The Minnesota Vikings kicked their season off with a 43-34 loss to the Green Bay Packers, a game that was not as close as the score indicates. If the Vikings are going bounce back this Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, they’ll need to see much stronger performances from some players who were disappointing in Week 1.
Here are four players who need to step their games up if the Vikings are going to avoid an 0-2 start:
Hill struggled against the Packers: Davante Adams lit him up for six receptions, 81 yards and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus, roughly half of his production on the day. The worst part about Hill’s game was that he usually wasn’t within five yards of Adams. He was either a few steps behind or just flat out beaten, as Adams worked toward the sideline to make uncontested catch after uncontested catch. Hill was supposed to be one of the veterans of this young cornerback group, but instead he looked like a player who was in his first career game.
Hill won’t have to face one of the best in the game this weekend, but he could find himself lined up against T.Y. Hilton, a very good receiver. Hilton is no Adams, but he has great top-end speed, and Hill will have to be extra cautious not to bite too quickly on a route or he could get burnt. If Hill struggles again this week, his time as a starter should be over. He doesn’t have the kind of track record that warrants a long leash.
If he ends up lost and flat-footed again this Sunday, the Vikings should replace him with either Jeff Gladney or Kris Boyd. It’s hard to imagine their performance would be any worse than what Hill put on the field against the Packers. Hopefully, Hill learns from his shortcomings in Week 1 and looks like the player he did early in his career.
The Vikings’ decision to deal a second- and fifth-round pick to acquire Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars was universally lauded as a savvy trade that would immediately benefit the team. They were getting an elite level pass rusher who has tallied nearly 30 sacks over the last three years to pair with Danielle Hunter. When word came out that Hunter was going to be placed on I.R. for the first three games, many figured Ngakoue would step up to provide the pressure needed to keep the defense humming, but his debut fizzled out like a wet match.
Ngakoue was a non-factor against the Packers. He couldn’t get any sort of pressure on Rodgers and was held in check by David Bakhtiari. It didn’t help that the team kept him on a snap count so he wouldn’t tire out, which they did because he missed a lot of practices during his holdout. While that makes sense, it also didn’t allow him to get into a groove. Ngakoue had zero tackles, no sacks and just one quarterback hurry in 44 defensive snaps.
Things won’t be any easier for Ngakoue this week against the Colts. They have an excellent offensive line, and Rivers is a veteran quarterback who will follow Rodgers’ lead and get the ball out quickly against the Vikings. Hopefully, Ngakoue sees an increase in snaps and shows us why the Vikings invested a second- and fifth-round choice in him.
This has been stated repeatedly, but Elflein has to step up his game if the Vikings are going to get back on track. The much-maligned guard led the team in pressures allowed with five, and Elflein’s poor play seems to be rubbing off on Brian O’Neill. O’Neill has allowed half a sack in his career, and had a rare brain fart on Sunday that led to a Za’Darius Smith sack. It’s worth wondering if that momentary mental lapse was because O’Neill was either trying to figure out what Elflein was doing or trying to compensate for his lack of ability. If it’s the latter, then the Vikings are in trouble.
If O’Neill feels like he needs to not only take care of his job but help Elflein with his, that will result in a major downgrade in performance from the Vikings’ best offensive lineman. This happened a season ago when Riley Reiff seemed to try to do too much at times, which resulted in his play dropping off. The common denominator here is Elflein and his poor performance. It’s really shocking to see the Vikings keep rolling with Elflein when his play has been a major issue for multiple seasons.
If his subpar play continues to rub off on O’Neill, the Vikings need to pull the plug on Elflein and go with Dru Samia, Ezra Cleveland or even Oli Udoh. No matter who they plug in at right guard, that player can’t be worse than Elflein, and it’s time the Vikings hold him accountable for being a major liability on their offensive line.
Cousins wasn’t bad in Week 1, but he needs to be the guy who puts the team on his shoulders and wills the Vikings to victory this Sunday. He needs to come out fired up and play the way he did against the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last year, where he showed no fear and was a confident leader of the offense. He needs to be decisive with the football and not be afraid to take shots down the field.
He had a couple of errant tosses against the Packers, and perhaps that can be contributed to a little offseason rust on his arm. If he comes out on point and puts the ball where only his receivers can catch it, that’ll help extend drives and keep the defense fresh.
The Vikings need a shot in the arm after their horrible performance in Week 1. Cousins is the quarterback and therefore needs to provide the type of energy and leadership that will boost the entire team. If he can take his game to the next level, Minnesota will come out on top and avoid that dreaded 0-2 start.