The Vikings Week 4 win in Carolina showcased two 0-3 teams with their hopes for the season on the line. The Vikings marched down the field on their opening possession which saw a touchdown to Justin Jefferson get erased by a penalty. Then, in a move that defines every 2023 Vikings game to this point, Kirk Cousins threw a backbreaking pick-six in the endzone that swung momentum dramatically.
The Vikings just haven’t been able to stop turning the ball over in crucial moments this year. They threw another interception to end a promising 2-minute drill to close out the first half when they were already in field goal range. Minnesota has now lost the turnover battle in every game so far this season. On Sunday they lost a staggering 3-1 to a Panthers team starting a rookie quarterback. For the first time this season though the Vikings were able to overcome the turnover deficit and pull out a win. However, not every team is going to be the Panthers. The Vikings host Kansas City in week 5. If they plan to even be competitive in that matchup, they’ll have to learn to hold on to the ball. Thankfully some of Minnesota’s stars showed up to save them from their self-inflicted mistakes in Carolina.
Harrison Smith The Star of Vikings Week 4 Win
Welcome back to the land of the living Harrison “The Hitman” Smith! After having been thoroughly outplayed by fellow safeties Josh Metellus and Camryn Bynum to this point, Smith delivered a throwback performance in Carolina. He ended up with three sacks in the second half. The first of which was a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown, giving Minnesota the lead. Smith proceeded to almost single-handedly snuff out Carolina’s attempts at a comeback with his second two sacks.
It was a welcome sight for Vikings fans to see “The Hitman” back on his game. Given his status as a 34-year-old safety in a young man’s league, it was beginning to look like age had caught up to him. That clearly wasn’t the case Sunday after Smith delivered a performance that should win him Defensive Player of the Week. Now the question will be, can he do it again?
Smith was in his own words simply not a difference maker the first three weeks. He looked noticeably more explosive Sunday, especially when blitzing off the edge. He was also more involved in the passing game, making a number of downfield tackles. Hopefully, his play on Sunday means the early season disappointments are behind him.
Other Vikings Week 4 Performers
In fairness, Justin Jefferson’s name could and probably should appear in this section every week. While Sunday wasn’t his most prolific statistical day, the Vikings don’t win this one without him. Jefferson caught both of Minnesota’s offensive touchdowns and had another called back. One of his touchdowns in particular was classic Justin Jefferson. Cousins realized he had a free play on an offsides and just threw one up to his best player. And as Jefferson so often does, he delivered by Mossing the corner for his second touchdown. It’s players like Jefferson that give the Vikings hope that they can possibly turn their season around.
Kirk Cousins gets the nose tackle to jump, then rips a back-shoulder dart to Justin Jefferson for a free-play touchdown pic.twitter.com/nMV6Dm2mSs
— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) October 2, 2023
Ever since signing a one-year prove-it contract with the Vikings during the offseason, the team has been left waiting to see what Marcus Davenport would do in Purple and Gold. Davenport was inactive for the first three weeks due to injury. When he finally showed up on Sunday, he made good on the coaching staff’s patience. Davenport was a difference maker for a unit that was desperately looking for pass-rush production to complement Danielle Hunter.
Davenport got credited with one sack after beating multiple blocks with a sweet inside spin move. He also contributed two other hurries that directly led to incompletions. There was certainly some apparent rust as well, as he looked slow reacting to the snap a handful of times. Even with Davenport working his way back into game shape, his potential to impact the defense was apparent. It’ll be interesting to see if a player who’s had a reputation for inconsistent production can keep trending up.
Vikings Week 4 Disappointments
Ingram finds himself on the naughty list for the third time in the first four weeks. He actually blocked okay in the running game this week. However, he was responsible for the hit on Cousins that caused his second interception. At a minimum, that missed block took three points off the board for Minnesota and added three to Carolina’s score.
It’s been an every-week occurrence for the clear weak link on the Vikings offensive line. Ingram’s pass-blocking woes have contributed heavily to Minnesota’s early season turnover struggles. The Vikings simply have to make a move to recent addition Dalton Risner at right guard for the matchup against the Chiefs. If Ingram plays and gets a healthy dose of Chris Jones, that could spell disaster again for Minnesota’s offense.
Receivers not Named Jefferson
The passing game was a one-man-show on Sunday for the Vikings. It wasn’t a great day for Kirk Cousins, but his receivers didn’t do much to help. Jordan Addison was an afterthought, putting up a goose egg on a single target. The Vikings are hoping to see their rookie receiver get more involved each week, not less. So hopefully his failure to contribute will be an aberration as the season progresses.
T.J. Hockenson’s performance was maybe the most concerning. A week after having a ball bounce off him for a game-ending interception, he had a similar moment. Faced with a crucial third down, a ball deflected right off his hands to get the offense off the field. The Vikings paid him big money to be a reliable target that pulls those sorts of passes in with regularity. Even if the target volume won’t always be there given the weapons around him, he’s got to be trusted. Like Addison’s performance, Minnesota hopes Hockenson’s drops don’t become a recurring theme.
Main Photo: Bob Donnan – USA Today Sports