A month ago, most NFL observers wouldn’t have guessed that the Minnesota Vikings would be heading into week five with only one loss.  Those that believed it to be possible certainly wouldn’t have predicted an impressive victory over the Niners would have been a part of that win total.

So, with the Vikings in sole possession of first place in their division (for at least one day), what can we make of this team as they prepare to take on a struggling Titans team at home?  Let’s take a look at what clues can be taken away from Sunday’s win in Detroit.

1.  The Special Teams Were Special Indeed

Sure, Blair Walsh missed his first field goal and Chris Kluwe continued to struggle with a couple of punts.  Outside of that, however, the special teams of the Minnesota Vikings was fantastic.  Percy Harvin made a statement on the opening kickoff in the form of a 105 yard touchdown return and Marcus Sherels followed up by taking the first punt return of the second half 77 yards for a score.  Walsh hit two of his three attempts, including a 49 yarder, but was a beast kicking off as the Lions never even got to return the ball once.  The coverage team struggled a little more keeping Stefan Logan bottled up on Kluwe’s punts, but nothing disastrous took place.

2.  The Passing Game Still Needs Work

Everyone is waiting for Christian Ponder’s light bulb to go on, and despite the 3-1 start, there is no question that it hasn’t happened yet.  He just hasn’t shown the ability to put this team on his back and will it to victory yet.  Sunday he was 16 of 26 for a measly 111 yards and no touchdowns.  In fact, his offense was really only responsible for six points, as the special teams scored the other 14.  That type of special teams production can’t be counted on every week, so Ponder and the gang have to get their act together if they want to continue winning football games.

Jerome Simpson was relatively quiet against the Lions, but he did make an impact in his first game as a Viking.  He played the role of field-stretcher which resulted in four catches, 50 yards, and two important pass interference penalties.  He was the team’s leader in receiving, but that isn’t saying much this week.

3.  Peterson’s Comeback Couldn’t Be Going Much Better

Many of us, including me, have openly questioned the team’s wisdom in bringing Adrian Peterson back into a featured role so quickly after his devastating knee injury.  Four weeks into the 2012 season, however, Peterson appears more than capable of shouldering a hefty load and making this offense better.  Against the Lions he carried the ball 21 times for 102 yards and added four catches for 20 yards, and has shown no signs of being hampered by pain or discomfort.  If the Vikings are truly going to embrace the idea that they can remain on top of the NFC North, then Peterson will be a main ingredient moving forward.

4.  Young Defenders Provide A Spark

Jared Allen got a sack on Sunday and did his signature dance.  The real story here, however, is the impact made by the youngsters on defense that should make Vikings fans hopeful when it comes to dreaming about the future.

Rookie safety Harrison Smith was only credited with one tackle on Sunday, but his impact was greater than his stat line would suggest.  Smith was in on a number of pass break ups with the most notable coming on an end zone play in which he dislodged the ball from the hands of Megatron to prevent a sure touchdown.  Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson was penalized (wrongfully) for a suplex-like tackle that displayed his strength, but his other seven solo tackles (tied with Chad Greenway for the most) did not go unnoticed.  The kid can fly around and make plays.

Perhaps even more notable were the performances of two of the team’s youngest defensive linemen.  Letroy Guion and Everson Griffen each had two sacks, including Griffen’s sack on the final play of the game, denying Detroit a chance at another miracle hail mary.

Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley also had a solid game, playing a big part in the team’s success against the Lions running game.  55 yards is all that Detroit was able to gain on the ground.

5.  A Tale Of Two Third Downs

On one hand, the Vikings defense was able to force Detroit’s hand on 63% of their third downs (and 67% of their fourth downs).  On the other hand, however, the Vikings offense failed to convert on third down 75% of the time (3 of 12).

Christian Ponder was inaccurate and inefficient on third downs, particularly when rolling to his right, and the Bill Musgrave called plays in a way that made me question the trust he has for Ponder to not make big mistakes.  The Vikings coaching staff, at some point, will have to take the cuffs off and let Ponder win or lose football games as a 25% conversion rate on third down is not going to win very many more games.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder what the game tape shows on Cook? His name wasnt mentioned much and I’m thinking that’s probably a good thing.

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  2. our special teams won the game for us and our D did a very good job against a good detroit offense

    our O should’ve done much better against that poor D backfield considering how well our O line played against their D line, AD’s running, and the presence of simpson

    it’s the viking’s MO to play up and down to their opponents, and we’re a young team, so we’ll need to build on consistency. impressive to beat two playoff teams thus far in the season

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  3. Always happy with a win, but the passing game was just plain bad today against a team they should have easily been able to put up some yardage against. It seemed like they put it on cruise control in the 2nd half and were just playing not to lose which I hate, but it worked out this time around. Great job by the D and special teams and AD who just continues to amaze me with how far he has come from that injury.

