It wasn’t pretty – and Thursday night NFL games often aren’t – but the Vikings extended their winning streak to four games on the strength of two dynamic playmakers, Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs.
Cook was major factor as a runner and receiver, and Diggs hurt Washington’s secondary with several big plays in a 19-9 win at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It was a weird game. The score was close, but the Vikings never felt in danger, especially when Washington quarterback Case Keenum had his return to Minnesota end after one half because of a concussion.
He was replaced by rookie Dwayne Haskins Jr., who basically had no chance of leading a comeback against a strong Vikings defense.
The Vikings offense was a mix of big plays intertwined with poor offensive line play. The line showed marked improvement in recent weeks, but this was a big step backward. Holding penalties repeatedly put the offense in tough spots.
Cook was his usual spectacular self with 98 yards rushing, along with five catches for 73 yards.
Diggs finished with seven catches for 143 yards.
Kirk Cousins continued his stretch of strong performances despite facing constant pressure. Cousins was efficient with 23-of-26 passing for 285 yards and a 112.3 passer rating.
Here were key decisions from the win:
Scenario 1: Washington asks rookie tight end Hale Hentges to block Danielle Hunter one-on-one on its opening series.
Decision: Dumb move.
Reaction: Seriously, what genius came up with a plan that asks a tight end to block one of the NFL’s best rushers by himself? Hunter overpowered Hentges, sacked Keenum and caused a fumble that was recovered by Shamar Stephen.
Scenario 2: Washington picks on Rhodes
Decision: Washington’s game plan in the first half was obvious. Throw at Xavier Rhodes a lot. Keenum targeted Rhodes three times on one possession alone, which resulted in two completions and a pass interference penalty on third down that gave Washington first-and-goal at the 2.
Reaction: Rhodes has struggled this season and opponents clearly are aware of it and looking to exploit it. It will be interesting to see how Mike Zimmer handles this situation going forward if Rhodes doesn’t regain his form.
Rhodes was examined for a concussion after a tackle on the first drive of the second half but was cleared to return.
Scenario 3: Dalvin Cook, the receiver
Decision: Washington’s pass rush was effective in the first half, so Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski countered with dose of screen passes to Cook.
Reaction: Cook is a versatile playmaker so using him as a receiver in addition to handoffs is always a smart idea. Cook caught five screen passes for 73 yards in the first half. Three of those catches came on the final drive of the half, including a 31-yard catch and run on which Cook ran circles around Washington’s defense. That set up Cook’s 4-yard TD run for a 13-6 halftime lead.
Scenario 4: Zimmer gambles on fourth down
Decision: Zimmer rolled the dice on fourth-and-1 from his own 34 in the third quarter. Washington had closed the deficit to 16-9. A third down pass to Bisi Johnson left the Vikings a yard short. Zimmer went for it, and Cousins was stopped for no gain on a sneak.
Reaction: I normally like aggressive decisions, but I probably would have punted in that situation knowing Haskins was in at quarterback for Washington. Make the rookie drive the field.
Or at least give the ball to Cook in that situation. Granted, QB sneaks are usually effective, but the offensive line had struggled to get any push all game.
Alas, it didn’t matter. Haskins overthrew his receiver on the second play of the ensuing drive and Anthony Harris intercepted it.
Scenario 5: And then a run call on third-and-15.
Decision: The Vikings went from ultra-aggressive to ultra-conservative when they faced a third-and-15 from the Washington 25-yard line on their next possession. Stefanski called a Cook run up the middle that went nowhere and forced a field goal. Fans showed their displeasure with boos.
Reaction: Why not take a shot to Diggs? Of course, the way their line was blocking, a safe play call avoided a potential big mistake and allowed the Vikings to kick a field for a 10-point lead, which felt insurmountable against Washington’s feeble offense.