A Butt-Kicking: Former Vikings GM’s Thoughts on Week 17
Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
In the second to last game of a suspenseful and exciting season, there was no suspense or excitement generated by the Vikings. Just an old fashioned butt kicking by their arch-rivals in frigid Green Bay as the Packers wrapped up the top seed and home field advantage in the upcoming NFC playoffs with their 37-10 victory on national TV.
The result was predictable before the undermanned but game Vikings took the field. It was the first time this season that the Purple have not been competitive, thanks mainly to their unvaccinated starting quarterback Kirk Cousins who doomed his team when he tested positive for Covid before the biggest game of the season.
The Vikings likely would’ve lost with Cousins as they already were missing too many key players (most notably the injured Danielle Hunter and Adam Thielen along with the ill and often injured Michael Pierce). But the avoidable absence of Cousins, who had led an upset win over the Pack six weeks ago, was far too much to overcome. Especially when going against the NFL’s MVP Aaron Rodgers who with his ace receiver Davante Adams could’ve put up a lot more points and a defense that had no fear of Minnesota backup QB Sean Mannion and was able to dominate the Vikings up front as they shut down Dalvin Cook to the tune of 13 rushing yards.
Here are my other observations of the game that eliminated the Vikings from the playoff race:
- The Minnesota D played well in the red zone in the first quarter and midway through the second quarter in holding the Packers to two field goals until the dam burst with Rodgers TD passes to single covered Allen Lazard and Adams. By halftime, the Packers had outgained the Vikings 299-70 in total yards.
- We know Rodgers is great and has the NFL’s quickest release but with several Green Bay offensive line starters out, it’s hard to understand how the Vikings could go sackless for the second straight week. There was little pressure put on Rodgers who was spot on with his throws as Packers Coach Matt Lafleur was able to scheme Adams open against ill-advised single coverage on too many occasions. This included Adams being wide open on his 20 yard TD (when Mackensie Alexander allowed Adams to run past him in front of the safeties playing way too deep for an easy 11 yard TD pass).
That’s two weeks in a row we’ve seen an all pro receiver (after Cooper Kupp of the Rams last week) draw single coverage too often. And if there has to be single coverage due to a blitz situation, it should always be Patrick Peterson on the other team’s top receiver as was the case in the second half but by then it was too late. Better yet, just double Adams all the time with Peterson and Harrison Smith as he’s torched the Vikings the past several years.
- When Rodgers wasn’t dissecting the Vikings pass defense, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon dashed and pounded their way to a combined 137 rushing yards and two TDs against the league’s No. 27 run defense, a problem that has to be fixed next season.
- If he survives into next season, Mike Zimmer will likely be looking for a new offensive coordinator. In shades of his firing of former OC John DeFilippo following a 2018 offensive dud in Seattle when he felt Cook didn’t get enough carries, Zimmer told NBC’s sideline reporter at halftime and the media post-game that the Vikings “got away from the running game way too soon.”
Not sure I agree with that statement since Cook was pounded by multiple defenders every time he touched the ball but clearly Klint Kubiak’s overall performance as a rookie OC has been mediocre at best with the weapons at his disposal and his inconsistent play calling.
- It was obvious from the start that the Packers D was stacking the box to stop Cook and playing two deep safeties to prevent big plays by Justin Jefferson that had been costly in the Vikings victory earlier in Minneapolis. But either Kubiak hand-cuffed Mannion with his overly conservative short passing calls or the inexperienced career backup was unwilling to throw downfield to Jefferson and K.J. Osborn until it was too late.
It would’ve helped the running game if Mannion, who has a decent arm (but little mobility), had taken some chances and thrown downfield earlier to Jefferson (who wound up with six catches for 58 yards) and Osborn who caught a TD pass and made a sensational one-handed sideline reception for 30 yards in garbage time.
