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Reviewing the Minnesota Vikings’ 2021 season: Week 5 vs Detroit

Purple Pain

This fan blog entry was originally posted at Purple Pain Forums by MidwinterViking.

The point of this series is to look at games from 2021 and look for things the Minnesota Vikings can improve in 2022. Prior games are here:

Game 1 @ CIN

Game 2 @ ARI

Game 3 vs SEA

Game 4 vs CLE

Week 5 – Vikings vs Lions: Vikes win 19-17

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t get a lot out of re-watching this game. It’s easily the least valuable of the five games so far. The Vikings should have won by a bigger margin except for a small number of plays that were very close to good plays but turned bad for one reason or another. But at the end of the day I understand reality: someone out there is reading this from a stall at work and who am I to send them back to their desk? So here we go.

Interesting stat: 46% – the pressure rate for Kirk Cousins in this game. The prior week versus Cleveland when it looked like Cousins was under siege, Cousins had a pressure rate of 37%. I don’t think this tells the entire story because against Cleveland, Cousins had 6 hurries + 7 hits + 2 sacks; then against Detroit he had 15 hurries + 0 hits + 2 sacks. I picked this stat for two reasons:

1) Detroit’s defensive line wasn’t that bad. They also generally held the Vikings’ run game in check. It is wrong to assume that this game was close simply because the Vikings played poorly. There were parts of the Lions’ team that played quite well, particularly the defensive front.

2) Most other stats suggested the Vikings should have won big; this pressure stat suggests a reason they didn’t. Interesting that this was also Christian Darrisaw’s first full game.

Key play: There wasn’t one.

The game flow is mostly boring:

Vikings are going to win a ho-hum game… Wait, Detroit’s going to win! … Nope, Vikings win!

And neither of those swings are particularly illuminating when it comes to what to expect in 2022.

The swing in the Lions’ favor was Alexander Mattison fumbling while trying to run out the clock – that type of fumble should be a once-in-a-season type mistake. The only thing to take from this in 2022 is that this is the second time that kind of bumble bit the Vikings in the first five games. It’s unlikely that rate of fluky fumbles will continue; Kevin O’Connell will need to come up with entirely new fluky bad plays.

The swing back to the Vikings happened with two clean pockets and on-target throws – the type Cousins and Adam Thielen connect on 9/10 times. It’s not really a key play if it’s exactly what you’d expect.

Related: Colin Cowherd predicts Minnesota Vikings will double their 8-win total from 2021

Missed opportunities by Vikings kept Lions hanging on

Instead of key plays, here is a list of missed plays that could all be nominated for “key play” because most of them could have put the game out of reach:

– First quarter: 20-yard catch and run to Thielen is negated by a holding penalty called on Chris Herndon. This was yet another stupid screen with Thielen running the “just stand there” route that he broke for 20 yards. The hold by Herndon seemed largely unnecessary as he was in position to throw a good block. This penalty turned a first-and-goal at the four into a field goal.

– Third quarter: Mattison converts a third down with a great run into Detroit territory. This was also called back by a penalty on Herndon; this penalty was even more unnecessary as it happened away from the play (I couldn’t find Herndon on the screen). This resulted in third-and-16 and then a punt.

– Third quarter: Cousins hits K.J. Osborn with a pass down to about the Detroit 15. Like, literally hits him in the helmet because he wasn’t looking. The ball bounces up, gets intercepted, and the lead stays at seven.

– Fourth quarter: Greg Joseph leaves a 49-yard field goal short. The kick was perfectly straight, and he had makes from 54 and 55 yards. The game remains a one-possession game.

The Vikings shot themselves in the foot with unnecessary mistakes. So instead of an insightful, game-changing play, for pure entertainment’s sake, here is one of my favorite plays of the season: Mattison’s 15-yard touchdown reception.

Mattison takes a short crossing route down to about the two where he is stood up by multiple defenders. Then the magic happens. Enjoy Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury going bowling for Lions. They come in full speed and blast about six dudes into the end zone.

Chef’s kiss.

Related: Analyzing the Minnesota Vikings’ effectiveness on scripted drives in 2021

Positional grades for the Vikings from Week 5

So despite learning very little from this game, I’ll still add my scoring for each team group (reminder ranging from -2 to +2 with no 0’s assigned). I want to come back to this at the end of the series to see how we are set up for 2022.

Passing offense: The passing game carried the offense, but I’m not rating it that highly because I felt they left too many opportunities on the table. Cousins’ completion percentage was one of the highest of the season, but watching the game he was less accurate than usual, missing on a few passes or making easy completions hard. Overall, there were too many opportunities left on the field. But the passing game did generate most of the offense and came through when it mattered, so it gets a + rating.

