Final Dissection of Commanders-Vikings

Final Dissection of Commanders-Vikings
Kevin O'Connell

Jonathan Haak and Janik Eckardt team up for an in-depth recap of the last Minnesota Vikings game. The Vikings came out victorious and beat the Commanders 20-17.

Positive Takeaway

Jonathan: The Defense Showed up to Play

The Vikings 2022 Defense by the Numbers: After Week 9
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) sacks Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

This was a very ugly game, but the defense had another very strong performance and has looked better in every game this season, a huge source of optimism going forward this season. On a day when the offense could get very little going, the defense kept this game close with consistent pressure and tight coverage.

The only big play this defense allowed was a fluky referee-assisted touchdown scored by Curtis Samuel. A play that likely would have been an interception if not for the referee running directly into Cam Bynum as he was tracking the football. While this defense might not win any games for the team like Zimmer’s defenses used to, they will keep the Vikings in almost every game, and with the talent, Minnesota has on offense, that is all they need.

Janik: The New Toy Is a Weapon

The Vikings added a tight end to their already-filled arsenal of weapons when they traded for T.J. Hockenson. He appears to be a lot more than just an average tight end. Hockenson was the second option in the passing game and made plays when the wideouts were covered or simply failed to haul in passes. He even made a few big plays on third downs.

An Emerging Rookie and Other Week 9 Vikings Takeaways
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

Overall, Hockenson was targeted nine times and caught all nine passes for 70 yards. The most impressive part is that he did that after just a few days in the building. It’s almost impossible to cover Justin Jefferson with a multitude of defenders and simultaneously cover Hockenson, Thielen, Osborn, and Cook. Hockenson could fully unleash the offense and have a huge impact in the middle of the field.

Negative Takeaway

Jonathan: Horrendous Guard Play

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is hit by Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Overall the Viking’s offensive line has been quite good, primarily due to outstanding tackle play but also due to well-above-average play from left guard Ezra Cleveland. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, with Cleveland turning in a season-worst performance. In fact, Cleveland was worse in terms of PFF pass-blocking grade and pressures allowed than even Ed Ingram’s worst game this season.

A large part of the interior offensive line’s issues was just a complete inability to handle Washington’s stunts, which theoretically should be reason for optimism since that is a fixable issue, much more curable than if Cleveland and Ingram were just getting beat super consistently straight up – although they are getting beat much too often. Unfortunately, stunts have been an issue for this OLine the entire season, so at this point, if we still haven’t fixed it, even coming out of the bye, perhaps it’s not an easily fixable issue.

Janik: Vikings Are Incapable of Winning Big

The Vikings played another game to the wire instead of pulling away when they had the lead. Kevin O’Connell’s team had a 7-0 lead in the first half and got the ball back four times. All four drives ended in punts, and the Vikings lost a great opportunity to decide the game early.

Instead, 17 unanswered points put the Commanders into a prime position to win if not for a fourth-quarter scramble by the Vikings. Every game of the six-game winning streak ended in a one-possession victory for the Vikings.

Why MIN Won

Jonathan: This Team Never Gives up

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

After several unfortunate events, the Vikings were down 17-7 well into the 4th quarter. That is a situation that teams often don’t come back from, especially if their offense had been as anemic as the Vikings’ O had on the day. But don’t tell that to Kirk Cousins and the rest of the Vikings. Minnesota’s offense drove down the field inside the ten-yard line before kicking a field goal to bring the game within one score, then Harrison Smith grabbed a misplaced Heinicke pass and took it inside the Commanders’ 40-yard line.

Minnesota’s offense capped off that possession with a beautiful throw and catch from Cousins to Dalvin Cook in the back of the endzone, and just like that, the game was tied. Again the defense took the field, and again they made a stop, giving the ball to the Vikings’ offense and setting the stage for another late-game go-ahead drive from Kirk Cousins and this inconsistent Minnesota offense. The Vikings were not good for most of Sunday, but when the game got tough, they responded, and when it mattered, all phases of the game performed at an elite level, leading to Minnesota’s 7th victory and expanding their massive NFC North lead.

Janik: O’Connell-Infused Clutch Gene

The Vikings Playoff Probability Meter: Week 10
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

The story of the 2022 Vikings can be told in one sentence – The team starts hot, cools down for two quarters, and finishes the game with a comeback win. After Washington went up 17-7 in the fourth quarter, the new Vikings’ clutch gene came into full effect. The subsequent Vikings drive ended with a field goal, followed by an interception from Harrison Smith.

Minnesota’s offense started in great field position because of that takeaway and therefore scored a touchdown and tied the game. Washington’s next drive ended with a punt after just three plays, and the Vikings finished the game with the game-winning field goal. They started to get hot right at the perfect time.

Play of the Game

Jonathan: Harrison Smith’s interception

The Commanders had the ball with a seven-point lead well into the 4th quarter, when a combination of suffocating pressure and excellent coverage downfield led to a huge Harrison Smith pick, and not only did Smith grab Heinicke’s errant pass, he also brought it back across midfield to the Commanders 40-yard line, putting the Vikings offense in an excellent position to tie the game. It’s very possible Minnesota still would have found a way to close this game out without this crucial turnover, but it’s also very likely they would have found themselves leaving FedEx Field with a loss if not for this play.

Getting the ball back inside Commanders territory allowed the Vikings’ offense to quickly drive and tie the game, completing their double-digit comeback in the 4th quarter. They were then able to get the ball again after another Commanders failed drive, walk down the field, and finish the game off with a go-ahead chip shot field goal with just seconds remaining, a situation heavily aided by a crucial Commanders’ blunder on their first field goal attempt.

Janik: Cousins to Jefferson on Third Down

It was already the fourth quarter, and the Vikings were down ten points, so they desperately needed a score to come back into the game. Unfortunately, it looked like the Commanders could get a stop, as they had already forced a third and seven. Cousins was under heavy pressure and let the ball fly just before taking a huge hit.

A second later, Vikings fans saw Jefferson one-on-one with Benjamin St-Juste, who had no chance to defend one of the best passes of Cousins’ career. The completion brought the Vikings into position to kick a field goal.