EAGAN, Minn. – With the Giants lining up with three wide receivers on their first offensive snap Sunday, Mike Hughes earned the start at nickel cornerback, his first of the season.
While Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were on the field as the outside corners, it was the beginning of a day where Hughes showed he appears to be fully recovered from his ACL injury suffered almost one year ago.
The second-year cornerback played 50 of 69 defensive snaps, his highest total of the season, part of which was due to fellow slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander missing the game due to injury.
Still, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer came away pleased with Hughes after Week 5.
View the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" following the 28-10 victory over the New York Giants in Week 5.
“Mike played really well. His technique was really good,” Zimmer said. “He had a couple bad plays in there. The one where they caught the ball just outside the end zone, that should have been his play, and he had one other play that wasn’t very good.
“The rest of the time he played very, very good. He played good in the running game. There was a couple times he could have fit better in the running game,” Zimmer added. “But overall, I thought he played very well. He competed. He used good technique. He got his hand on some balls, so that was good to see.”
According to coaches’ stats, Hughes was credited with a team-high three passes defended against the Giants.
That included a near interception on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter, but Hughes couldn’t hang onto the diving attempt near the Vikings sideline.
Zimmer also talked about Minnesota’s other defensive backs, including Rhodes, who gave up the defense’s lone touchdown of the day on a 35-yard pass.
“He got in bad position early, and then he did not do a good job of catching up to him before he started looking back,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer noted that he would like to see Minnesota’s secondary improve as a whole going forward.
“I just think we have to clean up some technique with some of our defensive backs, not just him,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got some other guys that we need to clean up our technique.
“At times throughout the game, they might be perfect 60-70 percent of the time and then the other 30 percent, they get sloppy,” Zimmer added. “We have to clean that up.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Monday:
1. Dalvin’s dominance
Dalvin Cook’s versatility was on full display in Sunday’s win over New York, as the third-year running back racked up a career-high 218 yards from scrimmage.
On the ground, Cook had 21 carries for 132 yards, including a 41-yard rumble in the third quarter.
And he was effective through the air, primarily on screen passes, as he had six catches for 86 yards.
Zimmer said Monday that he didn’t care that Cook neared 30 total touches in Week 5, adding that it’s no secret the Vikings will rely on the running back any way they have to going forward.
“I want us to do whatever we have to do to win,” Zimmer said. “I don’t really care how many carries he gets or how many times we throw the ball. It’s all about trying to do the best that we can do to win.
“When he has the ball in his hand, he’s very dangerous as you can see on that tape,” Zimmer added. “There’s so many wild plays when he has the ball in his hands that he can do so much damage.”
Cook became the first player in franchise history to record 120-plus rushing yards and 80-plus receiving yards in the same game with Sunday’s outing.
2. Cleaning up the penalties
The Vikings were flagged a season-high 12 times on Sunday, bringing their 2019 total to 44, which is tied for third-most in the NFL.
Everson Griffen mentioned the infractions on a conference call with the Twin Cities media Monday morning, and Zimmer reiterated that point in the afternoon.
“I agree with him 100 percent. Too many,” Zimmer said.
Of Minnesota’s 44 penalties in 2019, half have come against the offense. The defense has been responsible for 16, and special teams has been flagged six times, including at least once in each game.
Zimmer said a few weeks ago that he planned on hammering home the point to his team, and noted he was going to keep doing so this week.
“I’ve been talking to the team all year long about them,” Zimmer said. “We just have to clean them up. We had four pre-snap penalties offensively. We had some holding calls. We had some [defensive pass interferences].
“Last two weeks, first third down of the game [on defense], we’ve let them move on because we’ve had a penalty on the back end,” Zimmer added. “We’ve got to get the players in better positions so that they don’t create penalties and that’s really the big thing.”
3. Cousins thrives with play action
Kirk Cousins kept the Giants defense guessing Sunday, as he used play-action passes to help produce his best game of 2019.
The Vikings quarterback completed 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards and two scores for a passer rating of 138.6. But Cousins was particularly effective throwing after faking the run, as he completed nine of 11 passes for 147 yards and a 9-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen.
Zimmer credited Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and his staff for putting Cousins in positions to be successful.
“I thought we did a really nice job scheme-wise with the offense,” Zimmer said. “The play-actions, the misdirection, the run game, the outside runs, the inside the runs, the whatever you want to call it, trying to hurt the defenses eyes by some of the movements that we had.
“I think there was a lot of good stuff there [Sunday],” Zimmer added.
Cousins and the Vikings were so on point with the play action, that a Giants defender actually kept trying to get to Cousins on a third-quarter play. This time, however, Cook took the handoff and simply scampered for 41 yards through a big hole on the right side.
4. Getting to Jones
Zimmer emphasized Monday that the Vikings defense has a different game plan for the opposing quarterback that week.
Whatever Zimmer and his staff drew up before Week 5 was successful, as Jones had his lowest passer rating (65.9) and yardage total (182) since taking over as New York’s starter in Week 3.
“Every week when we’re watching the tape, we try to figure out what approach we need to take,” Zimmer said. “Each week is a different week. I guess we just try to figure out a way to stop the other team best we can.
“It’s all based on tendencies, what the other team does, and we felt like we had some tendencies there that we could try to attack,” Zimmer added. “That’s really what it was. Again, every week’s a different week.”
Danielle Hunter had a pair of sacks while being credited with three quarterback hurries. Griffen had a sack and was credited with four hurries on Jones.
Ifeadi Odenigbo had a his first career sack and three hurries, while Anthony Barr also had three hurries, according to coaches’ stats.