After moving to 6-1 following a win against the Arizona Cardinals, the Minnesota Vikings seem a little closer to establishing their team identity and formula for winning games. This formula includes getting Justin Jefferson involved (at least 98 yards in five of six wins) as well as Dalvin Cook (80+ yards in each win). Part of this formula includes a long, established opening drive resulting in a touchdown.
Slow and Steady
Except for the win against Miami, when the Vikings receive the opening kickoff they have had a sustained drive that gives them an opening 7-0 advantage. The Vikings’ offense looks its best in these opening drives. They spread the ball around to different receivers, the run game is efficient and Kirk Cousins hardly misses. These opening drives eat a lot of clock too, before opposing quarterbacks even step onto the field they are down by seven with less than ten minutes to go in the first quarter. Having to watch the opposing offense methodically cut through your defense without much difficulty on the first drive of the game can put a lot of pressure on the offense right out of the gate.
The Vikings’ defense has been feeding off these opening drives as well, only allowing two field goals following opening drive touchdowns. Being able to take advantage of this lead and hold it into the second quarter can make a team start to panic a little bit. That is when the Vikings’ defense can force the opposition into mistakes and grab timely turnovers that create short fields for the Vikings’ offense to further extend their lead. This is your typical NFL game flow for a blowout, however, five of the Vikings’ six wins have all been one-score games. The opening drive may set the tone, but the Vikings do not seem to want to keep the lead once they have it.
What about the rest of the game?
Kevin O’Connell deserves a lot of credit for the success of his set plays for opening drives, as they have set the team up for success early in games and are a large part of our wins. However, after taking a seven-point lead, the Vikings’ offense tends to fall asleep until opposing teams threaten to take the lead. The Vikings seem unable to take hold of a game and blow a team out. Instead of keeping their foot on the gas, the offense sputters because they try to force the ball downfield. With one of the best running back rooms in the NFL, the Vikings need to get more creative in the run game, finding ways to bounce Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison to the outside and force opposing defenders to make tackles in space. Finding ways to incorporate Justin Jefferson and KJ Osborn into the run game (taking a page out of the Deebo Samuel playbook) could be super beneficial as well and could open up the shots downfield.
Vikings fans have seen plenty of late-game collapses in seasons past. This season however the Vikings have been doing something rather uncharacteristic: executing late. This has been the biggest difference between last season and this season. The defense has forced key turnovers and the offense has been clutch in the last two minutes of both halves. The offense has scored when they have needed to and the defense has come up with huge stops late in games.
While it is extremely encouraging to see the Vikings scoring on opening drives and executing in clutch situations, fans would love to see the team win a game from start to finish. This is the main separator between the Vikings and teams like the Eagles, Bills, and Chiefs right now. With two big games against the Bills and the Cowboys looming on the schedule, this Sunday’s matchup against the Commanders presents a huge opportunity for the Vikings to prove they can blow a team out. The Vikings need to show that they can dominate a game for a full 60 minutes to be talked about in the same vein as the teams in that top tier of the league.