On Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings lost to a 2-7 Dallas Cowboys team at home that was led by their backup quarterback, Andy Dalton. The offense nearly did enough to overcome a mediocre defensive performance, but they gave up a late touchdown in the 31-28 loss, and the special teams continues to be a major liability.
Kirk Cousins was able to get the ball to Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson at critical points in the game, however, and outside of Jefferson’s bad drop late in the game, both receivers delivered. Thielen, however, may have established himself as the No. 1 receiver in the loss, racking up over 100 yards and reeling in a highlight-reel catch that matched CeeDee Lamb‘s efforts on the other side.
This was a devastating loss, one that likely cost them a shot at the playoffs and taught them many painful lessons. Here are four things we learned about the Vikings in this unexpected defeat:
The strength of the Vikings is their offense
The defense has carried the Vikings for most of Zimmer’s tenure. They have prided themselves on being an opportunistic unit that by creating pressure up front, forces offenses to make bad decisions with the ball that lead to turnovers. This year that just hasn’t been the case. The Vikings can’t generate any pressure and can’t stop the run either. They rank toward the bottom of the league in just about every major category, and it is a huge reason why they have six losses on the season.
While the defense has struggled, the offense is humming. The Vikings are riding Dalvin Cook, and his explosive, game-changing ability has opened things up in the passing game. The Vikings are averaging 26.4 points a game, and in most seasons that would be more than enough for a Zimmer-coached defense to hold the other team under.
Cousins played a masterful game against the Cowboys, dropping dimes to Thielen and Jefferson. He also was able to create extra time in the pocket and even scampered for a few yards. Thielen made some amazing catches, and even though Cook didn’t have a monster game, the offense still put 28 points on the board.
The defense used to be the Vikings’ strength, but that isn’t the case in 2020. For them to win more games, the offense is going to need to put 30-plus points up a game, and the way they’ve been playing, that isn’t an impossible task.
Their playoff chances are all but dead
The Vikings’ chances of making the playoffs were slim with a win against the Cowboys, and after losing it’s almost impossible to get in. They are still mathematically alive, but Minnesota would basically need to win six straight and finish 10-6 for that to happen. By losing to the 2-7 Cowboys, the Vikings gave themselves no wiggle room whatsoever.
It’s probably for the best anyway. If the Vikings did make the playoffs, their defense is so bad there’s no way they’d advance beyond the first round. They can’t stop the run, and the young corners are still giving way too much cushion to opposing receivers. This team is riddled with issues, and if they didn’t blow their chances this week, they likely would’ve seen them evaporate down the road against a team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints or in a rematch against a division rival.
The Vikings rolled the dice on a young defense this season, and it just hasn’t panned out. The loss against the Cowboys all but confirms this team is not going to be in the postseason.
Special teams need more revamping
The Vikings special teams unit could use some more tweaking. The team already replaced Austin Cutting with Andrew DePaola and didn’t miss a beat, and now it is time that the same be done with K.J. Osborn. The returner fumbled the first punt, and while the Vikings recovered, it is just another mishap in the young returner’s below-average rookie season.
Even when Osborn hangs onto the football, he brings basically nothing to the return game. He has no real burst or wiggle, and he is definitely not a concern to other teams when they are kicking off or punting. The Vikings would be better served going back to Chad Beebe or Ameer Abdullah. While those two caused Rick Spielman to reach and take Osborn, at least they bring a veteran presence and have shown some ability in this area against live competition.
Aside from the returner position, the Vikings benched Dan Chisena for this game, and he wasn’t missed at all. Last year the Vikings used Abdullah and Kris Boyd as gunners and they excelled. Perhaps it’s time to go back to this duo and see if the Vikings can be a little stronger in their punt and kick coverage.
Adam Thielen is the No. 1 receiver
Many may look at this last lesson and say, “No, kidding,” but in recent weeks this hasn’t been the case. Justin Jefferson has closed the gap and taken a ton of the receiving spotlight away from Thielen. In the game against the Cowboys, Thielen proved that while Jefferson will be the No. 1 receiver on the Vikings someday, he’s not there yet.
Thielen was fantastic against the Cowboys, making some unbelievable grabs. Whether he was hanging onto the ball after getting shellacked by two Dallas defenders or making a diving one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone, Thielen showed he is truly an elite talent and the best receiver on the Vikings. Thielen finished the day with eight receptions for 123 yards and two scores. He made the clutch grabs when he had to, unlike the Vikings young star who dropped an easy pass in a critical moment that basically killed the Vikings’ chances of making a comeback late in the game.