AnalysisOpinion

Vikings Have Positives to Build On Despite Week One Performance

There has been a lot of negativity in the Minnesota Vikings fan base since their favorite team was defeated Sunday by the hated Green Bay Packers. The Vikings performance Sunday was extremely uncharacteristic of a Mike Zimmer coached team. In fact, it was the worst defensive performance in terms of points since Zimmer took over the helm in 2014.

Obviously, you want to beat divisional opponents, especially your biggest rival, but the loss on Sunday doesn’t kill the Vikings season. There were even quite a few good things that the team can build on throughout the 2020 season (and past it.)

Dalvin Cook is locked down, and still great

The Vikings locked down their number one running back 24 hours before Minnesota faced Green Bay, and Dalvin Cook responded with a two touchdown performance. Despite only collecting 50 yards on the ground, Cook was a factor for the Vikings when they were still able to dedicate themselves to running the ball, which wasn’t very much.

Cook, who played his first mostly healthy season in 2019, collected 1654 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns last year. Despite proving that he is one of the NFL’s best running backs, it was unclear whether the Vikings were going to be willing to pony-up the money for Cook when running backs are seemingly a dime a dozen in today’s NFL. They did put down that money though and locked Cook down to 5-year $63 million deal.

The Vikings also have an excellent backup running back in second-year man Alexander Mattison, who delivered a great hit Sunday, but the team felt they needed to lock down Cook who is a more dynamic, if less powerful, runner. Together, they form the best 1-2 backfield in the NFC North and they proved that on Sunday when Mattison added 50 rushing and 30 receiving yards to Cook’s totals.

 

Kirk Cousins is still improving

The “problem” of Kirk Cousins’ contract has been a sticking point for many fans since he came to Minnesota. His huge payday, and the fact that he is the quarterback, has made him an easy target for criticism.

On Sunday, Cousins put up 259 passing yards, two touchdowns, and made a couple of his trademark perfect throws. In particular, his touchdown passes to Adam Thielen were things of beauty.

That’s what you call putting the ball in the perfect spot. Jaire Alexander isn’t in a terrible position and if Adam Thielen has to adjust in any way, Alexander likely either knocks it down or Thielen has to extend and potentially miss getting his feet down.

Cousins also added something to his game we haven’t seen from him and that is his ability to scramble. On two straight plays, Cousins pulled the ball down and ran for first downs. More impressive than this however, is a play by Cousins to step up through a collapsing pocket and find Thielen for another big play.

This is the kind of thing that elite quarterbacks do, especially when they have a less than stellar offensive line. Kirk has been criticised in the past for clamming up when pressured or giving up on plays too early. Here, he steps up through the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, and doesn’t panic at all in finding his man.

The rebuttal to these positives will no doubt be that Cousins took a sack for a safety and that he threw a bad interception right before halftime that gave the Packers another score. The safety, we can throw out the window as there is really no way to read that at the line unless Kirk has some sort of psychic power. It was just a perfect decision by Alexander to call his own number on a risky play call by Gary Kubiak.

Cousins’ interception to Alexander is another story. He was slightly pressured on his right side, and that seemed to make him try to float his throw a bit to get over the rusher’s hand. Cousins is kind of known for having his passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and this could have been a factor in his changing his throw here.

He needs to do better here and  try to throw a strike to the boundary and give Thielen a chance with his huge catch radius. If it gets batted down, it gets batted down, but he will have to  make his throws and take his hits, because this won’t be the last time he’s pressured this season.

 

The offensive line played well, for the most part

The biggest question mark entering this season for the Vikings was the offensive line, which it has been for the entirety of Rick Spielman’s reign. Coming out of the gate Sunday, they looked to be in top shape and helped the offense roll down the field and put Dalvin Cook in the endzone for the first of two touchdowns.

However, the rest of the first half was pretty ugly with two sacks and only one other drive with positive yardage, which came right before halftime. In the second half, the line stepped up their game and allowed the offense to gain 30+ yards on each of its second half drives and score on all but one of them.

In particular, it seemed like they were able to give Cousins time to push the ball downfield, or at the very least give him an alley to escape. This doesn’t happen when defense’s force their way through the middle of the line and the only option for the quarterback is to turtle up.

Some credit for those plays should go to Kubiak’s play design and CJ Ham picking up rushers, but if the line can reliably give Kirk time, or at the very least lanes to step up into, the offense should be just fine.

 

The defense has a lot of room for growth

The Vikings defense had the worst performance we’ve seen in the Mike Zimmer era. There was a lot to be upset about and I understand why many fans are. However, I think it’s important to have perspective here. 

This was the first game for an almost completely re-worked secondary. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are both gone. Granted, neither were up to snuff last season, especially Rhodes, but they didn’t get to their peaks in their first year, or even their second or third.

It took until at least their third year to be the solid players they were. The only two cornerbacks the Vikings had on the field who were even entering their third year were Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. Both Hill and Hughes have yet to play a full season because of suspension and injuries respectively.

So, it’s more like they’re both in year 2.5. Take this inexperienced position group and factor in the zero pass rush the Vikings had on Sunday without Danielle Hunter, or Yannick Ngakoue for most of the game, and you can give a slight pass to some young corners who were facing one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

I think it’s fair to be upset about being destroyed, if losing by nine can be counted as being destroyed, by your least favorite opponent. However, there are plenty of positives to focus on. The season is not dead, it was one loss, and even if it was, Rick Spielman and company have built this roster to compete well past 2020. One lost season of growing isn’t the end of the world.

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Kirby O'Connor

Kirby O'Connor is a graduate of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, where he studied Electronic Publishing and minored in Art. Kirby is a lifelong, die-hard Vikings fan thanks to his father. You can find him on Twitter @kjocon14.

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