The GM’s View: Reactions after Another Discouraging Defeat in Baltimore
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
The scene: overtime in Baltimore. The Vikings have been dominated in total yardage, first downs and time of possession yet have battled the AFC North-leading Ravens into overtime with a late clutch drive. Suddenly Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr makes a huge play (his most significant play in years) with a leaping interception of Ravens QB Lamar Jackson.
Minnesota ball at their own 38. Time to put a drive together, get an unexpected victory after twice blowing 14 point leads, and climb back into the final playoff spot. Right? Not quite.
Instead of taking a shot downfield to one of the Vikings’ premier receivers, offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak tries to force-feed Dalvin Cook to a defense that is geared up to stop him. 1st dow — swing pass to Cook for two yards. 2nd & 8 — unimaginative run call and Cook is stuffed for a one-yard loss. Question: is Kirk Cousins capable of or allowed to call an audible and switch to a pass play with the Ravens stacking eight or nine in the box to stop the run? Then facing third and 9, the Ravens blitz Cousins, and in a panic, he throws a pass nowhere near Adam Thielen.
After a punt, the inevitable happens as Jackson drives his offense against the exhausted and depleted Vikings D to the winning field goal. Ugh—again!
Here are my other quick-hit reactions to the Vikings’ falling to 3-5 with the season now teetering on the brink headed to L.A. to face the AFC West co-leading Chargers:
1. In a day of major upsets around the NFL, the snakebitten Vikings once again couldn’t close the deal. Four division leaders—Dallas, Buffalo, and the L.A. Rams and Raiders were knocked off by underdogs, and New Orleans lost to lowly Atlanta when they could have tied Tampa Bay atop the NFC South. Minnesota had a golden opportunity to join the upset-minded teams, but for the second straight week and fifth time this season, they came up short.
2. That’s now five losses by a total of 18 points. As the old saying goes, playoff-bound teams find a way to win. The other teams who will be home in early January find ways to lose. That’s the 2021 Vikings for the most part at this juncture.
3. Unfortunately, it looked all too familiar to Vikings fans—an offense that surged early with T.D.s on their first two drives, sputtered midgame, and was lousy on third down on offense and on third and fourth down on defense when they could’ve put the game away. Then, they put together a great late fourth-quarter rally only to fall short with a lousy overtime drive that has the young OC Kubiak in the fans’ crosshairs, and head coach Mike Zimmer likely is not thrilled with Kubiak right now.
4. A killer sequence and another clock management problem for the Vikings occurred late in the first half when rookie safety Camryn Bynum intercepted Jackson and returned it to the Baltimore 16. The Vikings ran Cook into a Ravens wall for a one-yard loss on first down and then inexplicably called time out with 1:37 left when they should’ve been draining the clock.
Cousins said it was then on him that he missed Thielen and Jefferson on second and third down leading to the Vikings again not running the clock down and settling for a Greg Joseph field goal for a 17-3 lead. The Ravens got the ball back with 1:25 remaining and drove to a T.D. If the Vikings run time off the clock and score a T.D. and follow it up with Kene Nwangwu’s exciting 98-yard kickoff return T.D. to open the second half, we’re talking 28-3 at that point and a stranglehold on a win to return to .500.
5. As in the Dallas loss, it’s on Kubiak and Cousins that they are not getting the ball nearly enough to Jefferson and Thielen. Jefferson had two catches on the first two drives (one for a 50-yard T.D.) and two targets with one catch the rest of the game. That’s nine targets in the last two weeks for Jefferson. Thielen, a two-time Pro Bowler, had two catches for 6 yards. This while facing the league’s worst pass defense in Baltimore, who Cincy’s Joe Burrow had torched for 416 yards two weeks ago. Again, it’s inexcusable. Run some legal pick plays, or just throw it up to them for some contested catches.
Plus, tight end Tyler Conklin, who had another fine game (five catches for 45 yards, should’ve been targeted more against a Ravens D that has struggled against tight ends this season.
6. For the second straight game, the Vikings finished plus two in turnovers and added Nwangwu’s kickoff return T.D. It’s hard to lose when you have those factors in a game. Yet, more telling was Baltimore’s 46:04-23:40 domination in time of possession, 500-318 edge in total yards (352-114 in the second half and O.T.) and holding the Vikings to 5 of 14 on third down (after Minnesota was 1 of 13 against Dallas). The Ravens ran 89 offensive plays, so it’s no wonder the Vikings D was out of gas by the fourth quarter and O.T.
7. A defense with significant injuries and missing top players such as Danielle Hunter, Patrick Peterson, and Michael Pierce could not afford to have a key player such as Harrison Smith out due to Covid, and it appears he’ll miss the Chargers game too. And corner Bashaud Breeland seems to be nicked during every game as he’s on and off the field. There were lots of defensive mistakes in coverage that Smith may have been able to monitor and prevent.
One of the worst plays came when the Ravens picked up a first down on a 3rd-and-15 screen that kept an 18 play drive alive as they tied the game 24-24 in the fourth quarter. Zimmer said a corner lost contain. And there was confusion in coverage on Patrick Picard’s touchdown reception in the third quarter.
8. With a win, Nwangwu would be a hero for his kickoff return T.D. and executing a fake punt in the third quarter that, of course, was followed by a three-and-out series with two Minnesota penalties. Likewise, the oft-criticized Barr with his O.T. pick despite watching Jackson and the Ravens aged backs (Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell) run by him most of the day.
Speaking of Nwangwu, why is he instructed to take a knee for a touchback when he receives a fourth-quarter kickoff one yard deep in the end zone when he’s already had a return T.D. in this game?
8. Optimists in Vikingland can say the team is still only one game behind Atlanta for the seventh and final NFC playoff spot, so if they can become more consistent offensively to overcome a Hunter-less defense, they could make a run. But can they quickly acquire a killer instinct, get more balls to their elite receivers, play decent defense despite injury issues and finish games/find ways to win against good teams while managing a seemingly growing Covid problem on the team?
Things can change dramatically from week to week in the NFL, but from what we’ve seen the last two weeks, it unfortunately appears to be a tall order.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl
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