Skeptical Minnesota Vikings fans can confidently say, ‘I told you so’ after watching the team’s first two games, both of which would’ve resulted in 17-point defeats if not for a loosely-defended touchdown against the Packers in Week 1.
Faithful fans were concerned that the defense was too young, the offense lost Stefon Diggs, and the front office didn’t do much to repair the offensive line. All of the above seem to be coming to fruition.
It would be tough to feel worse about where the Vikings are at one-eighth of the way through the season. The defense has permitted 71 points through two games, and that number should be higher since both their opponents have dropped touchdown passes and turned the ball over in the red zone. The offense has generated 13 combined points in the meaningful portions of the games, adding 32 once both were out of hand. Minnesota hasn’t possessed the ball in a fourth quarter trailing by fewer than three possessions yet this year.
The difference between the offensive and defensive units is the gap in performance versus expectations.
The defense was more widely expected to regress with six starters either departed, hurt or opted out. The offense, for the most part, was supposed to sustain its success from 2019. At least that’s what team officials proclaimed.
Their belief was unwavering, even after trading Diggs. The system was supposed to be immune to the departure of a single individual, strong enough to make up Diggs’ production through multiple looks, a robust running game and savvy playcalling. But that scheme has fallen apart without a strong defense to supplement it.
“It’s just been a bit off schedule,” said running back Dalvin Cook. “When the playercaller’s got to call a game kind of off schedule, it’s kind of different.”
Cook received a five-year extension before the season but has thus far been an afterthought in the second half of games, when his intended role is to a be a bruising back that wears down opponents. Instead, the Vikings have held the ball for 40 minutes less than their opponents through two games, literally doubled in time of possession.
“This team has kind of been built on controlling the time of possession,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “playing great in the red zone and on third downs, and we haven’t been doing that very well. We’re going to have to get back to work and try to figure out what’s wrong, because the identity of this team has not been what it has been for the last six years.”
The offense seems to be bearing the brunt of Diggs’ absence. While Diggs went off for eight catches, 153 yards and a touchdown in a Week 2 win, the Vikings passing game was anemic. Adam Thielen had three catches for 31 yards on the opening field goal drive — and none the rest of the game. At least three Vikings pass catchers dropped balls, while Thielen was targeted on Kirk Cousins‘ first of three interceptions. Rookie Justin Jefferson hasn’t had a serious role until games have gotten out of hand, and training camp standout Bisi Johnson hasn’t made a noticeable impact.
“I think the execution wasn’t there today,” Cousins said after the Week 2 loss. “It’s a small sample size right now. We’ll go back and really try to watch this tape in a way that has a trained eye and says, ‘How can we be better? How can we execute better and make sure we’re really all moving in the right direction come next week?’”
Asked to play catchup two weeks in a row, Cousins has had little response. The apparent lack of chemistry with receivers is significant, but so is an offensive line that continues to permit pressure. The Vikings had a suitable right guard last year in Josh Kline but mysteriously released him. Their solution was to move the ineffective Pat Elflein to right guard, and when Elflein got hurt, to try second-year guard Dru Samia. Neither solution has panned out through two games as both have allowed multiple pressures. There may have been some validity to the question of why the Vikings let go of Kline without taking more definitive steps to replace him.
These pitfalls may help explain Cousins’ subpar play early in the season, but the quarterback has compounded problems with his own poor decision-making. An inconvenient truth has manifested about the Vikings: Cousins may not be talented enough to overcome a decrease in talent at receiver and on the offensive line. Fans have long bemoaned that Cousins can’t overcome problems around him, but it may now be dawning on the Vikings.
He hasn’t been able to overcome early deficits in the Vikings’ first two games, and now he’ll have to play from behind following an 0-2 start to the season.