The Minnesota Vikings simply can’t expect to win games like this.
A team that intends to contend for a title can’t set their opponents up with first-and-goal situations after turnovers multiple times in one game. They can’t allow over six yards per carry on the ground. No true contender can demolish the NFL record for points allowed in first half two-minute drills.
Disaster after disaster after disaster continues to befall the Vikings. The problems pile up, whether it’s domestic abuse litigation centered on the star running back, a rampant surge of COVID-19, a mental health crisis, or a rash of injuries.
The Vikings’ 34-26 loss in Santa Clara seems to encapsulate everything that has held them back. There is a critical mass of problems a team can withstand. Whether it’s Kirk Cousins staring down an interception, Dalvin Cook injuring his shoulder while fumbling, or a torrent of lousy tackling, the Vikings simply can’t overcome all of this.
The Vikings Beat THemselves too
Perhaps you could spend your energy complaining about missed holding calls as Mike Zimmer did. You could winge about the Vikings’ losses to injury or various off-field distractions. Ignoring that these problems are mostly of the Vikings’ own doing anyway, they don’t fully explain the loss. The Vikings shot themselves in one foot, the other foot, and the knee for good measure.
Up 14-7 with 8:38 remaining in the first half, the San Francisco 49ers pieced together an 8:19 touchdown drive. The Niners are famous for long, clock-chewing drives, so that’s not extraordinary. But inside two minutes, things broke down for the Vikings once again. Zimmer refused to take a timeout as the 49ers drove the field, leaving 18 seconds for their end-of-half possession.
Chalk that up to more horrific Zimmer clock management. But don’t let it distract you from what happened next: a long, plodding touchdown drive from San Francisco followed by a catastrophic Kirk Cousins interception. Cousins was fooled by a routine fire zone blitz on his first play of the second half, throwing directly to linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair.
A Kene Nwangwu kick-return touchdown couldn’t energize an exhausted Vikings defense as San Francisco repeatedly drove down to point-blank range, mainly on the ground.
Cousins would get the Vikings to the red zone with a chance to tie. He inexplicably lined up under guard Oli Udoh on fourth-and-goal instead of center Mason Cole, causing confusion that necessitated a timeout. With no timeouts on their next possession, Minnesota had less access to their playbook. After a questionable DPI no-call, the result was a turnover on downs and the 49ers in victory formation.
Blame the call or blame the myriad Vikings’ catastrophes. Either way, Minnesota wasn’t good enough to overcome the bad decisions and bad luck.
Depth issues on D-Line
The Vikings have finally paid the piper on an issue they were aware of back in August. Zimmer called the roster “top-heavy,” referring to the relatively poor backups to Minnesota’s highly paid starters. With Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, and Dalvin Tomlinson all out with one ailment or another, that poor depth took over.
The result? A run-game ass-kicking, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Alvin Kamara scored six touchdowns on Christmas last year. Kyle Shanahan’s physical approach beat and bruised the Vikings to the tune of 208 total rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Blame the injuries for this debacle if you want, but better teams withstand those injuries. Considering that depth was a fairly well-covered issue going into the season, an injury-based excuse rings hollow. The Vikings have been clinging to a forgotten age of Zimmer defenses, even bringing in old depth players well past disproof of their potential. They desperately need new blood.
The full Cousins experience
Thanks to holiday travel, the Cousins Chaos Meter is offline this week. But we can still evaluate Kirk’s chaotic presence in the game. This was perhaps Kirk’s most chaotic game since some of the disasters of last year. Cousins threw ill-advised interceptions and lined up under the wrong offensive lineman once. That’s vintage chaotic Cousins.
Beyond the game-breaking brain farts, however, Cousins was aggressive. That’s more a good thing than a bad one, but it must be paired with accuracy. Cousins forced a wide-open Adam Thielen to dive twice in the game, once for a touchdown and once for a near-catch that cost the Vikings a challenge and a crucial second-half timeout. On fourth-and-ballgame, Cousins simply missed a throwing window.
That’s unusual for Cousins, but a few shoddy throws should be a surmountable problem. That’s the rub of this 2021 Vikings squad: They have issues that shouldn’t be this hard to fix. It shouldn’t be this hard to get to the line of scrimmage on a crucial fourth-and-goal or utilize timeouts inside a two-minute warning correctly.
The Vikings are constantly playing football on hard mode. If they can figure out how to make things easy on themselves, the sky’s the limit. But until proven otherwise, the Vikings have demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that they won’t. The Vikings will keep beating the Vikings, and better teams like the 49ers will be the ones worth paying attention to in January.