When the Vikings revamped their offensive coaching staff in the offseason, they had to envision the kind of game they played Sunday, beating the Eagles 38-20 and outgaining them in total yards 447-400.
Coach Mike Zimmer gave praise to not only assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, but the rest of his coaching staff for putting in a game plan that allowed them to rush for 122 yards and throw for 325
“Gary is a big influence in there, but so is [run game coordinator and offensive line coach] Rick Dennison and [offensive coordinator] Kevin Stefanski, [tight ends coach] Brian Pariani, those guys do a really good job of putting everything together so all the things looked similar — runs and passes and play-actions. It was good. I thought Kevin called a good game today and it was nice to put them away.”
The offense scored 38 when the Eagles had allowed only 22.2 points per game, a huge performance after struggling against better competition such as the Bears and Packers.
“I thought we played well today. Offensively, we were explosive,” Zimmer said. “We had some big plays. [Quarterback] Kirk [Cousins] played outstanding. We had some good, efficient runs. I thought we came out with a purpose.”
Cousins easily had his best game of the season. He was not only effective, completing 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, but he hit on a number of big plays, including TD passes of 62 yards and 51 yards to Stefon Diggs on back-to-back second-quarter drives.
It was a huge day for Diggs. In his first three games, Diggs totaled 101 yards receiving, one score and only six receptions.
But in his past three contests, including his seven receptions for 167 yards and three scores against the Eagles, Diggs has 17 receptions for 319 yards.
“He made some big-time plays, got some opportunities to get the ball down the field, he’s a very explosive player,” Zimmer said. “You know, he does a lot of really good things. It was nice to see him have a big day.”
This is the kind of offensive balance the Vikings have sought since the start of the season.
Zimmer said he knew the Eagles were going to stack the line of scrimmage to try and stop the run, but that opened up plays for not only Diggs, but wide receiver Adam Thielen (six receptions, 57 yards, one touchdown) and tight ends Kyle Rudolph (three for 36) and Irv Smith Jr. (two for 29).
“We have two good receivers, we have two really good tight ends, actually three because I like [Tyler] Conklin as well, we have some good running backs,” Zimmer said. “We have an explosive offense, if we’ll stick with it and continue to run, play-action, hit the third downs. That was big.”
Offensive line steady
For the fourth time in six games, the offensive line allowed one sack or fewer against Cousins. That protection was especially important, because the Eagles racked up 10 sacks against the Jets in Week 5.
Cousins has been sacked 12 times through six games, after taking 18 sacks through six games last season.
“Part of having a good passing game is having good protection, and we have been pretty good the last two weeks, talking about being firm in the pocket, making sure that we give him some time to throw the football,” Zimmer said. “But Kirk made some great throws today. And you know we had Rashod Hill came in for Riley Reiff [at left tackle], Dakota Dozier came in for Josh Kline [at right guard] today. We had a couple guys out and we played pretty well.”
Defense did their part
Zimmer had mixed feelings about his defense, after the Vikings’ 24-3 second-quarter lead shrunk to 24-20 lead with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter. But he said they did the job when needed, making big stops in the second half to close out the game.
The Eagles passing game was tremendous, though, with former North Dakota State star Carson Wentz completing 26 of 40 passes for 306 yards, two scores and one interception.
“For the most part [the defense played well],” Zimmer said. “[The Eagles] caught us on a couple out of the backfield deals. We got picked on one and I had a bad call on the other [passing touchdown] — we were in man coverage and the guy kind of ran by Eric [Kendricks]. But overall I thought we played pretty well. We had a couple new things in for them and they were on the ball the entire time.”
Gophers at their best
The Gophers broke into the Associated Press Top 25 poll Sunday at No. 20, their highest ranking since 2008, after they moved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Big Ten play with their dominant 34-7 victory over Nebraska.
On Saturday night there were representatives from the Citrus Bowl at TCF Bank Stadium, and they were impressed with this club.
The Gophers are rounding into form. In Big Ten play, they rank No. 2 in scoring offense (37.3 points per game), No. 6 in scoring defense (18.3 points allowed), No. 2 in total offense (475 yards per game) and No. 2 in rushing (248.7 ypg).
Coach P.J. Fleck said the Gophers need to be at their best starting right now. They are favored in their next two games, by 29½ points at Rutgers on Saturday and against Maryland at home on Oct. 26. Then they will face No. 7 Penn State at home (Nov. 9), No. 23 Iowa (Nov. 16) and Northwestern (Nov. 23) on the road and No. 6 Wisconsin (Nov. 30) at home.
“We need our best players to play their best football from the middle of October to late November, that span,” Fleck said. “It is good to see our team starting to play better football. That’s what you want to see, you want to see that team develop.”
Fleck said if you want to pinpoint one part of the team that is really coming together, look no further than the offensive line. That unit doesn’t have a single senior starting, but they are putting together one of the best rushing campaigns in school history.
“They’re getting better. They’re starting to play better together as a unit,” Fleck said. “… But we need to be able to continue to rotate lineman in. I think [redshirt sophomore] John Michael Schmitz at center gives us an element of toughness to that offensive line. [Redshirt freshman right guard] Curtis Dunlap Jr., I thought he played his best game yet, just how tough he was finishing blocks, how into the game he was and working on the small details.
“I could say the same thing about everybody, from Blaise [Andries, a redshirt sophomore] moving over to right tackle and doing what he did, [redshirt junior left tackle] Sam Schlueter has been Mr. Consistent and then you look at left guard, [redshirt junior] Conner Olson had one of his better days as well.”