The Minnesota Vikings bounced back from a poor slate of games by posting a 34-24 win over divisional rivals, the Detroit Lions. With injuries bringing additional questions to an already timid offense, Christian Ponder and the Vikings answered by putting up seven different scoring drives.
Once again, we saw new innovations in the offense—this time including a pistol formation—and a typically strong defense make plays that made a difference.
While fans were ready to rain rancor down on Ponder and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the actual offensive performance was enough to overcome the slump that it had found itself in for quite some time.
This win over the Lions is much more significant than the last one, as the Vikings proved they could grab wins within the division without the aid of spectacular (but rare) special teams play and without one of their only (and best) offensive weapons.
There were individually some important performances to highlight, both positive and negative. Even with dominant wins, there's always room to improve.
Jarius Wright was active in his first NFL game this week against the Lions, and while he didn't light up the box score, he impressed a lot of fans.
Speculation about his absence drove concerns about his value as a pick. While his status as a fourth-round draft pick would reasonably keep him off the field for long stretches as he develops, the weakness the Vikings had at receiver led fans to question why he was inactive for so many games.
Wright responded to his first opportunity with some great catches, first with a 54-yard beauty, followed by a 3-yard touchdown reception.
He doesn't have the wiggle of Percy Harvin, but his development as a Vikings receiver seems to be going well. Followers should be excited to see where his career goes.
Vikings trade acquisition A.J. Jefferson has availed himself well in relief, but not necessarily as a heavily rotated cornerback. He started off the game well, but ended poorly.
He does well in zone coverage on intermediate depth, but needs to do better when lined up in man coverage. He allowed a touchdown on a quick slant that he should have been able to jump on the snap. He further couldn't press Calvin Johnson (an admittedly difficult task) on a long gain.
He was further helped by drops from opposing receivers, like Tony Scheffler.
Jefferson never looked lost, but was clearly outmatched on occasion. Quarterbacks may do well to target him in the future if he keeps this up. Otherwise, the Vikings will need to line up their cornerbacks by receiver instead of keeping them on one side.
The best running back in the NFL started off the game with some struggling—just over three yards a carry in the first three quarters.
He broke it off with 121 yards in the fourth quarter, bringing his average up to 6.3 yards a carry and 171 yards in total.
Peterson sealed off the victory in the game with his 61-yard touchdown run, and he had two more runs that quarter of over 15 yards.
Adrian wasn't necessarily the victim of poor blocking early in the game, but neither was it spectacular. His hesitation at the line caused some problems, but this was a sporadic issue. He was able to read some great blocking later in the game to more than make up for his earlier performance, and it looks like he'll hold on to the rushing lead.
Brandon Fusco is one of the stronger members of the Vikings offensive line, but his ability to push around defenders can be limited by his (currently) limited ability to read defenses and react to complex stunts and twists.
Fusco had a few assignment and technique problems on the day, creating problems in both the run game and in pass protection.
The sixth-round pick from Slippery Rock is still outperforming all projections, but he needs to show consistency in order for the Vikings to continuously rely on him.
He did have some good moments, particularly when he kicked out a block on the 61-yard run for Peterson. Fusco's inconsistency will need some work, however, and if Geoff Schwartz improves, he could threaten Fusco's hold on the job.
Finally ready to take credit for a win and avoid blame from a loss for the first time in a while, Christian Ponder proved he still might have what it takes to lead the Vikings.
Some might say his game may not have been quite as good as his statistics indicate, but if that's the case, it was hard to tell.
While Ponder may have looked somewhat skittish at times, he was generally much cooler under pressure than before. He made smaller movements in the pocket in response to pass rushers and reacted to blitzers much better in this game than against the Buccaneers.
He completed what may have been his longest pass through the air in the season by connecting to rookie Jarius Wright for 54 yards and moved the ball efficiently, responsible for nine first downs through the air.
In Percy Harvin's absence, Ponder was able to spread the ball around to 9 receivers (or 10, if you can include Christian Ponder himself) and finish with 221 yards on 32 attempts.
He didn't throw an interception and added two more touchdowns to his name, finishing with a passer rating of 114.2, the second highest of his career. Moreover, Ponder was the victim of several drops earlier in the game, but was still able to help get the job done.
Young quarterbacks are volatile in their performances, and the Vikings were glad to catch Ponder on an upswing. While he's still not lighting up the league, he did very well to help lead the Vikings to their win.
Josh Robinson also fared poorly against a strong Lions passing game, allowing Calvin Johnson several big catches, which let the Lions stay in the game.
Robinson is an excellent speed matchup against many receivers in the league, and has progressed well in his ability to read receivers and play several different cornerback techniques, but still can't handle the size of Calvin Johnson.
The Lions receiver outleaped the Vikings cornerbacks for over 200 yards, and Robinson was the biggest culprit of a secondary that allowed Johnson his second touchdown of the year.
The Vikings secondary is suffering for the loss of Chris Cook, and while Robinson could shape up to be a great cornerback, he isn't ready to get the job done against elite receivers.
Emerging tight end Kyle Rudolph reintroduced himself after staying quiet for three weeks. He finished with 64 yards, a touchdown and seven receptions, finding his niche as a red zone threat for Christian Ponder.
Even better, he was able to score without a rollout from Christian Ponder, as has been the habit for the young pair.
Rudolph once again displayed fantastic control of the ball, reeling in some impressive catches.
He once again showcased his improvement as a run blocker, helping spring open some runs for Adrian Peterson against a skilled Detroit linebacking corps.
Kyle Rudolph looks to be a key contributor in the coming years for a young Vikings squad, and may prove critical in the run the Vikings still hope to make for the playoffs.
While Jared Allen didn't really have all that poor of a game, playing good contain and getting some key pressures, he didn't play to the high standard the fans and his contract set for him. He'll probably be disappointed as well.
His disruptions were somewhat inconsistent and he couldn't make himself heard on the stat sheet. Allen ended his 8-game sack streak, and while the impassioned leader is quietly having a season most defensive ends would kill to have, he is falling far short of the measures he's set for himself.
Allen knows the team relies on him in pressure situations, and the Vikings well know how they can perform when he does well. If the Vikings are going to have a shot at making the playoffs in the tough stretch of games after the bye, Allen will need to aggressively assert himself onto the field.
Chad Greenway helped organize a defensive effort that looks somewhat poor on paper, but was excellent on the field.
The Vikings only allowed 3.4 yards to the Lions' running backs, and Greenway's ability to hit the holes and read the flow of the play was a critical part of that.
More than that, Greenway has rewritten the narrative of his play in coverage, with one pass deflection and his first interception in three years.
He reacts well to the ball and keeps up well with opposing pass catchers. He's clearly demonstrated a better ability to read receivers and the South Dakota product has been a big part of the improved Vikings pass defense this year.
Antoine Winfield may have found an elixir of youth with the way he's been playing this year. This isn't the first game this season Winfield has led the team in tackles, which is astounding for a cornerback.
Normally when a member of the secondary accumulates such high tackle numbers, there are problems in pass defense that need to be resolved. In this case, it's merely because Winfield is such a machine in both the pass and run game.
While preventing a few passes as a member of coverage, he was also a critical member of the run defense, stopping the run on five occasions, one for a loss.
While his fluke non-interception may not be to his credit, the fumble recovery was all instinct, and the veteran cornerback has an uncanny sense to be in the right place at the right time.
Without Winfield, the Vikings might be an entirely different place this season.