The Vikings are finally in the win column.
They didn't panic after an unlucky 0-2 start, but instead kept doing what they've done well all month and improved in some areas that had been issues. Kirk Cousins, Alexander Mattison, Justin Jefferson, and basically the entire offense were fantastic in Minnesota's 30-17 win over the Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. And after an ugly start, the Vikings' defense stepped up on three second-half possessions, holding Russell Wilson and Seattle scoreless for the final 41 minutes of game time (with plenty of help from the offense's ability to generate lengthy drives that kept Wilson off the field).
It was a highly encouraging performance that the Vikings will now try to build off of in upcoming games against the Browns, Lions, and Panthers before their bye week.
Let's dive into the snap counts and some other observations, with help from Pro Football Focus's grades and tracking stats.
Offensive snap counts
Total offensive snaps: 75
- QB Kirk Cousins: 75
- LT Rashod Hill: 75
- LG Ezra Cleveland: 75
- C Garrett Bradbury: 75
- RG Oli Udoh: 75
- RT Brian O'Neill: 75
- WR Adam Thielen: 72
- WR Justin Jefferson: 62
- TE Tyler Conklin: 54
- RB Alexander Mattison: 51
- WR K.J. Osborn: 44
- TE Ben Ellefson: 30
- FB C.J. Ham: 22
- RB Ameer Abdullah: 22
- TE Chris Herndon: 12
- WR Dede Westbrook: 6
One of the interesting trends to track in the Vikings' offensive snap counts so far this season has been the playing time of Conklin and Osborn. In Week 1, with the Vikings trailing for much of the game and using a ton of 11 personnel (three wide receivers), Osborn out-snapped Conklin 67 to 59. But over the past two games, Conklin has 103 snaps to Osborn's 80.
That's probably around where Klint Kubiak wants to be. The tight end is still very important in this offense, but at the same time, Osborn has earned a significant weekly role with his play. The two can co-exist as the No. 3 and 4 non-RB pass-catchers behind Thielen and Jefferson.
The other thing that stands out is the playing time of the backup tight ends. Ellefson, a fairly unheralded waiver claim from the Jaguars, has now out-snapped Herndon 46 to 24 over the past two weeks. That makes the decision to send the Jets a fourth-round pick for Herndon (and a sixth) seem like an overreaction to Irv Smith Jr.'s injury. However, it's worth being patient to see if Herndon can earn his way onto the field more. Ellefson is a blocking TE in the David Morgan mold, while Herndon is primarily a receiver — and it's easier to pick up the schemes and responsibilities as a blocker than a receiver when coming to a new team.
"We’re using him a little differently," Mike Zimmer said. "Kind of depends on what we’re trying to do offensively at that point. But I do like the way Ellefson has been feisty, staying on blocks and doing things. He’s been a little bit better that way.”
At the very least, Herndon gives the Vikings depth if Conklin were to miss any time. And when you consider that the Jets' sixth-rounder will likely be at the very start of the sixth round, the trade looks a little less bad.
Defensive snap counts
Total defensive snaps: 53
- S Xavier Woods: 53
- S Harrison Smith: 53
- LB Eric Kendricks: 53
- LB Nick Vigil: 53
- CB Patrick Peterson: 53
- CB Bashaud Breeland: 53
- DE Danielle Hunter: 51
- CB Mackensie Alexander: 44
- DE D.J. Wonnum: 34
- DE Everson Griffen: 34
- DT Sheldon Richardson: 26
- DT Dalvin Tomlinson: 25
- DT Michael Pierce: 21
- LB Blake Lynch: 9
- DE Stephen Weatherly: 8
- DT Armon Watts: 8
- S Camryn Bynum: 5
There are a lot of interesting things here regarding the Vikings' defensive line rotation against Seattle. Tomlinson and Pierce saw their playing time fall significantly from the first two weeks, but it wasn't punitive. The Seahawks were running a lot of no-huddle on offense, preventing the Vikings from making substitutions. So instead of having the two big defensive tackles get stuck out there on third downs, Zimmer went to his third-down personnel with Griffen and Richardson on some early downs.
"Early in the game, I panicked a little bit because they weren’t allowing us to get our group in there on third downs, so we played some of those guys on first and second down a little bit more than we normally would," Zimmer explained.
Tomlinson and Pierce played quite well in their limited action, combining for five pressures. It just happened to work out that they weren't able to be on the field quite as much.
Richardson and Griffen wound up setting their season highs in snaps. Griffen had exactly as many as Wonnum, who is the other starter at defensive end, but was more productive with his opportunities. Griffen had three pressures and a sack, while Wonnum didn't record any pressures for the second time in three games.
After playing 46 snaps in the first two games, Weatherly found himself without much of a role in this game.
Lastly, Bynum saw his first playing time on defense late in the game, making him just the second Vikings rookie to see time on offense or defense this year (Ihmir Smith-Marsette played a handful of offensive snaps in Week 1).
Pro Football Focus notes
Here are the Vikings' highest and lowest grades on offense and defense against the Seahawks, via PFF, for players with a minimum of 15 snaps played.
Tyler Conklin has breakout game
Through the first two weeks of the season, Conklin hadn't done much as a receiver in his new role as the Vikings' top tight end. He had just six catches for 56 yards on eight targets, as Osborn and the other wideouts handled most of Cousins' passes.
Against Seattle, Conklin showed what makes him so dangerous. He had a career day with seven catches for 70 yards and a touchdown on eight targets, showing off his athleticism in space and reliable hands. Conklin even came a few yards away from scoring a second touchdown. It was the type of performance he's capable of having when defenses focus on stopping the Vikings' trio of receivers.
Oli Udoh is legit
The play of the Vikings' offensive line over the past two weeks has been a huge part of their success. Brian O'Neill, who still hasn't allowed a pressure this year, is leading the way, and both Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury have stepped up and played fairly well. Even Rashod Hill hasn't been a total disaster the past couple games, although he's clearly the weak link.
But the second-best player on the line — and the best of the interior trio — has been Udoh. He's gotten better in each of his three games starting at right guard, culminating in a fantastic outing against the Seahawks. Udoh has simply had a major impact on this offense, providing stability at a position that's been such an issue for the Vikings in recent years.
The Vikings' defensive line is the key to their success on defense
For the Vikings, playing how they want to play on defense starts with the guys up front. When they turned things around in the second half and shut the Seahawks out, it was thanks in large part due to the pass rush finally being able to put some pressure on Wilson.
Hunter had another phenomenal game with seven pressures and four QB hurries, even if he didn't record a sack. Griffen made his case to keep playing more and more by pressuring Wilson three times and sacking him once. As I mentioned earlier, Tomlinson and Pierce played quite well, with Tomlinson contributing to Griffen's sack in a big way.
Those four — plus Wonnum and Richardson — are going to give the Vikings' linebackers and secondary a chance to make plays if they continue to get after quarterbacks like this.
- The Vikings' stars played like stars on Sunday. I'm thinking specifically about Cousins, Jefferson, Hunter, and Harrison Smith. That's what you expect out of players of that caliber, and they delivered.
- Xavier Woods and Bashaud Breeland struggled in this one, based on both the eye test and PFF. Woods had a bad missed tackle and seemed to be a bit out of place at times, while Breeland's rough season continued. He gave up nine catches on nine targets for 102 yards and a touchdown and missed two more tackles.
- Patrick Peterson had a strong game against a familiar opponent. He helped prevent D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett from hitting any huge plays.
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