Mike Zimmer complimented the Minnesota Vikings’ offense after a decisive 30-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, saying it was “the best offensive performance that [I’ve] seen in the eight years I’ve been here.”
This was quite the revelation after an offseason of tension between Zimmer and Kirk Cousins. Minnesota’s offense was the engine of the team as it scored 30 points, 23 of which were unanswered by Seattle. This came from dueling performances from Cousins and Alexander Mattison, who stepped in for an injured Dalvin Cook.
Cousins completed 30 of 38 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 128.4. Mattison had 171 total yards from scrimmage. The Vikings possessed the ball for 22 minutes in the second half alone, playing a commanding game of football to get their first win of the season.
Minnesota’s offense is one of the best units in the NFL, and Cousins would be near the top of the MVP conversation if it began this early in the season. Through three weeks, the Vikings ranked third in yards per game, eighth in points per game, seventh in EPA/play, and first in turnovers. It’s safe to say that this is one of the top units in the league.
Conversely, the Vikings’ defense is struggling early this season. While they’ve been prone to slow starts, they usually play better in the second half. Through three games, the Vikings allowed 61 total points but only 16 in the final two quarters.
Therefore, the offense is increasingly looking like Minnesota’s identity. Last season was a bit of an aberration given how many injuries they had on defense. But the offense is winning them games for the first time in the Zimmer era. Even in their loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Cousins marched the team down the field and left Greg Joseph with a 37-yard kick — which he missed, of course. Similarly, the offense was charging down the field in Cincinnati before Cook (maybe?) fumbled in overtime.
The offense has evolved quite a bit from last year, partially due to new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak. According to PFF, the 34-year-old is the league’s best play-caller.
The unit is also a lot more aggressive on second down. According to Phil Mackey, last year, the Vikings ranked 28th in pass frequency and averaged eight yards per pass attempt on 2nd and 4 or fewer yards to go. That’s a situation where virtually the whole playbook is open. Conversely, they rank 13th in pass frequency and average 19 yards per pass attempt in the same situation this season.
A lot of this can be attributed to the Vikings’ change in philosophy to running more three wide-receiver sets since Irv Smith Jr. went down and K.J. Osborn had a coming-out party all spring and through training camp.
The Vikings need to embrace their offensive identity this weekend against the Cleveland Browns — and for the rest of the season. If their defense improves, it’ll be easier for them to win games, but the approach right now is modern and aggressive.