Ben Goessling’s Second Thoughts
A look back at the Vikings’ 39-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Three Players who stood out
Danielle Hunter: The 25-year-old end had a sack, forced two fumbles and is in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year conversation with his 13½ sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Hunter entered Sunday tied for 11th in the league among edge defenders with 18 run stops this season. He was the NFC’s defensive player of the week after notching 2½ sacks against the Lions, and he might keep the award again after what he did Sunday.
Riley Reiff: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are two of the league’s more talented pass rushers. On Sunday, Bosa didn’t register a sack, and had just one quarterback hit, while Ingram’s only impactful play came when he disengaged with Reiff and peeled back into coverage to intercept a Kirk Cousins screen pass. Cousins wasn’t sacked, and Reiff deserves credit for helping keep him clean.
Harrison Smith: Philip Rivers went out of his way to compliment Smith after the game, saying he thinks the safety “does a heck of a job.” It was another impactful day for Smith, as he ranged back into coverage to pick Rivers off before recovering a fumble.
TWO Areas of concern
Big plays in the secondary: The Vikings continue to struggle to find ways to stop quarterbacks from hitting big throws downfield against them. On Sunday, it was Rivers burning their cornerbacks on hitch routes that went for 12-15 yards at a time. Mike Zimmer has long said turnovers are a nice bonus on defense, but the main priority is for defenders not to let their man catch the ball. At least in the first half, it was worth wondering how effective the Vikings’ pass defense would have been if not for the gifts Rivers gave them.
Running game consistency: The Vikings ran for 140 yards on Sunday (not including kneel-downs), but they needed 34 carries to do it, and they’re finding it harder to produce big plays with any regularity. Some of that is because Dalvin Cook has missed time because of injury, but the Vikings are also struggling to win at the line of scrimmage when they need to run the ball up the middle. The Vikings have lived on their outside toss plays — they’re 11% more successful than the league average when running outside to the right, according to Sharp Football Stats — but they haven’t enjoyed that same kind of success up the middle (Sharp Football rates them 42% below league average when running behind the right guard, 1% below average when running behind center, and 3% above average when running behind left guard).
One Big question
How worried should the Vikings be about Cook’s health? Cook’s shoulder injuries are bound to reignite old questions about his durability, especially as the Vikings move into an offseason where they’ll begin to decide whether they want to give him a long-term contract. He hasn’t posted more than 75 yards from scrimmage since Nov. 10, and again appeared to be in quite a bit of pain when he was initially hurt on Sunday. Mike Boone filled in capably with Cook and Alexander Mattison out, but as much as the Vikings have centered their offense on Cook this season, they need to know they can count on him if they have designs on a deep playoff run.