The Minnesota Vikings are officially in complete disarray. You know it’s bad when the commentators label the first half of a game, “Horrible”. But these are the Vikings and we’re used to it by now, but after a near win against Seattle some of us actually expected the Vikings to stomp the winless Falcons going into the Bye and even, gasp, potentially make a run for the expanded playoffs in 2020. It’s funny how quickly narratives can change in the NFL.
There will be non-reactionary calls for the Vikings to make a change at the head coaching position as this team isn’t just losing more than most expected, it’s also a team that seemingly isn’t ready for games. When you look at Weeks 1 and 2, and now this game, there is a disconnect that can only be blamed on the head coach. Sure, this game was mostly lost by the offense and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer puts about as much time each week checking on the offense as I do checking on that goldfish I bought in high school (hang in there, Daunte Goldpepper!), but that’s actually more of an indictment on Zimmer.
After receiving the ball to start the day, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (who I had defended in about 1,000 words only hours before) threw an awful interception on the first play of the day. Things didn’t get much better after that, as the Vikes were being shutout 20-0 at half-time and after some typical garbage time production from Cousins and company brought the score to what would normally be a respectable 23-40, they ended up losing to the previously winless Falcons by17 points at “home”.
After the Vikings took the consensus best team in the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks, to the literal 59th minute last Sunday Night, there was some concern about a letdown this week. But there was also a lot of confusion as to how to analyze these then 1-4 Vikings. Were they a borderline good team that was just a couple of plays away from being 3-2? Or were they a bad team that just had a good scheme against the Seahawks?
It’s safe to say that they’re officially the latter, as regardless of what will be said about Falcons “Interim” head coach Raheem Morris, this was a game that the Vikings should’ve won and needed to win. Sure, they were without Dalvin Cook, who was sorely missed on the day (especially when the Vikings ran it on first-and-second down from first-and-goal from within the Falcons’ 5 yard line and picked up next to nothing in the second quarter). But, this is clearly a team that is not good and it’ll be interesting to see how the ownership of the Vikings reacts during this super long Bye Week, as while they had to have known that 2020 was going to be a year with some growing pains, considering all of the turnovers on defense, they had to have expected better than this.
Cousins ended the game with three picks, the first of which I alluded to as it was the first play of the game. He attempted to connect with Justin Jefferson across the middle and completely missed Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. Beyond that, the Vikings had only 9 yards on their first THREE drives and only showed any signs of life after rookie Jeff Gladney stripped the ball from Brian Hill. However, that momentum “boost” didn’t turn into any points.
Cousins’ second pick came after another attempted pass to Justin Jefferson, this time AJ Terrell, which lead to Matt Ryan hitting Calvin Ridley (who I just traded for Dalvin Cook (along with Joe Mixon)). Gladney was slowed down by the fact that he had to move through traffic to follow Ridley as he motioned pre-snap, which allowed enough space for Ryan to hit Ridley on a crossing route for a touchdown. Then Cousins threw another interception which led the Fox color commentator to exclaim “You cannot start a first-half of football as poorly as the Vikings have started this game”. He wasn’t wrong.
After another field goal, the Flacons lead 20-0 at half-time.
The second half started much like the first, with the Falcons marching down the field and connecting on a field goal from Younghoe Koo and extending their lead 23-0. On the next drive the Vikings finally found pay dirt courtesy of an 11-yard touchdown grab by rookie breakout player Justin Jefferson from Kirk Cousins. Which helped as Cousins went into half-time with two interceptions, which was his eighth and ninth on the year (keep in mind that he only had six on the entire year in 2019).
Stretching out for the score!!!
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 18, 2020
The Vikings then seemingly held the Falcons to a punt, however with nothing to lose Atlanta went for it on 4th and 2, and converted in a big way as superstar receiver Julio Jones ended up scoring on a 40-yard catch and run. Sigh.
There was no bounce back from the Vikings on their next drive as they ended up going three-and-out on their next possession. While the Vikings did get some points on the board in the 4th quarter, there wasn’t a single PLAY in this game in which the Falcons weren’t in firm command of this game. Let’s take a look at what veteran Vikings safety Harrison Smith said this week, following the one-point loss to the Seahawks:
“And we are making a ton of improvement across the board in all phases. But like you say, winning is it. Nobody is waiting around taking those empty wins. It’s a good thing, but at the end of the day, winning. It’s only winning. So I think that mindset too is important to ingrain in a young guy — that losing is not OK.”
He’s not wrong, and again it’ll be interesting to see how the Wilf’s (and Vikings general manager) Rick Spielman react to this loss as it’s not just the fact that the Vikings have been losing a lot this season, but it is HOW they’re losing. Sure, the Falcons had Julio this week and the Vikings are dealing with a lot of injuries and inexperience. But, the reality is that this team is being outclassed on every level by beatable teams and someone is responsible for that. That person is head coach Mike Zimmer.
Am I calling for him to be fired? No. Mainly because I’m not sure who would want to come in to replace him (and realistically Gary Kubiak is already basically a head coach thanks to the deference that Zimmer gives his offensive coordinators (which is a fireable offense in the opinion of this writer)). Cousins is locked in until 2022 at an amount that’ll stifle the team from a cap perspective regardless of how good or bad he plays. When you throw in the contract of Dalvin Cook, you have almost 40% of your salary cap (especially when it comes to the reduced COVID cap(s) the next couple years) going towards two players. One of which is hot and cold, the other of which has yet to prove that he can make it on the field for every game.
Stats courtesy of Vikings.com