Oh, what a difference one week can make in the NFL.
Remember how we all felt after Week 1? I wrote a piece last week singing effusive praise of Kevin O’Connell, Justin Jefferson, and this Vikings offense. Now that piece gets to stand as a grim reminder that things can flip just that quickly in the NFL.
Monday Night Football was an unmitigated disaster for the Minnesota Vikings.
It became clear early on that Minnesota’s defense was in over their heads. From coverage busts to passive play-calling, the team got embarrassed in the first half. Considering the adjustment to an entirely new defensive scheme, plus the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive firepower, perhaps we should’ve seen some of that coming. Maybe not 24 points before halftime, but I digress.
The offense’s total failure to respond was even more disappointing. O’Connell was an exciting hire who would finally be aggressive and keep attacking on offense. Last week, Minnesota attacked with a machete. This week, they used a butter knife.
Jefferson played an uneven game and was largely blanketed by Darius Slay. Kirk Cousins‘ play became plagued by indecisiveness and anxiety. The offensive line couldn’t hold a clean pocket as Cousins began frantically backpedaling into terrible throws.
But perhaps the most egregious error? This discombobulated offensive game plan couldn’t find a way to get two of its best playmakers opportunities when the game was on the line.
You know what made the Eagles so hard to defend? You never knew what was coming next. A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Quez Watkins worked together to put immense pressure on Minnesota’s secondary. Add in the rushing threat of Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ running back committee, and Ed Donatell was simply out of answers.
However, this Vikings roster has the skill-position talent to do the same. So why didn’t they?
In Cook’s case, the game script clearly fell away from him. Getting down so quickly made the Vikings pass-happy, and admittedly this was not Cook’s cleanest game in his limited opportunities. Still, the offense had no rhythm, and Minnesota never afforded Cook the chance to get in a rhythm.
But with multiple opportunities in the red zone, especially once it became clear that Cousins could no longer trust what he was seeing, ignoring Cook bordered on malpractice.
And then there’s Thielen, arguably the team’s best red-zone weapon, who felt like he saw fewer targets than Slay.
It wasn’t until late in the second half that the fanbase was given a friendly reminder Thielen was still on this team. Finally, he was allowed to do more than run clear-out routes for another forced ball to Jefferson.
Maybe I’m a prisoner of the moment. Last week Cook and Thielen were quiet too, and there were no gripes from fans thanks to Jefferson’s dominance. But the beauty of this offensive roster is supposed to be the variety of options. Yet, it felt like a one-trick pony on Monday night.
This is a big week upcoming for the offense. The Detroit Lions defense has been lackluster as a whole, but it has a burgeoning star pass rusher to contend with and a hot offense on the other side of the ball. While Ed Donatell takes a look in the mirror this week and figures out how to solve his own problems against Detroit, O’Connell needs to do some serious reevaluation as well.
Don’t stop going to Jefferson. He’s fantastic and is still a dynamic weapon on his worst night. But don’t forget the other studs on this roster. Play a little bully ball up front and get Cook in a rhythm, then watch the floodgates open for JJ downfield. Cousins needs to “quiet his mind” again after his frenetic performance, so let’s utilize some play action and make the defense respect it.
And then let’s remind the league that Thielen isn’t over the hill yet. Particularly on third down and in the red zone, let him be the safety blanket Cousins so desperately wants.
The Eagles showed the league the blueprint for how to use umbrella coverage against Jefferson. If they’re willing to pay that cost, then I say the Vikings send Thielen to collect.
If Vikings fans are talking about the big game Dalvin Cook or Adam Thielen had this time next week, I’ll bet it accompanies a win. And if Minnesota can prove they can utilize the variety of talent, it will only make everyone better. It’ll give Jefferson more openings, Cousins more comfort, and put the stress on the opposing defense.
This is a big week for the Minnesota Vikings. How they respond against a spunky Detroit squad will set the tone for the rest of the season. For those looking to believe in O’Connell’s offensive revolution, we need to see it utilize all of its playmakers and get back on track.