EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have earned a well-deserved break.
Minnesota stands at 5-3-1 just past the midpoint of the 2018 season after getting a resounding 24-9 win over the Lions on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings recorded a franchise-record 10 sacks on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, with defensive end Danielle Hunter racking up 3.5 sacks and a defensive touchdown in the best performance of his career.
And while the Vikings would be in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed if the season ended today, it’s almost been a tale of two seasons for Minnesota thus far in 2018.
The Vikings opened the season with a 1-2-1 record but have rebounded to win four of five games to get back into the playoff picture.
Here’s a look at Minnesota’s 2018 season so far:
Passing: Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrived in his first season in Purple. He has completed 259 of 363 passes (71.3 percent) for 2,685 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Cousins, who is tied for third in the NFL in passing yards, also has a career-high quarterback rating of 102.2
Here is how Cousins has fared through the first nine games of 2018.
First 4 games: Cousins put up prolific numbers over the first month of the season, throwing for 1,387 yards (346.8 per game) with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Perhaps his best game early on was the Week 2 tie against the Packers where Cousins threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns to lead a furious comeback in Green Bay.
The quarterback did have four fumbles in the first four games of the season, and lost three of them. A pair of those turnovers came in the Week 3 loss to the Bills.
Past 5 games: Cousins has thrown for 1,298 yards (259.6 per game) with seven touchdowns and three interceptions over the past five games.
While his numbers may not be as eye-popping, Cousins has had more help from Minnesota’s running game and the Vikings defense in that stretch.
Rushing: The Vikings have had an up-and-down season on the ground but seem to be trending in the right direction. Minnesota ranks 29th in the NFL at 91.7 yards per game (825 total rushing yards) and is tied for 15th with six rushing touchdowns.
Latavius Murray leads the Vikings with 92 carries for 417 yards and five touchdowns. Dalvin Cook, who has played in just four games, has 46 carries for 187 yards.
First 4 games: The Vikings ran for just 252 total yards (63 yards per game) in the first four games of the season, a stretch that included three games with 68 rushing yards or less.
Perhaps the lowest moment game in Week 3 against Buffalo as the Vikings dug themselves into a hole and had just six total rushing attempts for 14 yards.
Cook injured his hamstring in Week 2 against Green Bay and missed five of the next six games.
Past 5 games: Minnesota has 573 rushing yards over past five games, which is good for an average of 114.6 yards per game. (That total would rank 15th in the NFL this season).
The turnaround began in Week 5 against the Eagles when Minnesota had 77 tough-earned yards against the Eagles, who entered the game with the top-ranked rushing defense. But the breakout came in Week 6 against Arizona in which Murray had a career-high 155 yards as the Vikings had 195 total yards on the ground.
Cook returned in Week 9 against the Lions and provided a spark with a 70-yard run, finishing with 89 yards on 10 carries.
Receiving: Adam Thielen’s 100-yard games streak ended in a tie for the NFL record at eight, but the Minnesota native is still leading the NFL with 78 catches for 947 yards. His seven touchdowns are tied for the second-most in the league.
Stefon Diggs, who missed Sunday’s game, has 58 receptions for 587 yards and four scores. Kyle Rudolph has 34 catches for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Laquon Treadwell has 27 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown, while Aldrick Robinson has had a nose for the end zone with three touchdowns on just seven catches for 115 yards.
First 4 games: Minnesota’s wide receivers teamed with Cousins to put up staggering numbers through the first quarter of the season.
Thielen put up video game-like numbers through the first four games, averaging 10 catches and 118.3 yards per game, and found the end zone twice.
Diggs led the way with three touchdowns, while Robinson and Rudolph each had two.
Past 5 games: Thielen is averaging 100 yards per game, and has scored a touchdown each outing, extending a streak that began in Week 4 to six games.
As mentioned above, a resurgent Vikings running game has helped take some of the pressure off Minnesota’s wide receivers.
Others have stepped up, too. Brandon Zylstra snagged his first career catch against the Jets. Chad Beebe had three catches for 21 yards in his NFL debut against Detroit.
Defense: The Vikings once again have one of the league’s toughest defenses, even in a season where the unit has had some rough stretches at times.
Minnesota ranks sixth in yards allowed per game (322.2) and is 14th in points allowed per game (22.7).
The defense had a shaky start but has rebounded well to help the Vikings win four of five games.
First 4 games: The Vikings struggled early on, giving up an average of 27.5 points and 381.5 yards per game in the first month of the season.
The low point came when the Rams racked up 556 yards of offense and 38 points on national television on Thursday Night Football.
Minnesota racked up 11 sacks in the first four games and forced four turnovers, all of which came in the season opener against the 49ers. Mike Hughes also had a pick six against San Francisco.
Past 5 games: The Vikings defense has looked downright dominating at times over the past five games.
Minnesota has 20 sacks and 10 takeaways in five games, holding opponents to just 18.4 points per game and 274.8 yards per game.
The Vikings also have a pair of defensive touchdowns in recent weeks as both Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter have returned fumbles for scores.
And the unit has been its usual self on third down, as the past five opponents have converted just 12 of the past 56 third-down tries. That 21.4 percentage has helped the Vikings move into first place with an overall third-down percentage of 25.7.
Hunter leads the Vikings with 11.5 sacks, and Smith has a team-high three interceptions, to go along with 3.0 sacks. Minnesota also leads the league with 31 total sacks.
Special Teams: Minnesota has had its highs and lows on special teams, which is also indicative of the Vikings season so far.
The Vikings don’t have a special teams score yet in 2018, but they did allow a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Packers.
First 4 games: The Vikings made a kicking change, bringing in Dan Bailey after Week 2’s tie against the Packers when Minnesota missed three field goals.
Bailey made all three of his field goals in Week 4 against the Rams.
Punter Matt Wile, who was signed a week before the season, averaged 44.8 yards per punt through the first month of the season.
The Vikings also struggled to get things going in the return game.
Past 5 games: The return of Marcus Sherels, who missed three games, has been a boost on special teams. He had five returns for 52 yards against the Jets and had a key 24-yard return against the Lions on Sunday.
Wile had his best game in Week 7 against the Jets as he flipped the field numerous times in swirling winds. He averaged 47.8 yards on eight punts against New York.
Bailey has made nine of 12 field goals over the past five games and is 12 of 15 with Minnesota on the season.
In Recent Years
Here is where the Vikings have stood after nine games in the first four years under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
2017: 7-2 record (won NFC North)
2016: 5-4 (missed postseason)
2015: 7-2 record (won NFC North)
2014: 4-5 record (missed postseason)
The Vikings play four divisional contests in the final seven games of the 2018 season, including back-to-back NFC North tilts after the bye.
Minnesota travels to Chicago in Week 11 for a game that has been flexed to Sunday Night Football.
The Vikings are scheduled to be in prime time consecutive weeks when they host the Packers in Week 12.