Vikings

Suddenly, Kirk Cousins and the Offense Are Propelling the Vikings To Victory

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

At long last, the Minnesota Vikings have done it. After seven brutal, torturous losses to the Seattle Seahawks, most of them in the Pacific Northwest, the Vikings turned one around on Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson. The final score was 30-17, but it didn’t look that way at first. The Vikings staggered to a 17-7 deficit before rattling off 23 unanswered points and suffocating the Seahawks, who are now also 1-2.

Many games have a final score that feels different than the true outcome. This one, nearly doubling up a playoff team in the first home Vikings game with a crowd in 636 days, feels appropriate.

Kirk Cousins headlines a win for once

Cousins has put up plenty of 300-plus-yard performances in his time in Minnesota, but few felt quite so dominant as Sunday’s. Sure, Cousins put up 343 yards in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons last year, but that game is better remembered for his three interceptions. He put up 405 in Detroit last year, but both teams were eliminated from playoff contention by then. For the first time in a good while, this win felt like Cousins carried the Vikings on his own merit.

The Seahawks threw blitz after blitz at Cousins, which is a tried and true strategy. Last year, he was blitzed about a third of the time. That accounted for about half of the sacks he took, and his completion percentage sank from roughly 71% to about 59%. Pete Carroll confirmed this after the game in his postgame availability. Cousins did a fantastic job of identifying, and more importantly, responding to those blitzes.

All that adds up to a brilliant 30-for-38 for 323 yards stat line with no interceptions and three scores to boot (to Tyler Conklin, Adam Thielen, and Justin Jefferson). Perhaps more impressively, Cousins did it without the help of play-action. One of the more fascinating long-term storylines from the Vikings this year has been the reduction in play-action, even in a game like Sunday’s where the run game was successful. Cousins was far and away the driver of this Vikings win, which goes a long way to quell cries about the team dragging him along.

Cousins’ play outside of structure has been another common talking point. Can he create when the play breaks down? Can he find success in the improvisational, schoolyard aether that crops up often when your offensive line struggles? The line protected well enough against Seattle, but some plays still broke down. Like the last two weeks, Cousins found production and even created it, where the play did not guide him to an easy completion. He did a better job at preventing those situations with pre-snap mastery, but he even had success in that improvisational space.

The Cousins Chaos meter is a year-long series I am doing to track Kirk’s level of chaos. It’s not necessarily a quality meter measuring Cousins’ performance, it measures his level of chaotic play. In many cases, the two align often. Cousins played one play shoeless and was stripped once (but recovered it himself). That pushes the meter toward the overly chaotic red zone, but Cousins dragged that back into the green with a number of normal, prolific plays.

 

Alexander Mattison fills in for Dalvin Cook

In last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Dalvin Cook suffered an ankle injury that would ultimately keep him out of the Seattle game. That meant it was time to lean on Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah, the only two halfbacks active for the game (C.J. Ham also took a couple of carries). Mattison racked up 112 yards on the ground and 59 through the air. He doesn’t get all the credit, but he ran hard and made the right reads.

The Vikings’ offensive line did a fantastic job opening holes for Mattison. For the second week in a row, it’s clear that run-blocking is a major strength of this team, and the pass-blocking wasn’t much of a knock either. The Seahawks blitzed a lot, leading to some pressure, but it also set up some screens.

The Vikings’ screen game was a catastrophe last year and had some blemishes early this year. But it all worked out perfectly against Seattle. Mattison caught explosive screens, often behind Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland working in space. Usually that causes a defense to back off with hard rushes and blitzing and play a bit more conservatively. But Seattle never backed off, so Klint Kubiak just kept punishing them.

The defense turns it around

Doom and gloom were setting in as the Seahawks scored their second (and final) touchdown of the game in the second quarter. Bashaud Breeland had been picked on early, Patrick Peterson gave up one or two explosive plays in man coverage, and the 17-7 deficit felt like the beginning of a long day. However, Seattle would only enter scoring range one more time on the day, resulting in a missed Jason Myers field goal. The Vikings only allowed the Seahawks to cross midfield once in the entire second half.

What happened was a combination of defensive adjustments and complementary football. Mike Zimmer mentioned some wrinkles that the Seahawks threw at him at halftime and how he had to adjust. Beyond those adjustments, however, was a cascading effect from all that offensive proficiency. Minnesota’s second-half drives took 8:26, 5:01, and 7:08 off the clock before the game was well out of hand. That only gave Seattle three genuine opportunities to wrangle the game back into their control. More importantly, it only asked the Vikings defense to stop three drives.

Still, the Vikings stopped those three drives after just seven, 18, and 17 yards, respectively. Everson Griffen showed up in a big way, alongside Dalvin Tomlinson, and of course, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks. With Zimmer’s seat awfully warm headed into this game, and even warmer after his defense gave up three scores on the first four possessions, his defense turned it around. It had help from an offense playing out of its mind, but give credit where it’s due.

The Vikings headed into this game as two-point home underdogs once the news about Cook’s absence broke. They entered it 0-2 and were on the verge of sinking into the nightmarish territory of an interim head coach. If ever there were a must-win game for the current iteration of this team, it was this one. With the red-hot Cleveland Browns on the horizon, a little momentum is a welcome thing.

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