1. Cousins cruises in clean pockets
Based on this observer’s definition of a “clean pocket,” the Vikings gave Kirk Cousins 14 of them in Sunday’s 28-10 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium. He completed 12 of them for 194 yards, seven first downs and both of his touchdowns. Pretty good considering how poorly he played even from clean pockets in the loss at Chicago a week earlier. “We talked this week about having a firm pocket,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “That’s important in the passing game as well. It’s not just throwing and catching. It’s about being in the right place with the protection, backs being in the hole. I thought that part was good.” Receiver Adam Thielen was targeted seven times from a clean pocket. He caught six of them for 117 yards and a touchdown. Stefon Diggs’ four targets and three catches all came from a clean pocket.
2. Pressure outclasses Danny Dimes
This unofficial press box tally had Zimmer blitzing rookie Daniel Jones 14 times. Jones went 3-for-11 for 33 yards and was sacked three times on those blitzes. The second blitz of the game probably kept the Giants from taking a 7-3 lead on a 57-yard touchdown to Sterling Shepard. Linebacker Anthony Barr hit Jones as he was unleashing his deep ball down the right sideline. Shepard was wide open behind Trae Waynes, but the ball was overthrown because Jones had to rush his throw. The Giants ended up punting down to the 2-yard line, but the Vikings turned that into a 98-yard touchdown drive and a 10-0 lead. The Vikings would have had a fourth sack on a blitz, but it was negated by an illegal contact penalty on Anthony Harris. Barr also blitzed when he tackled running back Jon Hilliman for a safety.
3. Zimmer loses PI challenge
Zimmer couldn’t help himself when he saw the replay of Waynes’ 37-yard pass interference penalty while defending Cody Latimer late in the third quarter. He threw his red challenge flag. Zimmer had said recently he probably would keep his flag holstered unless there’s a blown ruling that’s egregious. The league has seemed more reluctant in recent weeks to change bad rulings on the field unless they’re egregious. “I saw Trae looking back for the ball and [Latimer] reaching both hands around his shoulders and going into him. This … they’re probably never going to overturn unless it’s in the NFC Championship Game. But you know the thing that bothers me is that’s a 50-yard penalty. It’s not like it’s five yards and let’s get a first down. It’s a long penalty. In my opinion, humble opinion, they need to clean all this stuff up.”
4. Special teams: the good and the bad
At the risk of awakening the Vikings’ placekicking demons, how strange is it to not feel like a Vikings kicker is going to miss every time he trots onto the field? Dan Bailey made all four field goal attempts and both PATs. He has made 12 straight kicks, including six field goals. On the other hand, Marwan Maalouf’s special teams weren’t up to par in other areas. The Giants’ only touchdown was set up by rookie Corey Ballentine’s 52-yard kickoff return to midfield. The Giants also started at their own 44-yard line after Golden Tate returned a 57-yard Britton Colquitt punt 17 yards. And the biggest error came when Linval Joseph hit the long snapper when the Giants made a 28-yard field goal. The rule against hitting the long snapper is clear and easily obeyed. That gave the Giants first-and-goal at the 5. They settled for a 32-yard field goal.
5. Flag on the play … again and again
Channeling a nation of football fans tired of stoppages in play, the press box announcer at MetLife Stadium sounded more exhausted with each penalty called Sunday. “Flag on the play,” he would groan with each yellow flag thrown. The Vikings had 12 of the 17 penalties that were accepted for 112 of the 157 yards in punishment. The Vikings also had three penalties declined. One of them came on a play in which the offense committed two penalties. There were four false starts, including two on Brian O’Neill. Everson Griffen jumped offsides on third down. Again. It was third-and-6. The Giants converted on third-and-1. The offense committed six penalties that were accepted. The defense had five, and special teams has one. Xavier Rhodes joined O’Neill with two penalties. Like the Bears game, Harris had another illegal contact penalty, this time negating a third-down sack on the first drive.