Offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles had a bad taste in his mouth after Sunday’s win against the Packers.
Why? After all, the Vikings rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season (they’d done so just twice all of last season). Sirles jumped in to start for injured left guard Nick Easton, yet the Vikings’ reinvigorated offensive line didn’t skip a beat as running back Jerick McKinnon averaged 4.3 yards per carry and quarterback Case Keenum wasn’t sacked.
“We’re not pumped with the way we finished running the ball,” Sirles said. “I felt we could’ve done more in that aspect. Eat the clock a little bit.”
After two lengthy 11- and 12-play scoring drives in the third quarter, the Vikings run game stalled when given the chance to close out the 23-10 win. McKinnon and Latavius Murray collectively churned out 7 rushing yards on five carries in the fourth quarter, which included two three-and-outs.
“When you get the ball back with, I think it was five minutes left, you look at everyone in the huddle and say, ‘Hey, let’s finish the game here. Let’s not even give them a heartbeat,’ ” Sirles said. “And then to go three-and-out like that, that’s tough. We put our defense in a tough spot.”
The Vikings defense held up against Packers quarterback Brett Hundley. McKinnon, who has 245 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in the past two games, tipped his cap to the much improved offensive line anyway.
“Those guys are doing a really good job this year,” McKinnon said. “They’re healthy. We’re getting a lot more movement.”
A ‘bad, bad’ defense
Defensive end and team captain Everson Griffen had a fairly simple explanation for why the Vikings defense is the NFL’s best on third downs. Through six games, the Vikings are allowing just a 25 percent conversion rate on the critical down.
“ ’Cause we bad. ’Cause we bad,” said Griffen, who leads the team with seven sacks. “Any time we get the rush, we’re going to be bad. We got that confidence. That swag. We’re not going to let anything interfere with that.”
The Vikings defense is playing lights-out, ranking as one of the NFL’s top five in nearly every major category, including third downs (first), rushing yards (third), points (fifth) and total yards (fifth).
Veterans stand tall
The two defensive elders for the Vikings, cornerback Terence Newman and defensive end Brian Robison, played critical roles in Sunday’s victory over the Packers.
Newman was the primary slot cornerback in a game where coach Mike Zimmer decided to play with three cornerbacks for all four quarters. The 39-year-old saw a season-high 51 snaps and finished with five tackles. Robison, the 33-year-old end, racked up five of the Vikings’ 13 quarterback hits on Aaron Rodgers and Hundley.
“I thought Brian played well,” Zimmer said. “He did a good job in the run game, good job in pass rush. Got a chance to move around on some different guys, I think that helped.”
McKinnon, the reliever?
For a second consecutive game Sunday, McKinnon outperformed Murray in the Vikings backfield, but Zimmer doesn’t sound close to changing much. Murray has started two games in Dalvin Cook’s absence while McKinnon has eventually finished with more touches and yards in each.
“I like it the way it is,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings’ run game hasn’t stalled after Cook’s injury, despite Murray’s 2.4 yards per carry. They’ve run for 159 yards and 112 yards in two division wins since Cook tore his ACL.