Game score: +1 (cumulative season to date: +3)

Rushing offense: As I watched the running game, it didn’t feel like the Vikings were facing the 29th defense in yardage; the Vikings’ offensive line wasn’t dominating the way I would expect. Mattison’s box score looks good: 25/113 yards for a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. However, other than his 48-yard run, he averaged only 2.7 yards per carry. But you can’t take away the big plays! I’m not ignoring it, for scoring purposes, I’m canceling out the 48-yard run with the fumble that nearly cost the team the game – and what’s left is very uninspiring.

Game score: -1 (cumulative season to date: -1)

Pass defense: For a unit that gave up only 203 yards passing, no touchdowns, one interception and four sacks, this game didn’t really blow me away. It seemed like Jared Goff would see: clean pocket, clean pocket, clean pocket, bum’s rush from three defensive linemen. There were some great individual plays that turned this from a negative to a positive performance. Also, Goff had a really poor game, missing on some throws that were clearly open, no credit to the Vikings for an opponent playing poorly.

Game score: +1 (cumulative season to date: +5)

Run defense: This was okay. If I allowed myself to give a “0” rating I would hand one out to the run defense in this game. The tie-breaker is what did Detroit do when they were gifted a chance to win? Run-pass-rushing touchdown. 

Game Score: -1 (cumulative season to date: -1)

Special teams: I thought my rule was a positive rating if you win the game on special teams? Well … not if you miss a chance to ice the game three minutes earlier. The Vikings had no returns to speak of.

Game score: -1 (cumulative season to date +0)

Coaching: What I’m not going to hold against the coaches: the weird plays that kept this from being a multi-score game. The plan was there, the call was there, and a guy just made a mistake. What I will hold against the coaches: the Vikings got the ball at the 18 with 37 seconds left and went down for the winning score… at the end of the first half they got the ball at the 19 with 41 seconds left and ran out the clock. Were the Vikings coaches following Herm’s very simple rule?

They were not (at least not always)!

Game score: -1 (cumulative season to date: -4)

WATCH: Minnesota Vikings Lewis Cine says he wants to ‘stack bodies’ in NFL rookie season

The tale of the Minnesota Vikings screen pass in 2021

And now, gather round and I’ll read you a story from the [play]book of stupid screens.

Upon a time once, not long ago

There was a great hero wearing horns who could throw.

An agent came down and told the young man

“Move this ball down the field for riches galore, you need but 10 yards, I’ll give you downs numbering four”

A crowd gathered round with pizza and beer, not sure if they should boo or should cheer.

One lad shouted out, we’ll call him a fan, “Our hero can do it! He drives a large van!”

On try number one the hero’s planted by flowers.

The crowd, sensing trouble, hooted and glowered.

On attempt number two he gets a bit back, but three yards moving forward is less than the sack.

Instead of just 10, the hero now needs 12 yards,

and he needs them all now because that fourth try’s just not in the cards.

The crowd cheered him on, even those who thought him a clown,

they yelled sage advice: “Just don’t check it down!”

Then this happened and ruined the drive worse than I just ruined the end my own story:

There are so many things wrong with this, it’s a complete mockery of a play design.

– Start with the general concept of how a screen should work: lots of guys run after the quarterback, so the quarterback tosses the ball over them and the receiver is suddenly past lots of guys. That doesn’t apply here because the Lions only rushed three guys, so this is just a short pass into a bunch of defenders.

– There was absolutely no contingency in case the defense did something extremely expected (like defend the first down line on third-and-12), both Osborn and Justin Jefferson ran the exact same route with one receiver in front of them to block at least three guys.

– The only deep target was Tyler Conklin who looks to be at least double-covered.

– While Conklin ran down the middle of the field he was utterly useless in terms of blocking for either Osborn or Jefferson.

– Two offensive linemen are actually further downfield than intended targets: Jefferson or Osborn… yet despite that, no offensive lineman has any chance to block any defender downfield.

The crowd booed Cousins for taking a “check down” on third-and-12, but this was how the play was designed. This might be the worst play design I’ve seen so far. I hope, for your sake, those of you who started reading this in a stall are still there.

Jefferson dominated the first half and the Vikings went away from him in the second. Despite the play design above, Cousins wasn’t blameless in this. Two three-and-outs later this was one of the worst pre-determined throws I’ve seen. Cousins seemed to stare down Mattison even though Thielen cleared out the defense for Jefferson, and it looks like Jefferson would get at least a first down and more up the left sideline:

This is the sort of game that a good team should win by 14. The only takeaway is that it was apparent the Vikings had the individual players on the field to win by a much bigger margin.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this piece, please consider hopping over to Purple Pain Forums and debating with other Minnesota Vikings fans about not only this topic, but so much more!