If you’re a fan of the Minnesota Vikings, you may feel that all hope is lost. After last Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions, your optimism has been bogged down by conservative play-calling, untimely turnovers, and a feeling of déjà vu.
But what if I told you this season isn’t over? That the Vikings could band together, win some games, and look like a team that’s capable of making some noise in the playoffs?
It might sound too good to be true. But we saw that team in Glendale.
The Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals showed what this team could be. The Vikings have the weapons to be one of the best offenses in the NFL and enough of a defense to come away with a victory.
Kirk Cousins hit K.J. Osborn for a 64-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. The Vikings continued to be aggressive early and were rewarded with three touchdown passes from Cousins and a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter.
While a pair of defensive meltdowns allowed Arizona to get back into the game, their early aggressiveness built a cushion that freed up Mike Zimmer to run his kind of offense. When the Vikings regained the lead in the first quarter, it was Dalvin Cook’s time to take over, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and chewing up the clock.
The Cardinals ultimately took the lead late, but that will happen to most teams that have to play against Kyler Murray. Even when staring down the barrel of defeat, Cousins led the Vikings down the field and set up Greg Joseph for a potential game-winning field goal.
Joseph sent the 37-yarder into New Mexico, but that’s not the takeaway from this game. It’s that the Vikings showed aggression, jumped out to an early lead, and tried to keep adding to it. While it didn’t result in a win, the Vikings had the NFL’s only undefeated team beat, only to lose on a last-second field goal.
It’s easy to dismiss this game as an excuse for Zimmer to say this team is better than its record. But it’s also evidence that the Vikings can play modern football that can foster a late-season run. That is more encouraging when you consider this team is better than it was at the beginning of the season.
In the first five weeks, Cousins has shown he can perform in the clutch. He set up a game-tying field goal in Week 1 and almost had a game-winning drive against the Cardinals. He helped lead the Vikings from a 10-point deficit against the Seattle Seahawks and came to the rescue when it looked like they would be defeated by Zimmer’s conservative playbook against the Detroit Lions.
The Vikings also have an offensive line that should improve with the addition of Christian Darrisaw. Rashod Hill was never supposed to be the primary starter at left tackle and has allowed 20 pressures through the first five weeks. Having your first-round pick in the lineup makes sense and should give Cousins a clean pocket to work with.
Then you have the skill positions, who remain some of the best in the NFL. Justin Jefferson hasn’t fallen into a sophomore slump, and Adam Thielen remains an elite red zone target. Cook is going to recover from his ankle injury. Even if he doesn’t, the Vikings have a capable backup in Alexander Mattison.
Everything is there to produce the explosive offense the Vikings need to succeed — except for a will to go for the win. That’s a shame because the defense has also improved.
Danielle Hunter looks like the player that terrorized quarterbacks two seasons ago, and the return of Everson Griffen gives him a viable partner on the edge. The Vikings have also gotten enough from their secondary, except for Bashaud Breeland, and Anthony Barr’s return should help shore up the defense’s tackling issues.
Even with Minnesota’s struggles against the run, they’ve done a great job at limiting the pass. Outside of a 400-yard day from Kyler Murray in the desert, the secondary has held its own and ranks sixth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric against the pass.
This creates an interesting path for the Vikings to win games. If Zimmer opts to open up the offense, he’ll force opposing defenses to throw their way back into games. With the defense performing well against the pass, teams could decide to run their way back into games, which feeds into Zimmer’s motivation to burn the clock and suffocate teams on the way to a victory.
It’s not an ideal way to win games, but it’s a way to get the job done. We’ve already seen what it can do during the Vikings’ best effort of the season. Now is the time to put it into action.