1. Safeties not immune from blunder
The idea behind franchise-tagging Anthony Harris and not trading him was to make sure the Vikings had two elite veteran safeties to baby-sit a group of greenhorns at cornerback. Well, there was one critical moment in Sunday's 31-30 loss to Tennessee in which Harris and Harrison Smith made rookie mistakes on the same play late in the third quarter. One play after the Vikings went three-and-out with a five-point lead, Tennessee ran a play-action that hoodwinked both safeties. Kalif Raymond ran a double move that fooled Jeff Gladney and produced the easiest 61-yard pitch-and-catch you'll ever see in the NFL. It led to a go-ahead touchdown a play later. "On the bomb, on Gladney, we had two safeties bite," coach Mike Zimmer said. "These guys have to got to do what they're supposed to do, too."
2. Another game, another key flag
The boxscore would suggest the Vikings weren't hurt by penalties because they had a season-low three of them for only 20 yards. The boxscore would be wrong. Second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. picked up his third penalty in two games. And it was a doozy. The Vikings were leading 30-28 with 5:15 left when Smith was flagged for an illegal block in the back. On a run for no gain, no less. That led to a first-and-20, which led to a second-and-27, which led to a third-and-15, which led to a punt. The Titans got the ball back 1 minute, 5 seconds after Smith committed that penalty. "It's things like that that good teams don't do," Zimmer said. After three games, the Vikings are being led in penalties by Smith, a No. 2 tight end with one more penalty (three) than he has receptions.
3. QB needs his tight ends in passing game
Speaking of tight ends, they were excellent in the run game and a big reason Dalvin Cook ran for a career-high 181 yards. But where are they in Gary Kubiak's tight end-friendly passing attack? There are too many times when Cousins is under duress and has nowhere to unload the ball except at Cook's shoelaces. Sunday, Cousins targeted the tight ends only three times. All three went to Kyle Rudolph, who had two catches for 11 yards and a brilliant 3-yard TD grab in the back of the end zone. On the season, the tight ends have caught six passes. On the flip side, the tight ends had key roles in Cook's 39-yard touchdown. Rudolph and Tyler Conklin were lined up tight right. Rudolph sealed the inside, Conklin sealed the outside and Smith went in motion and led Cook through the hole.
4. Cousins lacking in field leadership
Cousins can thank a startling string of Tennessee mistakes for turning what should have been a pick-six to open the third quarter into a harmless three-and-out. Sometimes, Cousins can be sharp. Then there are times like the first play of the third quarter. "It was a blitz, and the defensive end dropped," Cousins said. "And he was in the window of the throw, and I was really just wanting to throw it away over his head. But the corner [Johnathan Joseph] had vision and was off and outside and was able to get to it." Cousins wouldn't be getting $40 million this year if it weren't for his arm strength. Throw the ball into the stands. "I wish I'd just thrown it away further," he said, even though an illegal blindside block by Jadeveon Clowney negated the pick-six. A holding penalty then pushed the Titans out of field goal range.
5. Titans won battle- of-the-box numbers
Teams that play Derrick Henry constantly are faced with the choice of loading the box with eight or nine defenders to stop the 6-3, 247-pound rushing champion vs. dropping five or six defenders into coverage. The Vikings got burned on the second play of the game. They opened the game with six in the box, perhaps leery of how Tennessee threw over the top of Jacksonville's eight-man box for a 62-yard gain to open their Week 2 game. Sunday, Henry gained 5 yards on the first carry. Then, on second-and-5, the Vikings put eight in the box. Ryan Tannehill went deep to Raymond for a 44-yard gain against cornerback Holton Hill. The Titans won the chess match. Henry averaged a season-high 4.6 yards on 26 carries while Tannehill completed explosive passes of 61, 44, 38, 23 and 21 yards.