MINNEAPOLIS – Latavius Murray darted through an opening in the line and sprinted for 26 yards before finally being taken down by an Arizona Cardinals defender. A few plays later, the Minnesota Vikings’ running back found another big hole and raced 21 yards for a touchdown.
The running game that had been absent all season was clicking for Minnesota.
Linebacker Anthony Barr jumped to knock down a pass from Arizona quarterback Josh Rosen as the Vikings sent eight players on an all-out blitz to get to the rookie quarterback in the red zone. The defense was playing aggressive and looking like the unit that led the league in fewest points and yards allowed last season.
Minnesota used a familiar formula to win its second straight game, a 27-17 victory against the Cardinals on Sunday.
“Obviously being back at home and getting the win feels good, and the way that we did it,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said. “We got that running game going. Our defense was playing fantastic. Special teams was playing great. Obviously, there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up to make sure that we continue to win. It was a great team effort and that’s what you want.”
Minnesota had rushed for 100 yards as a team just once this season, the season-opening win against San Francisco. Arizona entered the game with the second-worst run defense in the league, giving up 142.4 yards per game.
Murray had 24 carries for 155 yards and one touchdown. The Vikings ran for 195 yards as a team and had five runs of at least 20 yards after posting one such run in the first five games.
“Good, because we’ve been wanting to run the ball like that all season,” Murray said of how the win felt. “We wanted to take advantage of that.”
Minnesota’s defense pressured Rosen all day long. The Vikings finished with four sacks and an interception. They held the Cardinals to 269 yards and 10 points – Arizona scored once on a fumble return for a touchdown. The Cardinals were 0 for 10 on third downs, 0 for 2 on fourth downs and Minnesota controlled the game in a fashion many are used to seeing in U.S. Bank Stadium.
But Harrison Smith said he’s tired of hearing about the past.
“Honestly, I am kind of sick of people talking about the defense ‘we are used to seeing,’” Smith said. “Every year is separate. This year is 2018 and we are focused on right now. We want to be as good as we can be right now. That’s as simple as it is.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was 24 of 34 for 233 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception for the Vikings and enjoyed the way Minnesota closed out the win.
“You just play the game you have to play that week,” Cousins said. “When our defense is causing them to be 0 for 10 on third downs and standing up the way they were, it’s just not a game to invite (Arizona defensive end) Chandler Jones to come wreck it and get them right back in the game.
“So, we were trying to run the ball to keep a great player like Chandler Jones from ruining the game. He still made plays, certainly, but we didn’t want to play to his strength. Anytime you can run the ball, I think it gives you that chance. It’s week to week. Other games, I think the play was to drop back and throw it all over the yard. So, we’ll just see what each week calls for.”
Cousins has kept Minnesota afloat in shootouts this season. With the defense handling Arizona, the passing game wasn’t needed as much, although the Vikings still dictated the action early through the pass and Thielen came up big when needed.
Thielen caught 11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
Minnesota got a field goal from Dan Bailey at the end of the first half and opened the second with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that included Thielen catching four passes for 47 yards. Thielen converted a first down on the drive by laying out for a pass right at the first-down marker and he capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown up the seam.
“Another example of Kirk trusting me to make a play,” Thielen said. “I knew that I made it. But when it goes under review, you never really know how they’ll interpret it. It was a long third-down conversion, but you hope that you can contribute to drive the ball there and get to the red zone to score. Those plays are crucial.”
And Minnesota demonstrated on Sunday it can make those crucial player whether passing, running or defensively, in any way needed for that week’s game.
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings