The Vikings went toe-to-toe with a rough and tough NFC North rival on Sunday and they came out on top, registering a 26-16 victory to improve to 1-1 on the season. The victory was a function of all three phases contributing significantly, and it sends the Vikings into Week 3 on a positive note as they prepare for the San Diego Chargers.
Here are five reasons why the Vikings were victorious on Sunday…
1. The Vikings got physicalVikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he was pleased with his team's response this week after being pushed around last week in San Francisco. That's because Zimmer's team was physical all over the field and particularly relentless in the running game – both on defense and on offense. The Vikings rushed for 199 yards on 42 carries (4.7 yards per carry), an effort that included 134 bulldozing yards on 29 carries for Adrian Peterson (4.6 ypc). On defense, the Vikings surrendered just 38 total rushing yards on 16 carries (2.4 ypc).
In the passing game, Teddy Bridgewater was protected well and was sacked just once. While Matthew Stafford was sacked just once, he was pressured constantly on the afternoon and took punishing hit after punishing hit from the Vikings defense.
2. Bridgewater was a playmaker on 3rd downBridgewater's passing numbers weren't gaudy – 14 of 18 for 153 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs for a passer rating of 120.6. But he was a downright playmaker on 3rd downs. Bridgewater dropped pinpoint-accurate passes to Jarius Wright early in the game for 17 yards on 3rd and 8 and later in the game to Mike Wallace for 22 yards on 3rd and 8; those two drives resulted in 10 points. He also scrambled for 8 yards on 3rd and 3 to setup Rudolph's TD reception and in the 3rd quarter scrambled again for 6 yards on 3rd and 6 just moments before Zach Line's 1-yard TD plunge. His best 3rd-down moment, though, came on a 3rd and 2 in the 2nd quarter when he was hit and being tackled to the ground. At the last second, he spotted Peterson and flipped the football in his RB's direction. Peterson gathered the football, gathered himself, and turned on the jets for a 49-yard gain that set up a Walsh FG.
It wasn't always perfect and a lot of it was improvisation, but Bridgewater's performance on 3rd down was a big key for the Vikings as they put up 26 points.
3. Special teams dominatedAfter allowing zero return yards last week, the Vikings specialists and coverage units were stingy once again in the return game. Detroit totaled just 2 punt return yards and 84 kickoff return yards on the afternoon. P Jeff Locke had a net average of 44.0 yards and put two of his three punts inside the 20. On kickoffs, Walsh had three touchbacks on six attempts and the Lions average drive start after a kickoff was the minus-21; Detroit's overall average drive start was the minus-18.
The return game was solid for the Vikings, with Marcus Sherels averaging 13.0 yards per punt return and Patterson averaging 31.0 on kickoff returns. The Vikings average drive start was the minus-43 and their average drive start after a kickoff was the minus-22, a significant advantage relative to Detroit's in both categories.
4. Turnover marginOutside of points allowed/scored, there is no more pivotal statistic in the game of football than turnovers. The Vikings won the turnover battle on Sunday, taking the ball from Detroit three times (two fumbles, one INT) and giving back just once (Peterson fumble). The next step for the Vikings in this area is to turn those turnovers into points. The Vikings scored just three points off the three Lions turnovers.
5. The pass defense stepped up
Pass defense is the combination of rush and coverage, and on Sunday that combination was solid for the Vikings. Stafford was sacked just once but was pressured throughout the game and never settled into a groove. While he did complete 61.5% of his passes for 286 yards with 2 TDs, he also averaged just 5.40 yards per attempt and his top two targets were held in check. Calvin Johnson was targeted 17 times and came away with 10 receptions for 83 yards and 1 TD, while Golden Tate was targeted 10 times and came down with 6 receptions for 80 yards and no scores. The 16 receptions for 163 yards and 1 TD box score for Johnson and Tate is solid, but it came on 27 total targets and the Vikings secondary did a good job of keeping plays in front of them and not letting the Lions passing game stretch the field.