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  4. Playing mistake-free football seems to be working pretty well. Let’s not knock it. Obviously the passing game needs work, but it became pretty obvious that one of the best ways to win this game was to make Detroit earn everything they got against our defense, and they couldn’t get enough.

    Getting the 20-6 lead put us in “careful” mode, there is no doubt. All I will say at this point is… it worked. And let’s not forget the shot we took to Simpson, which, I felt was really a key play in the final sequences.

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    • Agreed on the pass play to Simpson on the last drive, I thought that was the offensive play call of the game. I’m just really surprised they didn’t find more room in that Detroit defense, especially with how successful the running game was early on. You’ld expect things to open up on the play action passes, but on the positive side I don’t think Ponder had a single pass that was even close to being intercepted today. I know he entered the game with no picks, but he’s given the defenses opportunites the first few weeks and he really did a great job taking care of the ball when they had the lead today.

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      • I thought ponder lucked out on at least two short throws forced in harvins direction that easily could have been six points the other way.

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  5. A win is a win, anyway you slice it. Ponder looked…decent. I agree with Adam, the 3rd down plays seemed to be too safe. From what I’ve seen…the kid is better than that. Those plays reminded me of Bevel calling plays for T-Jack….oooooh, just the thought…
    Harken back to the good old days Coach….and I quote- “Get a lead, and don’t do anything stupid”.
    I love it and will take it every time.

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    • Yeah, cart, I posted a similar comment in the chat post. It looked like a Viking-Lion game from 40 years ago. (Except that it was played inside and we were wearing constumes instead of uniforms.) Even the quotes after the game by the Lions sounded similar (too many missed chances, special teams were the difference, etc.). I wonder what the numbers are on how often a team wins when they don’t commit a turnover? Pretty high I bet. Combine that with games where you also have at least one return touchdown, and I bet the pct. is in the 90’s.

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  6. Defense was great today, good game plan there. And of course special teams was the difference. Game balls go to Cheech, AP, D.C. A.Williams and M.Sherels.

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  7. The Good – Vikes win on the road vs a division foe. Special teams. O-Line and D-Line. D backs Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith. AD rushes for 100+ yards

    The Bad – The Vikings offense in general. Zero TD’s. Ponder on the roll out. Maybe Detroit had the right scheme on for him, but those plays looked disorganized Coaching, the “prevent defense” the last seven minutes of the game is maddening to watch.

    The Ugly – Ford Field, section 230, Row 1. Two Access Viking oldtimers sat in these seats. Disco Viking and Toledo Mudhen. For what it’s worth, the Vikings have won every single time Mudhen has attended a game in person.

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  8. I have to disagree about Ponders subpar play. He didn’t put up great numbers but he was mistake free. The offense would have looked a lot different had we not been up 2 scores + almost all game. I have been very critical of Ponder and hard on him since we drafted him but I think hes looked great this year.

    Also have to say Harrison Smith is a beast!

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  9. Division foes know each other so well, and it appeared that whatever the Vikings thought would work in the passing game was taken away by the Lions. Gunther Cunningham is a very smart D-Coordinator in my opinion, and he had us “schemed” pretty well. Two things are apparent in this game.
    1. The passing game is a work in progress.
    2. The two touchdowns from special teams changed some of the offensive strategy.

    That said, I think we all agree we are very surprised that we are 3-1 (with the only loss being in overtime), and we can’t let that change the original perspective that this is a team in rebuilding mode. It would be unfair to now expect playoff level perfromances every week. I just don’t think we are there yet.

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  10. Adam, Did Percy get hurt? I know the announcers and Vikes haven’t said anything, but something happened to Percy.

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  11. I guess any time you can beat a divisional foe, on their turf, it’s a great win.
    So far this season, the best improved has to be our special teams. I can’t believe the last time I saw a game where we kicked it out of the end zone so many times. Coverage also seems vastly improved.

    I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve seen Ponder roll out to the right about 27 times too many this season. Geez, mix in a stroll to the left or step up, or just take off down field allready!

    I’m also starting to think we may have a secondary. Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson look like the real deal. And Antoine! What a player. It was nice to see Greenway show a little aggression but man that was a bad move on Megatron. If Chris Cook quits slapping girls around, he’ll probably turn into the D-back we figured he was when we drafted him. He had a good game.

    I was just starting to think Musgrave may be the guy, then he calls a game like this one. . .

    And I was absolutely wrong about AD. I thought it was the height of foolishness to have him on the field in the first 4 games of the regular season. Thye guy is supernatural.
    That said, we should try to trade him while he still has value left. Cuz he’s going to kill himself with those extra efforts he makes on EVERY single down he plays.

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  12. Glad to see AD back to his old self…Defense looked good, young guns looking good in the secondary, O-Line looked good, Special teams, They look pretty good for a rebuilding team…

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