After months of hype, contemplation, questions and online hand-wringing brought on from a season that while good statistically was a definite let-down compared to the Super Bowl aspirations and super-sized contract that surrounded Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins — he finally hit the field Friday night against the New Orleans Saints — and looked every bit the franchise quarterback the Vikings hoped they were getting last off-season.
While the first-team offense was only on the field for one drive, it was hard to ask for much more as they were well-balanced, dangerous, able to show some of the “Pick-your-Poison” aspects that should keep opposing coordinators up late this season, and able to overcome early adversity in terms of penalties.
The first-team’s lone drive started at the Vikings 19-yard line and took eight plays to cover the subsequent 81-yards, good for a slick per-play average of over 10-yards. After Cousins connected with wide receiver Adam Thielen for a 34-yard pass play that had Vikings fans licking their chops and remembering the explosive and historical start to the 2018 season, the drive was capped off by a 1-yard pass from Cousins to rookie running back Alexander Mattison.
Cousins also connected with recently-extended tight end Kyle Rudolph twice for 30 yards, with Rudy showing some yards after the catch ability that he hasn’t in recent years, or ever really. Cousins was great at spreading the ball around as well, starting the day with a 15-yard pass to Stefon Diggs that ended up being negated thanks to a holding penalty. Including that negated play, Cousins would’ve been 5-for-5, connecting with four different receivers on the drive, something that also plays into a pick-your-poison style of offense (something that Vikings fans should take into account when it’s time for their fantasy drafts this month, as well).
But I’m assuming that you all watched last night’s game, so let’s take a look at what Cousins and company thought about the drive that allowed Vikings fans around the world to either celebrate or eat crow (depending on where you stand on the Cousins argument).
Cousins spoke with the media after the game and according to Vikings.com, said:
“It was great to get a third-down conversion, it was great to have a couple of explosive plays, It was great to get multiple people involved. And ultimately, it was great to come away with a touchdown. If you’re only going to play one series in the preseason, it could have been three-and-out.”
“To be able to get down there and score, you can’t draw it up much better than that. It’s not a lot to build on, we did the same thing last year against Denver in the preseason. You take from it what it is. You get one drive in the first preseason game. But if we’re going to have a drive, it’s better to go down and score and be that efficient than do anything else.”
Something else that should have Vikings fans talking was a scramble on third-and-9 from the “statue-esque” Cousins for 10 yards that kept the drive alive. Managing editor of VikingsTerritory.com, Sean Borman, wrote an article today about Cousins’ newfound mobility.
In regards to that play, Cousins said:
“I was happy to do that. When you get man coverage is when you want to do it, or at least be aware that’s when you have a chance to squirt through. The blitzing linebacker got through, and that’s what really threw off the play … I couldn’t sit in there anymore.”
“He created so much chaos in the pocket, I just climbed and felt like I could take off with man coverage, Great to be able to do that and hope we can do more of that throughout the season.”
Cousins hit Rudolph for one of his aforementioned catches, picking up 20-yards before dropping a (debatable) dime to Thielen that was initially called a touchdown on the field. That pass play gave the Vikings a first-and-goal from the 1, which is where rookie Alexander Mattison capitalized on a pass from Cousins.
Mattison was asked about that play and said:
It’s just one of those plays that we drew up and every time we ran it in practice, it was kind of that same type of look, So as soon as I saw the safety kind of bite down a little bit, I knew I’d be open. Kirk put a great ball on me, and then I just finished the catch.”
The Vikings offensive line looked decent as well, which was encouraging considering last year’s most surprising player, right tackle Brian O’Neill (who was injured earlier in the week), was out. He was replaced by Rashod Hill, who has been a liability at times in his career. The line was working with a lot of new, young parts, with rookie first-rounder Garrett Bradbury taking over at center for now left-guard Pat Elflein.
The line is running a zone-blocking scheme courtesy of new offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who has been a part of offensive “advisor” Gary Kubiak’s team for years. Some have been concerned with Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, clamoring that there may be ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ for the Vikings’ offense.
However, with all the youth on the line, new wrinkles to the offense and new coaches on the sideline, everything appeared to be running smoothly last night at the Super Dome. That’s something Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer commented on, as well:
“Obviously the offense going down and scoring and overcoming a [first]-and-20, Adam made a great catch, I thought Kirk made some really good plays, He scrambled with his legs. I was impressed with the communication of the offensive coaches tonight.”
Speaking of the Super Dome, it was mentioned during the television broadcast that there was new turf down in the Bayou that needed to be broke-in. That may have been the determining factor as to why the oft-injured running back Dalvin Cook didn’t get any touches for the Vikings last night.
“I just didn’t want to put him out here on the turf,” Zimmer said.
We’ll see whether or not Cook can make it the full 16 games this season. Considering the fact that last night was the first pre-season game of the year, it’s definitely a better-safe-than-sorry situation. Beyond the aforementioned Mattison, the Vikings also gave backs Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone (as well as De’Angelo Henderson) shots to show what they could do Friday night.
Abdullah, the former Nebraska stud, showed why he was both available and cheap after starting his career with division rival Detroit. Abdullah is lightning quick but isn’t built for the NFL from a physicality standpoint. The Vikings have hoped that he’ll be able to contribute on special teams as both a returner and gunner, a position that is relatively wide open, even after a week (plus) at training camp.
Abdullah showed promise Friday night as he picked up a big chunk of yardage on a draw play. He flashed change-of-pace back potential that’s utilized by the offense around five times a game. However, he also showed some iffy-to-awful decisions in bouncing a run outside despite having some holes between the tackles, and then outright dropping the ball when he attempted to switch hands, leading to a fumble that was recovered by the Saints.
Boone, on the other hand, had a great 64-yard touchdown that ultimately put the game out of reach for the Saints. The Vikings know what they have from Boone as well. He’s been on the roster since last season and although he may not be as flashy as Abdullah, his floor is a lot higher.
Next up, the Vikings face the Seahawks on Sunday the 18th at 7:00 pm in Minneapolis.
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