Turnover Ratio Leads Way as Vikings Beat Dolphins, Take Two-Game Lead in NFC North

Gets Some Top 10
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Vikings Insider, The GM’s View

During my NFL management years, I always loved to win the game before our bye week. It gave us two weeks to enjoy the win and even better if we were in first place at the time. That’s where the Vikings find themselves as the only NFL team to enjoy a two game lead in their division after beating the Dolphins in the Miami heat while the Packers were upset at home by the upstart Jets.

In securing their fourth straight win and moving to 4-0 in one-score games (after going 6-8 last year), the Vikings once again fought through adversity—such as 10 three-and-outs on offense–and made the big plays in the late third and fourth quarter to secure the victory.

When we consider how the Vikings have gotten to 5-1, here are two of the biggest reasons: they are one of two teams (along with the unbeaten Eagles) to rank in the NFL’s top 10 in most takeaways and fewest giveaways and they have a plus 24 fourth quarter point differential to rank in the top 5.

Reactions to Sunday’s win over the Dolphins:

1. The Vikings have been clutch late in games and that continued in Miami. The defense forced two fourth quarter turnovers (of their three in the game) with the biggest being Harrison Smith knocking the ball loose from Jaylen Waddle and Cam Bynum recovering at the Vikings 28 with four minutes to play as Minnesota was clinging to a six point lead.

The offense played turnover free and produced two huge plays down the stretch—the 47 yard pass on the last play of third quarter on a wheel route from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson that set up the TD pass to Adam Thielen for a 2 yard TD reception and a 16-3 lead. Finally there was the 53-yard touchdown run by Dalvin Cook to gain a 14 point lead with 3:25 remaining that came two plays after Smith’s forced fumble.

2. It was a rough day for both offensive lines. The Vikings pass rushers feasted on a Dolphins O-line missing Pro Bowl tackle Terron Armstead. They produced six sacks including two apiece from Za’Darius Smith and Patrick Jones (the first career sacks for the last year’s third round pick).

Smith had a terrific game with 10 pressures on QBs Skylar Thompson (before he left with a thumb injury) and ex-Viking Teddy Bridgewater (the D had an amazing 25 total pressures, the most since 2016). It probably wouldn’t have made a difference if starting QB Tua Tagovailoa had played (he’s expected back next week from his concussion issues) with the pressure coming from the Vikings pass rushers.

The Vikings had trouble with an aggressive Miami front seven and could not shake Cook loose until the long TD run (his other 12 carries gained only 24 yards). Cousins was sacked three times and hit seven times. Rookie guard Ed Ingram is a work in progress and was beaten several times but also made a key block on Cook’s game-clinching TD run. Center Garrett Bradbury is having a better season but he also struggled at times in this game.

3. Cousins saluted the Vikings defense post game and in effect apologized for the 10 three-and-outs including several after the defense and special teams provided great field position. With the Vikings forced to wear their dark purple jerseys and their bench on the sunny side of the field, it was a challenge for the defense to be on the field for over 35 minutes.

4. Total yardage stats can be misleading and that clearly was the case with the Dolphins outgaining the Vikings 458-234. Much more important were the three Miami turnovers plus a failed fake punt in the  third quarter (with a great stop by Josh Metellus) which was a turnover on downs. The Vikings scored only 10 points off the three turnovers and failed fake punt but they were still critical plays to stop Miami drives.

5. Other things I liked to see from the Vikings: only two penalties for 20 yards while the Dolphins were self-destructing with 10 penalties for 97 yards (including five penalties on one drive to kill a first quarter scoring chance) and a better special teams performance—especially the fake punt stop by Metellus and Ryan Wright’s 73 yard first quarter punt—but there was Greg Joseph’s second missed extra point in the last three weeks that could have been costly.

I also like the good health the team is enjoying which O’Connell calls a tribute to the team’s athletic training and strength/conditioning staff and Cousins praised them for their exemplary efforts to prepare the team hydration-wise for the South Florida heat that was measured at 120 degrees on the Vikings sideline vs. 86 on the Dolphins side (plus the Vikings had shade coverings and AC blowers at their bench).

6. Things I didn’t like to see from the Vikings: 2 of 12 on third downs for the offense after 12 of 15 against the Bears last week (the defense fared much better by holding Miami to 4 of 14 on third down); only one target for Jefferson on the first three drives that all went three-and out; too much single coverage on all pro receiver Tyreek Hill who got free in the intermediate zones for 12 catches and 177 yards but no TDs. Slot corner Chandon Sullivan was picked on a lot and he needs help when covering elite receivers like Hill and Waddle. It was definitely a bend but don’t break day on D with only 16 points for Miami.

7. I think the Vikings are flying under the radar a bit nationally even with their terrific 5-1 start as the attention is focused more on Philly, Buffalo and the two New York teams in that huge media market. I’m sure O’Connell is fine with more attention elsewhere as he wants his players to stay focused on winning the next game and not getting big heads and too overconfident.  

Around the NFL Observations:

1. In a battle of AFC heavyweights, the Bills beat the Chiefs 24-20 as Josh Allen (3 TD passes) outperformed Patrick Mahomes (2 TD passes but he threw two interceptions). The Bills have the AFC’s best record at 5-1 and will host the Vikings on November 13.

2. The Eagles blew a 20-0 lead but held on to beat the Cowboys 26-17 and remain unbeaten. Philly had three interceptions against Cooper Rush, who lost his first game as a starter after five wins. Dak Prescott also says he’s ready to return next week against Detroit.

3. As I’ve often said, there are no easy games in the NFL but we thought before the season that the Vikings would have two fairly sure wins at home against the Jets on December 4 and the Giants on Christmas Eve.

Well, the two New York/New Jersey teams are currently the NFL’s biggest surprise teams through six weeks, and both had huge wins on Sunday—the 4-2 Jets winning in Green Bay and doing it convincingly by a 27-10 score and the 5-1 Giants rallied to beat the Ravens in the Meadowlands. We’ll see if both teams can remain in contention when the Vikings face them in December.

4. It was not a good past Sunday for future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Both sit at 3-3 as Rodgers lost a fumble in the Jets loss and Brady took Friday off before the Bucs loss in Pittsburgh to attend the wedding of his former owner in New England—Robert Kraft–which put more heat on him (after missing 11 days in training camp) when he didn’t have a productive game (nor has it been a productive season for him based on expectations). Mitch Trubisky led the Steelers to a much-needed win after starting QB Kenny Pickett left with a concussion.   

5. The Vikings next opponent is the Cardinals on October 30 and starting receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is out for the next several weeks including the game in Minnesota after suffering a non-surgical foot fracture in Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks. DeAndre Hopkins has been activated after his PED suspension and the Cardinals traded for Robbie Anderson from Carolina, but they’ll miss Brown in their receiving corps as he leads the team with 43 catches for 485 yards. 

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