Vikings 0-2 Start Creates Good News, Bad News

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) makes a catch past Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Josh Jobe (28) before running for a touchdown during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports.

The good news after Week 2 of the season is that the Vikings are only one game behind NFC North co-leaders Detroit and Green Bay, who lost close games to NFC opponents Seattle and Atlanta on Sunday. 

Vikings 0-2 Start Creates Good News, Bad News

The bad news is the Vikings stand 0-2 after their 34-28 loss in Philly. They were one of eight 0-2 teams heading into the Monday night games, including two other fellow 2022 playoff teams — the Bengals and the Chargers (next Sunday’s equally desperate opponent at U.S. Bank Stadium). 

Here are my other reactions to the Vikings’ current state of affairs:

1. Need to get three starters back and guard Dalton Risner into the starting lineup ASAP: the Vikings offensive line was missing left tackle Christian Darrisaw and center Garrett Bradbury, and it showed up in the pass rush (two sacks and 10 QB hits) and an anemic rushing attack (28 yards). The Vikings need them back this week against a Chargers defense with a lot of talent in their front seven despite their 0-2 record.

The signing of Risner should help the interior O-line if he can get up to speed quickly and take over for shaky right guard Ed Ingram. Risner is a former second-round pick of the Broncos and a four-year starter, and he signed a one-year, $4 million deal, which at that amount means the team is planning on him as a starter very soon. 

Creates Good
Jul 18, 2019; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Dalton Risner (66) during drills at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports.

On defense, I didn’t see much from free agent signee Marcus Davenport in training camp to get excited about, but the coaches seem to think he’ll make a difference in run defense and on the pass rush once he returns from his ankle injury. It’s not a good trend for Davenport that he missed several games with the Saints last season due to injury (as his sack total dropped to a half-sack), and now he’s been out for all except four plays in the first two games. 

2. Good sign: I thought  Kirk Cousins played an excellent game and is finding Justin Jefferson at a record pace 25 catches for 309 yards over two games) despite lots of defensive attention on J.J. Cousins passed for 364 yards and four TDs in the Eagles game, and he’s made so many great throws to Jefferson and the rest of the receiver corps with Eagles pass rushers pressuring him. His step-up and deep pass to Jordan Addison for the 62-yard TD in the third quarter was the kind of off-schedule play that Cousins has made strides to improve on. 

It looks like most games for the Vikings will be high-scoring affairs as the passing game is one of the league’s best, especially with Darrisaw and Bradbury in the lineup with the defense needing to make quick improvement, or this year’s Vikings team will resemble the San Diego Chargers in the 1980s under Coach Don Coryell, QB Dan Fouts and a great receiving corps led by tight end Kellen Winslow (and they had their own Jefferson as a fine wideout — John Jefferson).

3. The running game and run defense must quickly improve: it was amazing the Eagles game wound up as a six-point loss considering the Vikings were outrushed 259-28, lost the turnover battle 4-1, and the Eagles doubled the Vikings in time of possession. Cousins’ great night made it a close game at the end. 

The Vikings defensive linemen in their 3-4 — especially Dean Lowry and Jonathan Bullard, who each had only one tackle (and Harrison Phillips had 13 tackles, but many were after significant gains, and he also was blocked out of the hole several times) — along with the inside linebackers have to be stronger at the point of attack. But the Eagles have perhaps the best offensive line in the league, which was a big part of their run game success, especially with Vikings focused on stopping Hurts’ run-pass option plays, thus allowing D’Andre Swift to rush for a career-high 175 yards. 

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

The Vikings D must be better vs. the run against the Chargers, who rushed for 233 yards in their opening loss to Miami. But Tennessee’s excellent run D held them to 61 yards on Sunday, although the Chargers were missing star running back Austin Ekeler (ankle). 

I didn’t like how slow DC Brian Flores was to adjust as the Eagles pounded the Vikings on their 16-play drive with 13 runs that culminated with Jalen Hurts’ patented “Tush Push” QB sneak for a TD and a 10-7 lead. In both the Eagles and Bucs games, the defense started strong and couldn’t sustain it after the opposing offenses made adjustments, which for the Eagles came as they started running when the Vikings had only three defenders on the line of scrimmage.  

I’m also not thrilled with the early returns on Flores’ extensive use of three safeties. In both games, elite wide receivers (Mike Evans of the Bucs and DeVonta Smith of the Eagles) have beaten safeties Josh Metellus and Theo Jackson on deep balls. 

