Why We Won - 5 Reasons Behind the Vikings Victory

Posted Nov 8, 2013

The Vikings snapped their four-game losing streak on Thursday night by taking center stage on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football and utilizing a second-half surge to upend the Washington Redskins by a score of 34-27. Poor tackling and an inability to close on the quarterback put the Vikings in a 24-14 halftime hole, but all three phases picked up the pace in the second half and the defense authored a goal line stand in the final moments to seal the victory.

So what went right for the Vikings in the win? Here are a few ideas…

Ponder was sharp before exiting; Cassel carried the momentum
It’s unfortunate Christian Ponder couldn’t finish the game (he left with an injured shoulder late in the 3rd quarter) because it was his best performance since he guided the Vikings to victory over the Green Bay Packers to earn a playoff berth in the 2012 season finale. Ponder was sharp out of the gates and gutty all the way through the play he was injured, completing 17 of 21 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. It’s notable that Ponder shook off an interception on the first drive of the game, which was met with a heavy dose of boos from the home crowd, and bounced back to guide the Vikings to four touchdowns. Ponder displayed poise in the pocket, often navigating away from pressure to buy time, and he was fearless running the ball on two attempts. The second attempt was a 14-yard scamper to the one-foot line, where he was hit and knocked out of the game by Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall. The Vikings scored on the next play when Adrian Peterson sprinted around the right edge for a one-yard score to give the Vikings the lead.

Once Ponder left the game, backup Matt Cassel entered and finished the job. He completed four of six passes for 47 yards and guided a pair of scoring drives that totaled 70 yards on 17 plays. Essentially, Cassel entered the game and was in command and made good decisions to help secure the victory.

Veterans John Carlson and Kevin Williams stepped up
With the Vikings banged up and not even dressing the full allotment of players, a couple of veterans assumed new roles and performed in big-time fashion. John Carlson stepped into an increased offensive role with Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot) out of action, hauling in seven receptions on seven targets for 98 yards and his first touchdown as a member of the Vikings; five of Carlson’s seven receptions, including the touchdown, came in the second half.

As for Kevin Williams, he slid over and played nose tackle for most of the game with Letroy Guion and Fred Evans inactive. Williams responded in his new role, tallying 2.5 sacks and notching his first multi-sack game since 2009. Williams was also a factor against the run and made several other plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Defense awoke in the second half
It looked like more of the same for the Vikings defense in the first half. They gave up 3rd down conversions on seven of eight attempts, they surrendered 18 total 1st downs, they allowed 288 net yards of offense and they gave up 24 points. A host of problems plagued the defense, including poor tackling, coverage breakdowns and an inability to close on the quarterback, and at intermission it was fair to wonder if Washington was going to run away with an easy victory in the second half.

But the second half was a completely different story for the Vikings defense. They came alive and began pressuring and sacking Robert Griffin III – Williams finished with 2.5 sacks and Jared Allen had the other .5 sack, and Griffin III was running for his life from a host of other Vikings defenders. After giving up a field goal on Washington’s first possession of the second half, the Vikings forced punts on the next three possessions, which allowed the offense to play catch-up, eventually take the lead and then pad the lead by scoring 13 points off those three punts.

Griffin III, who was sharp and efficient in the first half while going 16 of 21 for 179 yards with three touchdowns, was quite the opposite in the second half and was clearly impacted by the Vikings increased pass rush. In the second half, Griffin III was eight of 16 for 102 yards with no touchdowns.

Vikings dominated on special teams
The Vikings have had a few gaffes on special teams this season, but generally they’ve been one of better overall groups in the NFL and on Thursday night they were downright dominant against the Redskins.

-- Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke were sharp in the kicking game, with Walsh hitting a from 39 and 40 yards in the 4th quarter to pad the Vikings lead and with Locke executing perfectly as the holder and netting 50 yards on his lone punt of the game.

-- From a return perspective, the Vikings up-men on kickoff return handled very well Washington’s barrage of short, pooch and squib kicks – Toby Gerhart, AJ Jefferson and Joe Webb combined for 61 yards on four returns. Marcus Sherels had two punt returns for 34 yards on the night.

-- Conversely, the Vikings kickoff coverage group surrendered an average of just 24.7 yards on three returns, and Walsh booted four touchbacks on the night, as well.

-- The Vikings average drive start after a kickoff was the Minnesota 28, while Washington’s average drive start following a kickoff was their own 22.

Offense was perfect in red zone, efficient on 3rd down
Two areas where the Vikings offense had been uneven through the first eight games of the season were strongpoints of the offense’s performance on Thursday night – 3rd downs and the red zone. The Vikings were six of 10 on 3rd downs and, as a result, the offense was able to sustain drives to put up points on give the defense some much-needed rest. The Vikings put together five drives of six-plus plays, and on those five drives they scored 27 of their 34 points.

In the red zone, the Vikings were a perfect three of three in scoring touchdowns. Peterson scored twice on runs inside the red zone and then Ponder rolled right and found a sprinting Cordarrelle Patterson along the boundary for the third score. In last season’s loss at Washington, this was a problem for the Vikings. They put up three field goals early in the game to take a 9-0 lead, but ultimately lost 38-26 and a big reason for the loss was those early scores being field goals rather than touchdowns. No such problems for the Vikings offense this year against Washington, as those 21 points inside the red zone were a deciding factor in what was a one-score victory for the Vikings.