What a difference a week makes for the Minnesota Vikings.
After the Vikings found out just before kickoff last Sunday that Sam Bradford couldn't play on a bad knee, Case Keenum was rushed into a starting role at Pittsburgh and didn't fare well. Big surprise, a back-up quarterback didn't play well, not prepared for a road game against a top-five defense and a team that could contend for the Super Bowl.
Vikings fans, especially after this past Sunday's victory, hope it's an outlier for Keenum. Bradford couldn't play this past Sunday for the second straight week. But this time, Keenum had days to get ready and practice with the first-team offense. And he faced a Tampa Bay defense missing key players and lacking the depth the Steelers had.
After a career day for Keenum, fans can breathe again. The Vikings dominated on many fronts in a 34-17 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. They're now 2-1 heading into a crucial stretch against three straight division opponents. Here are four takeaways from Sunday's win over the Buccaneers.
The #Vikings connected on 3 40+ yard passing plays on Sunday.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 26, 2017
Case Keenum's Big Day
Case Keenum has shown in the past that can make accurate throws when he has the time. He's made several previous starts at quarterback, even though he is a No. 2. He took advantage of a Tampa Bay defense beat up by injury, combined with his offensive line giving him time to throw. At one point, Keenum had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. He finished 25-of-33 passing for three touchdowns, and maybe most importantly, zero interceptions. He didn't turn the ball over once. In fact, through three games, the Vikings have yet to throw an interception. Keenum's final rating was 142.1.
The most impressive part is the Vikings haven't been afraid to throw the ball downfield, something we didn't see much last year. Stefon Diggs had two touchdowns and finished with 173 yards. Adam Thielen finished with five catches for 98 yards. Diggs, Thielen and Dalvin Cook all had a catch of at least 30 yards on the day. It's fun when you can throw the ball down the field, and it's made the Vikings' offense that much more dynamic this season.
And here's a stat to think about: The Vikings have three of the top 10 in the NFL in all-purpose yards between Diggs, Thielen and Cook.
If the offensive line can continue to play like they did against the Buccaneers, the sky is the limit for the Vikings' offense.
.@dalvincook's favorite play from yesterday...
...came in pass protection.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 25, 2017
Dalvin Cook Shows His Versatility
The Vikings knew they got a steal when they drafted Dalvin Cook in the second round. But they saw just what he's capable of in Sunday's win. He did pretty much everything, other than play quarterback. Cook earned 97 yards on 27 carries, which is an average of 3.6 yards per carry. But he caught five passes for 72 yards, including a 36-yard catch. Cook also showed something fans haven't seen from a Vikings player in a long time: Blocking in pass protection.
There were instances where Cook picked up a key block to give Keenum extra time to throw and find an open receiver. But every time he can catch a pass out of the backfield, it gives defenses one more thing to think about and one more weapon to cover on any given play.
The scary part is that Cook has only played three games as a pro. He's only scratching the surface of what he's capable of.
Defense Intercepts Jameis Winston 3 Times
Jameis Winston did some damage for Tampa Bay and kept them in the game with 328 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions. The Vikings defense gave him different looks all afternoon and kept him off balance. Andrew Sendejo, Trae Waynes and Harrison Smith all picked Winston off. Sendejo and Smith both got fourth quarter interceptions as the Buccaneers were gaining momentum and making things uncomfortable.
If the Vikings secondary continues to get better, make plays and stay healthy, it'll play a major part in how the regular season transpires.
Vikings Defense Didn't Miss A Tackle
This one is hard to fathom. According to Pro Football Focus, which dives deep into football analytics, the Vikings didn't miss a single tackle against Tampa Bay. Not one. That means on every play, the Vikings initial defender either made the tackle or held on long enough for teammates to arrive with help. The numbers reflect it. Tampa Bay rushed for just 26 total yards. Jameis Winston was sacked twice, and the Buccaneers were just 1-for-6 on third down.
Harrison Smith led the Vikings with eight tackles and the interception. Everson Griffen and Shamar Stephen got sacks, and the Vikings put together an all-around dominant performance in a game that was a nice bounce back after the disappointment in Pittsburgh.
They'll need another showing like that as they open divisional play against the Lions this Sunday. Detroit is an eyelash away from being 3-0. The Lions have beaten the Cardinals and Giants, and were inches away from beating the Falcons last week.
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