- Mannion’s fourth down incompletion to C.J. Ham on the first offensive series was either a bad play call or a bad decision and poor throw by the QB. It followed one of his best plays, a 24 yard pass to Tyler Conklin that was nullified by rookie tackle Christian Darrisaw’s penalty for ineligible player down field. It was basically all down hill from there on offense. Mannion also made a terrible throw behind an open Jefferson on a 4th-and-3 play in the third quarter.
- Speaking of Conklin, the Vikings tight end has had a breakout season with 59 catches and was a bright spot on Sunday night with five receptions for 47 yards. But on the wildest play of the night, Mannion’s forced throw into traffic put Conklin in the crosshairs of safety Adrian Amos’ massive hit that dislodged the ball. It ricocheted to center Garrett Bradbury who made a shoestring catch and dragged several Packers as he rumbled for 21 yards. It was a heads-up play by Bradbury who perhaps should be converted to a running back or tight end since his center play is shaky, especially when facing a stout nose tackle such as the Packers’ Kenny Clark who dominated him once again.
- Why not give Kellen Mond a more extended look? The third round rookie did look clueless on his single fourth quarter series when he replaced a cramping Mannion and almost delivered a pick six to Krys Barnes. But with a 27 point deficit at that point, it was a blown opportunity in not letting him play more and maybe make some plays off scrambles with his athleticism as the Packers were getting plenty of pressure on Mannion.
Mond was a very good SEC QB at Texas A&M. If he was deemed not ready to start with Cousins out or unable to quickly relieve the slow footed, ineffective journeyman in Mannion, that’s a knock on either Mond’s talent level or learning ability and/or how he has been developed by the offensive coaches.
- One of the only Vikings bright spots was Greg Joseph knocking through a 51 yard field goal in the 10 degree temps at the end of the first half which is the longest January field goal in Lambeau Field history. Joseph’s 37-yard miss on the last play of the Arizona game in Week 2 is one of the signature moments of Minnesota’s season of missed opportunities in a second straight non-playoff season. But since then he’s been a very competent kicker who should be retained next season.
- Speaking of special teams, Kene Nwangwu should be told to run kickoffs out even if he receives them a few yards into end zone. That’s always been the case with great return men and on a night with a backup QB leading an ineffective offense, why not allow your rookie returner—who by the way was just named the all pro returner by ESPN—to run it out when he already had returns of 37 and 29 yards and has exploded for two TDs this season.
There were five touchbacks—several of which were returnable–and only three returns. That’s a poor decision by the coaches in what they’re instructing Nwangwu.
The Vikings loss Sunday night to the Packers perhaps set in motion some major changes to a team that should have at least three more wins and be participating in a playoff game in two weeks.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. The Vikings loss clinched a wild card spot for surging Philadelphia (four straight wins) who rallied for a 20-16 victory in Washington. Don’t tell me the Eagles are more talented than the Vikings. San Francisco will claim the final NFC playoff spot if they beat the Rams or New Orleans loses at Atlanta on Sunday.
2. In the AFC, what a thrilling performance by the Bengals’ young superstars Joe Burrow (446 passing yards, 4 TDs) and Ja’Marr Chase (a club record 266 receiving yards, 3 TDs) in outdueling Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs 34-31 to clinch the AFC North, halt K.C.’s eight game winning streak and move Tennessee into the AFC’s top seed (a win next week in Houston will clinch it for the Titans who are expected to get star running back Derrick Henry back from foot surgery for postseason).
The Chargers and Raiders (both 9-7) will battle in Vegas next Sunday night with the winner advancing to the playoffs. The Colts also will claim an AFC wild card spot with a win in Jacksonville.
3. Good riddens Antonio Brown. The Bucs receiver took off his uniform and left the field when he was told to leave by Bucs Coach Bruce Arians after he reportedly claimed he was injured and refused to re-enter the game in the third quarter of the team’s win over the Jets. Arians said after the game that Brown was “no longer a Buc.” As if we didn’t see it coming from the moment this malcontent returned to the NFL.
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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