1. Kendricks can — and did — do it all
The talent around him has dwindled remarkably, but the Vikings’ Eric Kendricks used Sunday’s 28-22 win over the Packers at Lambeau Field as another strong case to repeat as first-team All-Pro middle linebacker. Not only did he have a game-high 12 tackles, but he also had the best pass defense out of the 12 times that Vikings killer Davante Adams was targeted. It was first-and-30 from midfield when Adams lined up as the inside man in a set that had three receivers to the right. In that formation, “that was my guy,” Kendricks said. Adams ran a go route with Kendricks running stride for stride deep downfield with his back to Aaron Rodgers. “I knew that the ball was coming based on the way he kind of looked and the way he felt,” Kendricks said. “I just tried to be patient, look at his hands, played his hands, and it worked out.”
2. Smith develops … as a blocker
Irv Smith Jr. drew more penalty flags — two, one of which was declined — than he had catches. But ask Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith what kind of job the second-year tight end did on a day when Dalvin Cook posted 226 yards and four touchdowns on 32 touches. There were at least two times when Smith came in motion and manhandled Smith with a key block. The first helped Cook run 21 yards for his first touchdown. The second resulted in a 16-yard gain. “One thing I know about Irv is that he’s going to communicate when he’s going through his blocking motions,” Cook said. “He was telling me that [touchdown] would open up on the back side. And [C.J. Ham] told me, too. I saw it and it was daylight from there.” Smith also shouldn’t have been flagged for pass interference on his 5-yard catch on third-and-4.
3. Gladney gets some revenge
Rookie cornerback Jeff Gladney looked more comfortable pass rushing Rodgers than trying to cover Adams. Leading 28-14 early in the fourth quarter, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer chose to send Gladney — one of the smaller players on the team — on a front-side blitz on third-and-9 from the Vikings 32. “We kind of had a feel for the protection as the game was going on,” Zimmer said. “The [coaches] upstairs told me what the protection was, what it predominantly was, so I thought we had a chance to get a free runner.” Gladney came through clean and Rodgers essentially threw the ball away on a deep route to Adams. The Packers turned the ball over on downs on the next play. “We ended up getting the look that we wanted. Or maybe not,” Kendricks said. “But [Zimmer] called it anyway and it worked out.”
4. Cousins stays out of the way
The Vikings have given Kirk Cousins two big contracts suited for the type of veteran quarterback who leads an offense built around him. During Sunday’s Dalvin Cook Show, the Vikings showed that what they really need from Cousins is to, well, just not mess things up with turnovers. “We didn’t turn the ball over today,” Zimmer said in explaining how the 1-5 team upset the 5-1 team. “We still had some penalties, but we didn’t beat ourselves.” More precisely, Cousins didn’t help beat the Vikings as he did with that ugly pick on the first play of the Falcons game. The Vikings are 4-7 in their past 11 games. In the losses, Cousins turned the ball over 13 times — 12 interceptions and a fumble. In the four wins? Zero turnovers. The last time Cousins turned the ball over and the Vikings won, the defense had seven takeaways vs. the Chargers.
5. Humiliating the Pack, Zimmer style
The most humiliating moment for the Packers Sunday wasn’t when Cook did the Lambeau Leap and then just sat there taunting the empty stadium. Nah. It came on five consecutive plays in the second quarter. With his team trailing 14-7 and facing fourth-and-1 from the Green Bay 23, Cook barreled over left guard for 3 yards. Then 9 more over left tackle, 7 over left guard, 3 over right guard and then the final yard over right guard behind an excellent lead block by the fullback, Ham. Yes, it was windy. But sheesh. NFL teams aren’t supposed to be able to run five straight times between the tackles and score in the red zone like that. Asked when he last did something like that, Cook said, “That’s Coach Zim football right there. That’s all I can say. That’s Coach Zim’s identity and that’s the type of football we play in Minnesota.”