The Vikings struck early and effectively against the Dolphins on Sunday, scoring 21 points in the first quarter for the first time since recording 28 against the Cardinals in 2011.
Minnesota’s offense ran under the direction of Interim Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who was promoted to the role last Tuesday. In the wake of the Vikings 41-17 win, Albert Breer of The MMQB said that “change did the Vikings a world of good.” Breer wrote:
I still believe that ex-Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is a really good coach who’ll probably have a chance to call plays again next year and likely will become an NFL head coach someday. But I can also acknowledge the obvious, which was abundantly clear Sunday: He and Mike Zimmer were not a fit.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Breer highlighted three facets of the Vikings victory: the season-high point total, 17 more than in any of their previous six games; 418 yards from scrimmage, which ranked fourth this season behind totals in the tie against the Packers and losses to the Rams and Saints; and Minnesota’s 220 rushing yards that were “133.9 yards clear of their season average.”
So how did they do it? Star receiver Adam Thielen explained the change to me like this: The Vikings cut down the volume of plays going into the game plan, with Stefanski taking that smaller number of plays and dressing them up through [the use of formations] and motioning. The idea, which you hear a lot about at the college level, was to make it easy for the offense but hard for the defense, by burdening the coaches rather than the players to challenge the opponent.
“It’s one of those things that you feel during the week,” Thielen told Breer. “You feel like you can just go out there and play fast in practice, and then you get to the game and you build on that. You build your confidence on those plays, those first couple series. And when you’re able to move the ball, and things are simple and you’re playing fast, it creates a lot of momentum, and that’s all we’re looking for.”
PFF praises Vikings offense, defense against Dolphins
In its weekly “Re-Focused” series that gives an immediate reaction to game results, analytics site Pro Football Reference took a look at the Vikings win.
The analytics site praised four features of Minnesota’s outing, starting with third-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander. PFF wrote that while Alexander has had ups and downs since being drafted by the Vikings in 2016, “he’s starting to show why he was one of the highest-graded cornerbacks in college in 2015.”
In addition to Alexander recording two passes defended, PFF noted that he allowed just two yards on four targets.
The Vikings pass-rush was unstoppable. Not only did they rack up nine sacks, but they pressured Ryan Tannehill on more than [50 percent] of his drop-backs. Danielle Hunter led the way with two sacks and multiple pressures while Anthony Barr also joined in on the fun with two sacks and several pressures.
It was an efficient day for Kirk Cousins, as he often found the open receiver and completed the pass. It wasn’t flashy, as he attempted just one pass 20-plus yards downfield, but he completed it for a big-time throw and a touchdown.
This was easily the best rushing game of the season for the Vikings, as they emphasized getting Dalvin Cook going. Cook carried 19 of the team’s 38 designed runs, as he benefited from good scheming and blocking, gaining ample yards before first contact after coming into the game averaging just 1.7 yards per carry.
Craig’s takeaways include Rhodes play, Barr’s performance
The Dolphins at one point came within four points of the Vikings, before a pair of back-to-back sacks halted Miami’s drive and a 70-yard return by Marcus Sherels set Minnesota up for a Dan Bailey field goal.
In his takeaways from the game, Mark Craig of the Star Tribune reminded that the 75-yard touchdown run by Kalen Ballage, which cut the Vikings lead to 21-17, would have tied the game if not for a play on the previous drive by Xavier Rhodes.
Craig said Rhodes “manhandled” wide receiver DeVante Parker in the end zone on a third-and-goal situation just before halftime. He wrote:
The officials allowed them to jockey, elbow and fight for the ball just inbounds. The 6-1, 218-pound Rhodes won, and Miami settled for a 25-yard field goal.
Other takeaways from Craig included the 75-yard score by Ballage, Sherels’ big return and Anthony Barr’s performance.
The 72nd game of Barr’s career was his first multi-sack game. He also had a game-high seven tackles. With the Vikings leading 21-0, he had back-to-back plays in which he sacked Ryan Tannehill and tackled Kenyan Drake short of a first down on third-and-13. In a 4-3 defense, we shouldn’t expect Barr to put up 3-4 edge rusher numbers. But Sunday was the kind of fun that Barr and his fans should enjoy more often.
“I don’t think stats always tell the full story about the player and the defense,” Barr told media members after the game. “People like to cling to that. We play unselfish for the most part, and when we do, we play well.