The Vikings completed the first half of the regular season schedule in style, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a business trip that generated a 33-16 victory and improved them to 6-2 on the season. Here are eight takeaways from Sunday's win over Cleveland…
1. Vikings started slowly, then took control
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer warned his team all week that Sunday's game against the winless Browns would not be a walk in the part, and what happened in the opening minutes of the game made Zimmer look prophetic. On the sixth play of the game, Case Keenum had a pass tipped by defensive end Carl Nassib and intercepted by linebacker Joe Schobert. Two plays later, the Browns offense turned the sudden change into a sudden 7-0 lead thanks to a 26-yard Isaiah Crowell touchdown run. From there, though, the Vikings traded punches with the Browns for the remainder of the half, got into position for a 34-yard Kai Forbath field goal right before the end of the half and opened the second half by forcing a Browns fumble on the first play to set up another Forbath field goal moments later. The early 3rd-quarter score gave the Vikings a 15-13 lead and the confidence they would need to take control of the game and eventually run away from the Browns in the second half. The Vikings ability to take the opening punch from Cleveland and then respond by taking control is a credit to both the composure of the players and the leadership of Zimmer and his staff.
2. Defense too much for DeShone Kizer and Co.
Some explosive gains in the first half – all three of the Browns plays of 20+ yards came in the opening two quarters – will give Zimmer and his defensive coaching staff plenty of coaching points, but for the balance of the game the Vikings defense played at a high level, something they've done for the majority of 2017. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer completed only 52.4% of his passes for 179 yards with no touchdowns and a passer rating of 68.1. He was also sacked three times. The Vikings held Cleveland to four of 13 (31%) on 3rd downs and permitted multiple 1st downs on three of the first 11 possessions; Cleveland had five possessions with no 1st downs gained. The Browns were also just one of three (33%) in the red zone and the Vikings authored a 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
3. Forbath remains steady
A week after going six of six on field goal tries to help the Vikings defeat Baltimore, Kai Forbath was true of all four of his field goal tries in the win over Cleveland. Forbath hit on tries of 34, 35, 43 and 51 yards, helping the Vikings overtake and increase the lead after falling behind early. Forbath is now 21 of 22 (95.5%) on field goal tries this season and has become an invaluable part of the team's winning formula, which has been predicated on a defense that allows very few point and an offense and special teams that combine to complement the defense with good field position and scoring efficiency (the Vikings scored on seven of 14 drives on Sunday).
4. Griffen capped solid team pass-rushing effort with streak-extending sack
The Vikings put Kizer on the ground three times with sacks, and one of them came via Everson Griffen. The late-game sack gives Griffen 10.0 for the season and a sack for an eighth consecutive game, which ties Jared Allen and Chris Doleman for a team record. Griffen totaled five hits on Kizer for the game. The other sacks came from defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph.
5. Barr and Kendricks tandem continues to terrorize offenses
Anthony Barr may be having his best season as a pro and Eric Kendricks continues to be the engine in the middle of the Vikings defense. A week after being the team's top two tacklers, Barr and Kendricks were at it again on Sunday against the Browns and teamed up to tally 13 tackles, three passes defensed and 1.0 tackle for loss. Their athleticism, versatility and synergy gives an already-tenacious defense another gear that allows them to contain dual-threat players such as Duke Johnson and also put pressure on offensive lines to handle exotic looks and varying pressure packages.
6. McKinnon does it all, including scoring a touchdown
It was another all-around impressive outing for running back Jerick McKinnon, who finished the game as the Vikings leading rusher with 50 yards on 14 carries and the leading receiver with 72 yards on six catches. McKinnon had a one-yard touchdown and the subsequent two-point conversion run late in the 3rd quarter that gave the Vikings a lead they would not relinquish. Sunday's game was the third for McKinnon with 100+ all-purpose yards and the touchdown was his fourth of the season. He and Latavius Murray teamed up for 89 yards rushing and have done a solid job stepping in for the injured Dalvin Cook to keep the running game productive enough to balance out the passing attack.
7. Keenum, offensive line keep the chains moving
The Vikings scored 33 points, racked up 26 1st downs and scored on half of their possessions. A big reason for this productivity and efficiency was the teamwork of quarterback Case Keenum and his offensive line. Keenum was sacked just one time as the offensive line continued to demonstrate its improvement this season in pass protection, and aside from the interception on the first series of the game the Vikings took care of the ball along the way to scoring seven times. The Vikings didn't have a drive of fewer than six plays until their four-play field goal drive in the 3rd quarter, which was a big reason why the Vikings were able to hold such a big advantage in time of possession and control much of the second half.
8. The Vikings are creating space in the NFC North
There is still half the season to go and even more than that for Detroit and Green Bay, but as of now the Vikings have risen to the top of the NFC North and they've created a cushion with four straight wins heading into the bye. As they flew home from London, the Vikings sat on a two-win lead over Green Bay, who was off this week, and a three-win lead over Detroit, who plays the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football this week. Even if the Lions win, the Vikings will emerge from their Week 9 bye with full control of their own destiny over the final eight games.