However, Danielle Hunter is off to a great start with four sacks in two games, and his back-to-back sacks of Hurts early in the fourth quarter stopped a nine-minute drive that resulted in no points.

4. The turnover ratio is terrible, and it’s the main reason the team is winless: Coach Kevin O’Connell says ball protection is always a point of emphasis, but it has to be even more so after these first two games with seven turnovers. Especially costly in both games were the end of first-half miscues — the Cousins’ interception at the goal line against the Bucs and Jefferson’s fumble out of the end zone as he tried to stretch to the pylon in the Philly game. In both cases, the plays prevented the Vikings from leading at halftime. 

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his touchdown with teammates against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

5. Stop crowing about losing two games by a total of nine points (and by the way, the Chargers lost their first two games by a five-point total): we’ve heard it from O’Connell, T.J. Hockenson, and others, and I understand they are trying to stay positive amid the losses to start the season, but there are no moral victories in the NFL. Yes, it’s better than losing 40-0, as the Giants did in their opener against the Cowboys. But the Vikings need a win this week to get back on track.

6. The other good news from the Philly game is the Vikings didn’t quit when they were down 27-7 early in the third quarter.

Around the NFL Observations:

I’ve always believed it takes four weeks at the start of a season to get a pretty good handle on how teams will shake out, but there are plenty of surprises through the first two weeks, including:

1. 2022 playoff teams in the Vikings, Chargers, and Bengals start 0-2. 13 of Chargers Coach Brandon Staley’s 18 losses have been by one score, and he’s getting testy with the media when the subject of Chargers close losses is brought up (including Jacksonville’s comeback from a 27-0 deficit to beat the Chargers in their 2022 wild card playoff game). 

2. Baker Mayfield (Bucs), Sam Howell (Commanders), and Desmond Ridder (Falcons) are 2-0, while Cousins, Chargers QB Justin Herbert, Bengals QB Joe Burrow and Broncos QB Russell Wilson are all 0-2.

3. Who is Puka Nacua? Three of the top four reception leaders are Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, and Tyreek Hill. The fourth and leader with 25 receptions is Rams fifth-round rookie Nacua. He had 48 catches all of last season at BYU. 

Dec 19, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay reacts in the third quarter during a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports.

4. Rams competitiveness — Coach Sean McVay is doing perhaps the best coaching work of his career with the Rams’ convincing win in Seattle when they outscored the Seahawks 23-0 in the second half, and then they played the talented 49ers tough in 30-23 loss on Sunday in a game that was tied 17-17 at half. Matthew Stafford has passed for 641 yards so far without his top receiver, Cooper Kupp, as Nacua has burst on the scene. 

5. Struggles of Bengals passing game with Burrow averaging 152 yards per game, down from 280 yards per game last season: Tee Higgins had no catches in Week 1, Ja’Marr Chase had only 31 yards receiving in Week 2 (70 yards over first two games for Chase, a Pro Bowl receiver).

6. Jets sad state at QB: the Jets entered the season with big expectations, but after Aaron Rodgers was lost with his torn Achilles in the opener, former second-overall pick Zach Wilson was back to his 2022 poor play with three interceptions in the 30-10 blowout loss in Dallas. The Jets sit at 1-1, but it is hard to see them contending for a playoff spot with Wilson at the helm. 

7. How about the Giants being outscored 60-0 through six quarters, then exploding for 31 points in the second half to beat the Cardinals 31-28 in the biggest Giants comeback since 1949?

8. Efficiency of Jordan Love: he’s leading the NFL with a 118.8 passer rating (6 TDs, no interceptions), but Love and the Packers offense bogged down late in the loss to Atlanta with no first downs in the fourth quarter. They were missing star back Aaron Jones, receiver Christian Watson, and tackle David Bakhtiari, which clearly hindered Love and the offense. 

9. If the Saints beat the Panthers on Monday night, there are three unbeaten teams in NFC South, a division that was the league’s worst last season as all four teams (including division champ Tampa Bay) finished with losing records. So far, it’s a big turnaround for the Bucs, Falcons and Saints. There are big, prove-it games on Sunday/Monday for these three teams — Atlanta at Detroit and New Orleans at Green Bay on Sunday (and the Falcons and Saints can help the Vikings with wins). And there’s a major test for Tampa Bay next Monday night when they host 2-0 Philadelphia.  

I’m back with my Vikings-Chargers prediction on Friday.

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl