QB Matthew Stafford being evaluated for a concussion, the Lions are on thin ice with little margin for error. Even before Stafford left the game, he wasn’t playing as well as a 12 year starter in an important division game should play. He threw two interceptions, one with the Lions in the red zone poised to get at least 3 points.
Now 32 years old, and without a glowing resume of making the playoffs consistently, Detroit really has to wonder how much longer they can accept Stafford at the helm. Even if Stafford wasn’t the reason the Lions lost this game, he needed to be a part of the solution by taking care of the football, and he didn’t do that today.
2. Is Kirk Cousins Trying to Become the Next Ryan Tannehill?
Despite riding the coattails of RB Derrick Henry down the stretch of the 2019 season, Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill made plays when his number was called, and used that timely performance to cash in on a new contract.
While it might be difficult for the Vikings to make up enough ground to qualify for the NFC playoffs in 2020, QB Kirk Cousins is doing his best Tannehill impression in the last two weeks. The Vikings' offense has firmly jumped on the back of RB Dalvin Cook (more on that later), and all Cousins has had to do in the past couple of weeks is execute on some low difficulty completions while not turning the ball over.
Cousins has thrown 34 times combined in the Vikings' last two games, which is a total that Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow seemingly reaches in the first half of his games. Today, the quarterback managed to throw 3 touchdowns baked into 13 total completions, finding the talented young TE Irv Smith Jr. on two of them.
1. Is Dalvin Cook From Planet Earth?
With his performances the last couple of weeks, Vikings RB Dalvin Cook is showing that he very well might be the best back in the NFL. While his four-touchdown performance against the Green Bay Packers last week was well featured and appropriately hyped, his encore against Detroit didn’t leave anything more to be desired.
Cook torched the Lions for an otherworldly 9.4 yards per carry, on his way to a 206 yard rushing game on the ground. What’s even scarier is that Vikings backup RB Alexander Mattison handled 12 carries of his own on the ground, which means Cook could have had an even bigger day had some of that workload gone to him.
What continues to be remarkable about his performances is that defenses know exactly what’s coming from the Vikings, and they still can’t stop it. Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is one of Bill Belichick’s famed defensive coaching disciples, and one of the Patriots’ core philosophies is to take away what the other team does best. Cook crumpled up that game plan, and ate it for breakfast.
It will fascinating to see whether the Chicago Bears and All-Pro LB Khalil Mack will have any answers for Cook when the Vikings and Bears face off next Monday night.