The Minnesota Vikings defense has been rated among the top defenses in the league all season and it has been postulated that the Vikings will need to almost throw shutouts to make up for an offense that is too one-dimensional and unable to run the ball.
But, in the last two losses – to Detroit last week and a 26-20 loss at Washington on Sunday – the defense has been just as culpable as the offense.
The team came out flat and allowed Kirk Cousins to pick them apart and surrendered points on every drive of the second half.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said that holding Washington to field goals kept the team in the game, but the Redskins had an offense dialed up that kept the Vikings confused and off-balance all day.
“Defensively, I thought they did a good job of keeping us off-balance with play actions and got after us a little bit on the outside today,” Zimmer said. “We have to keep going and keep fighting. That’s all we can do. We can’t stick our heads in the sand. This team will still continue to fight.”
The Vikings have been as consistent defensively as any team of their era. In last previous 27 games, including the playoffs, the Vikings have allowed an opponent to score more than two touchdowns just once – a regular season loss to Seattle last year.
It looked as though that record would add another one to it Sunday, because Washington scored on its first two drives.
Their first drive went 10 plays for 68 yards, including a pair of third-down plays that got the Redskins inside the 10-yard line on one and scored a touchdown on the other.
Pinned on the 9-yard line for their second drive, Washington marched 91 yards on nine plays, this time facing just one third down (which it converted) to take a 14-0 lead less than one minute into the second quarter.
While the Vikings defense wouldn’t give up another touchdown, it didn’t mean they weren’t dominated by the Redskins offense.
In the third quarter, Washington ran 23 plays to just four for the Vikings.
The Redskins took the opening kickoff of the half and drove 60 yards on 12 plays – a drive that took more than six minutes and included completions of 16, 14, 13 and 12 yards, all of which converted first downs.
After the Vikings offense went three-and-out, Washington backed up its first drive of the second half with an 11-play drive that took another 5:16 off the clock. They had to settle for a field goal again, but it tied the game 20-20 and clearly put momentum squarely on Washington’s side.
As the Vikings offense continued to struggle, the defense got riddled continuously. Starting from their own 8-yard, it took just three plays for the Redskins to advance to the Minnesota 40-yard line. The defense was able to stiffen from there, but it was enough for Redskins to add a third field goal and take a 23-20 lead.
Following an interception by the Redskins on a tipped pass, the Vikings needed to stonewall the Washington offense, but gave up a pair of first downs to get the Redskins to the 12-yard line, where they chipped in another short field goal – their fourth straight scoring drive of the half.
Had the Vikings generated any offense in the second half, they could have easily won the game. The defense didn’t break, but it sure did bend.
After the game, Zimmer said he still has faith that his team can rebound from their current skid, but if the offense is going to continue to struggle, the defense simply can’t allow opponents to score on every second-half drive and expect to come away with a “W.”
“I’m concerned, obviously, but I still believe,” Zimmer said. “I believe if we do a couple of things here or a couple of things there, we’re going to win games. I just feel like if we can over the hump and just keep fighting until we do that positive things will happen. It doesn’t look like that right now, but the big thing is if we don’t have fight, we have no chance. We have guys who will fight, we just aren’t playing well right now.”
The players are just as confused as the coach as to how a season that started in such dominating fashion could suddenly go so bad, so fast.
Brian Robison summed up that confusion, saying that the team has played well enough to win with a play here or a play there, but it just isn’t happening.
"We’ve got to figure out a way,” Robison said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to go back to work this week and figure out what it is that we’ve got to do in order to pull out these close games that we tend to be losing. We’re in a slump right now, so we’ve got to make sure we find a way to get ourselves out of it."
GAME DAY NOTES
- The Vikings were already without Sharrif Floyd, Captain Munnerlyn and Marcus Sherels to start the game, but they lost Eric Kendricks in the first quarter with a left hip injury and Xavier Rhodes to a possible concussion in the fourth quarter.
- The news wasn’t good for offensive tackle Jake Long, who suffered an Achilles injury on the final drive of the game that will likely not only end his season, but could affect his chances to resume his career.
- The Vikings offense has failed to score points in the first quarter in seven of their nine games, including each of the last four on their losing streak.
- Stefon Diggs continues on his own personal tear. In the two games with Pat Shurmur running the offense, Diggs has caught 13 passes in both games – becoming the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back games with that many receptions.
- In the second quarter alone, Diggs caught five passes for 102 yards. In the fourth quarter, he caught eight passes for 60 yards.
- Sam Bradford did what he could in the passing game, completing 31 of 40 passes for 307 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 104.9.
- Kirk Cousins completed 22 of 33 passes against the Vikings defense for 262 yards with two touchdowns, no picks and a passer rating of 110.9.
- The Redskins dominated the running game. Washington ran 28 times for 128 yards, led by Robert Kelley, who had 22 carries for 97 yards.
- The Vikings managed just 47 yards on 21 carries and even those numbers were misleading. Jerick McKinno ran six times for 16 yards to “lead” the team, Matt Asiata ran nine times for 13 yards and Ronnie Hillman ran four times for two yards.
- Aside from Diggs, Kyle Rudolph had a solid day, catching five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
- The only Redskins to have receptions of more than 20 yards were tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, who combined to catch five passes for 107 yards.
- Washington outgained the Vikings 388-331, putting up 90 yards more than the Vikings defense has typically allowed in a game.
- Although there was a lot of back and forth of clock dominance from one quarter to the next, the Vikings ended up with an eight-second time-of-possession advantage (30:04 to 29:56).
- The Vikings held the ball for 11:40 of the second quarter, while the Redskins controlled the ball for 11:23 of the third quarter.
- The Redskins had six drives of seven plays or more and scored on each of those drives.
- The Vikings had just one sack Sunday, coming from Danielle Hunter in the final three minutes of the game.
- The Redskins kept the Vikings throwing short in the second half. In the first half, Bradford completed 16 of 20 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, Bradford completed 15 of 20 passes, but for just 105 yards with no TDs and an interception.
- Kelley did the majority of his damage in the second half, rushing 14 times for 63 yards.
- Washington outgained the Vikings 200 to 94 in the second half.
- Blair Walsh continued to make the case for the Vikings releasing him. When the Vikings scored in the final seconds of the first half to take what appeared to be a seven-point lead, Walsh pushed an extra point wide right that kept the lead at six points and could have changed how the Redskins approached fourth downs in the second half in Vikings territory if two field goals had not been enough to tie the game.
- Bradford lit up the Redskins up in the second quarter, completing 12 of 15 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the second 15 minutes.
- The Vikings’ score barrage in the second quarter prodcued their first offensive touchdowns in the first half since Week 5.
- Nick Easton was used often as an extra blocker and an eligible receiver on several plays.
- Washington had just one drive that went three-and-out all day, which isn’t unusual for them. The Redskins have had only nine series all season in which they have gone three-and-out in nine games.
- The team lost Kendricks in the first quarter. He injured his left hip colliding with Anthony Barr and attempted to return on the next series, but left again after one play and was replaced by Audie Cole.
- Weather couldn’t be used as an excuse Sunday. It was 58 degrees and sunny with almost no wind the entire game.