Standout Performances By Young Players An Exciting Aspect of Win Over Giants
The Vikings' 28-10 victory over the Giants on Sunday was led by their biggest names. Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen had their best games of the year, Dalvin Cook was incredible, and a strong defensive effort was led by Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr.
Of course, those weren't the only players who made major contributions to the win. One encouraging aspect of this game was how many young players played some of the best games of their careers. Here are a few of the young Vikings who excelled in New Jersey.
Mike Hughes, second-year cornerback
It would feel wrong to start off with anyone other than Hughes, who looked like a future star against the Giants. In just his third game back from an ACL injury – and his second without a knee brace – Hughes had the nickel corner snaps all to himself with Mackensie Alexander missing the game.
He responded to the increased workload with maybe the best game of his career. Hughes finished with three pass breakups and three tackles, but the stats don't tell the whole story. He was simply in lockdown mode all game long, and nearly finished with multiple interceptions. However, Mike Zimmer was quick to point out that Hughes did make a few mistakes.
"Mike played really well," Zimmer said on Monday. "His technique was really good. He had a couple bad plays in there. The one where they caught the ball just outside the end zone, that should have been his play, and he had one other play that wasn’t very good. The rest of the time he played very, very good. He competed. He used good technique. He got his hands on some balls, so that was good to see."
With Alexander and Trae Waynes free agents next offseason, Hughes' performance is important to follow going forward.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, third-year defensive lineman
Odenigbo was a seventh-round draft pick of the Vikings in 2017, but took a winding path to make it to the Vikings' 2019 53-man roster. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad, then was cut prior to the 2018 season. After spending three weeks with the Browns and a month with the Cardinals, he was re-acquired by the Vikings. This year, he finally cracked the active roster in Minnesota for the first time.
On Sunday, Odenigbo announced his presence, recording his first career sack and adding two other tackles.
"He worked really, extremely hard in the offseason and I remember toward the end of last season when he was on the scout team, he was making those guys on the other side of the ball work really, really hard," Zimmer said. "He worked real hard in the offseason, kept getting stronger and more athletic. He came in here with a purpose of he was going to make this team and try to help us win."
Offensive linemen Pat Elflein (third year), Brian O'Neill (second), and Garrett Bradbury (rookie)
It's been an up-and-down season for the Vikings' offensive line, especially on the interior. Bradbury and Elflein have struggled mightily at times. Early on in the Giants game, Elflein gave up a sack (though Cousins held on to the ball for a few seconds), and it looked like more of the same was coming.
However, after that sack, the offensive line played extremely well for the rest of the game. They paved the way for the Vikings to run for over 200 yards and protected Cousins effectively. Of the other two sacks Cousins took, one was due to tight end Kyle Rudolph getting beat and one came after Cousins held the ball for an eternity.
Elflein ended up with a 72.2 PFF grade, the third-best score for any Vikings offensive player. Bradbury wasn't too far behind with a 66.7 grade and didn't allow a single pressure. O'Neill has now played 20 games in the NFL and has yet to allow a sack.
Alexander Mattison, rookie running back
The Vikings have gotten everything they could've asked for – and then some – from their backup running back this season. Mattison ran for 52 yards on just 7 carries, increasing his season totals to 189 yards on 34 carries (5.6 YPC). He's fourth among all rookie running backs in rushing yards.
The most impressive thing about Mattison is how hard and decisively he runs. He bursts through the hole, finds daylight at the second level, and finishes runs hard. The Vikings really haven't lost much when he's out there for Cook.
Olabisi Johnson, rookie wide receiver
After making his first real impact late in the loss to the Bears, Johnson followed that up with a second consecutive impressive game. The seventh-round pick has seized the WR3 role over Laquon Treadwell and run with it. Johnson caught all four of his targets for 43 yards, looking excellent out of the slot as the Vikings increased their 3-WR sets greatly.