EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have won back-to-back games for the first time this season, and used a prolific — and balanced — offense to get the job done.
Against the Giants, Minnesota ran for 211 yards [which tied a season-high], while also throwing for 279 yards, a total that was a season-best at the time in totaling a whopping 490 yards of offense.
Kirk Cousins set his season-best with 333 passing yards against Philadelphia in Week 6, while the running game churned out 122 yards against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.
Add them together, and the Vikings have compiled 937 yards of offense in two games. That’s better than any two-game stretch since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota in 2014.
“It was helpful to get a rhythm going these past couple weeks,” Cousins said. “I think that when the season starts, you’re kind of learning who you are and what works well and figuring that out early in the year, and I think it’s a good confidence boost the last couple weeks to have games where we felt like we had a little bit of an identity in addition to our run game, which we saw early in the year.
“So, hopefully we can keep that going, but you start from zero every week, and you’ve got to build it up, and you never know what the game’s going to call for, what you’re going to do well or what they’re going to take away,” Cousins added. “We have to be able to respond based on what we gather early in the game.”
View the Vikings practice photos from October 16 at the TCO Performance Center as they prepare to take on the Lions.
A key reason for the Vikings success in recent weeks has been the play-action game, which has been opened up by a rushing attack that ranks third in the NFL with 159.0 rushing yards per game.
Over the past two games, Vikings.com has charted that Cousins has completed 18 of 23 play-action passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns.
Whether the Vikings are run heavy or pass happy might depend on Detroit’s defensive approach on Sunday and the situations of the game.
“You have to prepare for a lot, knowing that not everything’s going to get called or work well,” Cousins said. “But when you can run the football well, execute play-action, execute screens, you can protect in the drop-back game, you can have guys get open versus man coverage, I mean, now you’re starting to have success in a lot of different areas, and that’s when you start to say, ‘Hey, this team is tough to defend.’
“We’re trying to become an offense that people will say that,” Cousins added. “But, we’ve got to go out and prove it every week with how successful we are in a bunch of different types of offense.”
Next up? Minnesota’s final NFC North road game of 2019 … and a team that plays a lot of man coverage.
A quick glance at team defensive rankings shows the Lions are near the bottom in a few major categories.
Detroit ranks 29th in total yards allowed per game (413.8), 28th in passing yards allowed per game (280.0) and 27th in rushing yards allowed per game (133.8).
The Lions are also tied for 27th with 10 sacks, and have just three interceptions, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
But good luck telling the Vikings that they won’t need to be at their best offensively Sunday at Ford Field.
“Defensively, I think they’re stout,” Zimmer said. “[They] play a lot of man-to-man in the back end, mix in a little bit of eight-man drops and some shell coverages.
“This will be a good test for us,” Zimmer added. “We’ll have to go in there and play good to win on the road.”
Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs said he welcomes the challenge of defenses playing man coverage against Minnesota.
“You enjoy playing man-to-man. You just have to win your 1-on-1 [matchup], that’s what it comes down to,” Diggs said. “In this game, you win your 1-on-1 battle, you have success.
“At the end of the day, you want that compared to a team that plays a lot of zone and you have to find the open spot,” Diggs added. “You just have to get open.”
Detroit’s secondary features Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay along with standout Justin Coleman, who is in his first season with the Lions. Detroit’s starting safety tandem is Tracy Walker and Tavon Wilson.
Up front, the Lions implement a heavy-handed defensive line that includes Damon “Snacks” Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson, plus former Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels.
The Lions are an aggressive bunch when the opposing offense has the ball, featuring a league-high nine players with at least one forced fumble.
It remains to be seen if the Vikings will look to have success through the air or on the ground Sunday at Ford Field.
But it seems they are at their best when they can do both.
“We’re still trying to be what we can be. We know what we can be,” Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said. “So it’s going to take just getting into the rhythm, and that’s real live game reps and getting out there and seeing defenses and playing against them and just jelling together.’’
What much are you excited about if you haven’t come together how good you can be?
“We just keep working hard and putting this team together,” Cook said. “We know the type of group we can be. I just think wherever we want to go, we want to go.’’