A couple plays from the Vikings’ 26-23 loss in Kansas City were fresh in Mike Zimmer’s mind when he was asked Monday about his frustration level when every phase — offense, defense and special teams — let them down just enough against the Chiefs.
“There’s some parts of the game we played really well. The deep ball on [Trae] Waynes, he’s got the guy covered and he lets the guys catch the ball,” Zimmer said Monday. “The double move he got beat on wasn’t good. It’s things like that. When we’re in position, we have to make those plays.”
Those two plays, a 41-yard jump ball catch by Tyreek Hill and a 40-yard touchdown by Hill, presented situations both sides typically thrive in long balls from Kansas City and over-the-top defense from the Vikings. Those plays tilted in the Chiefs’ favor just enough, especially against cornerback Trae Waynes. Let’s take a look at two struggling factors in Sunday’s loss between the cornerbacks and interior offensive linemen.
1. Give Matt Moore a little bit of credit, because the 35-year-old journeyman made some gutsy throws that paid off, including a 16-yard dart to Sammy Watkins in the fourth quarter squeezed into a small space between Eric Kendricks and Waynes.
Another Moore throw with fortitude was the 41-yard jump ball to Hill that help set up the Chiefs’ game-tying field goal. The Vikings appear to set a ‘quarters’ shell with four deep and both safeties aligned tight. This leaves Waynes (#26) without direct help over the top. Tight end Travis Kelce (#87) runs a deep curl that also holds safety Anthony Harris toward the middle briefly.
Zimmer lamented Waynes’ missed chance to make a play here, even as it’s an underthrown ball to which Hill perfectly adjusts to make the play. Overall Waynes had a forgettable day, getting beat on a double move for the 40-yard touchdown. He also missed a tackle on Watkins, who ran for 11 yards to spark a 17-play drive in the second quarter. Every corneback had blunders — Mike Hughes missed two tackles; Mackensie Alexander surrendered a late 17-yard pass to Kelce, helping set up the game-winning field goal; Xavier Rhodes also was beat on what he called a “triple move” by Hill for an 11-yard catch on third down in the fourth quarter.
2. Left guard Pat Elflein and the offensive line couldn’t handle Chris Jones, the 6-6, 310-pound pass rushing stalwart who led all NFL defensive tackles with seven pressures last weekend and added two run stops, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones’ return from injury came at a poor time for the Vikings. It didn’t help the Chiefs got creative with him. Kansas City was without its two starting defensive ends — Frank Clark and Alex Okafor — and upon returning its top defensive tackle, they moved Jones to defensive end across from left tackle Riley Reiff.
This 3rd-and-7 play in the second quarter was not one of those times. But Jones (#95) was an even worse matchup for Elflein (#65), whose struggles continued in Week 9 of his third NFL season.
The Chiefs entered Sunday blitzing a lot in recent weeks. They leaned away from that against the Vikings, and had little trouble pressuring Cousins with a four-man rush on this third down. Linebacker Ben Niemann (#56) shows blitz, but the Chiefs drop into a single-deep man coverage with a safety and corner doubling receiver Stefon Diggs (#14); Adam Thielen played seven snaps before taking himself out of the game due to the hamstring injury.
Jones overpowers Elflein for the sack in about 3.2 seconds, not enough time for Cousins to find the outlet in Dalvin Cook.
3. Jones helped blow up another third-down play just before halftime, when Cousins threw a pass over the head of tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings would convert a 4th and 1, but later settled for a field goal in this three-point loss.
Cousins again stares down a defense showing blitz — a tendency Kansas City had before Sunday — but they only bring a three-man rush and drop eight.
With 34 seconds left and a timeout, Cousins has shallow options open in Diggs (#14) and Cook in the right flat. But against Jones’ quick pressure, he tries an anticipatory throw to Rudolph (#82) in the corner of the end zone, which on the TV broadcast looked to be to no one.
The problem wasn’t necessarily Cousins’ read. Rudolph’s route didn’t end up where he thought it would.
Watch the mesh point around the 5-yard line between Rudolph’s corner route and receiver Olabisi Johnson (#81) on the post route. Cousins appears to think Rudolph will turn his corner route upfield into the end-zone opening, but Rudolph breaks flat and almost parallel to the goal line because he’s trying to cross paths with Johnson.
In the backfield view, Jones (#95) overpowers right guard Josh Kline (#64) for the pressure. Instead of buying time, Cousins throws quickly against a three-man rush.
4. The left side was not good to Dalvin Cook, which was seemingly part of the Vikings’ game plan as the offense’s first five runs went left for 14 yards; none such attempts gained more than four yards all day.
Don’t lump it all on Elflein and Reiff, as the Vikings had a collective letdown up front. On this first-and-10 play in the third quarter, both Chiefs linebackers Anthony Hitchens (#53) and Damien Wilson (#54) corral Cook unblocked.
Bradbury (#56) goes for Wilson (#54), an ambitious attempt whether by design or courage, and is unable to reach him while Hitchens (#53) sprints behind Bradbury for the tackle. Tight end Irv Smith Jr.’s (#84) pre-snap motion leads to Emmanuel Ogbah (#90) widening. Reiff stalemates Ogbah on the edge, so Cook tries to go inside, feeding right into the linebackers.
5. The Vikings offensive line needs to “finish better,” according to Zimmer, who noted how Chiefs defenders were able to bounce off blocks and make tackles.
This was no more obvious than during a 2-yard run by Cook in the first quarter, when the Vikings had 26 rushing yards on nine attempts.
Reiff and Rudolph double Jones (#95), leaving single blocks for Kline (#64) and Elflein (#65) on defensive tackles Joey Ivie (#93) and Khalen Saunders (#99). That’s where the problems began.
The Vikings need better from Kline — also penalized twice (one declined) — and Elflein, who both lose their blocks and get Cook crushed when he tries to turn this run back inside.