The beginning of the season for the Minnesota Vikings has been a mixture of emotions. A team that is expected to be a serious contender for the Super Bowl won their opener, then played to a...thrilling?...tie at Green Bay, then lost two in a row. Pessimism was awash over the land, and it felt like the season was teetering on the brink of disaster. The Vikings vaunted defense was bad, the running game was worse, they cut their kicker, and the offensive line was still maddening.
But like a heavyweight boxer who was staggered after an early shot to the jaw, they steadied themselves, squared up, and started punching again. They won a game no one really thought they would or should, and against Arizona they threw some haymakers and finally found a running game. Latavius Murray, long may you run. Right, Mr. Young?
We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run
Long may you run
Long may you run
Although these changes have come
With your chrome heart shining in the sun
Long may you run
The SMR that won’t have any blocked passes follows.
Latavius Murray, RB: Up until yesterday, the Vikings had the worst running game in the NFL, or close to it. They had no rushing touchdowns, and no one had come close to sniffing a 100 yard game. Murray changed the narrative of the Vikings running game yesterday by rushing for a career high 155 yards on 24 carries, and also had a touchdown. His previous best had been a 139 yard effort back in 2015 when he was with the Raiders, and it was one of the more dominant running performances in recent Vikings memory. The Cardinals are next to last in rush defense, so the Vikings should have been able to run the ball well, but for a team that couldn’t move the ball on the ground if they had a platoon of tanks leading the way up until this point, it was a very encouraging day.
Adam Thielen, WR: Ho hum, another day another 100+ yards and a TD for Thielen. Hey, do you remember when we were worried about the chemistry between Kirk Cousins and Thielen? HAHAHAHA were those good times or what? Thielen is making the remarkable look routine, and with a QB like Cousins throwing him the ball, his game has elevated to another level. Every game he goes over 100 yards to begin the season sets a new NFL record, and the only other player in the NFL who runs routes as well as Thielen is split out opposite Thielen, Stefon Diggs. I keep reading about Thielen being a ‘top five’ WR and lol okay whatever because kids, he’s the top WR in the NFL. Full stop.
I mean, it’s what we would expect from a first round draft pi—what’s that? He wasn’t a first round pick? HE WASN’T EVEN DRAFTED? HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS?
Next thing you’ll tell me is that he’s from Minnes—shut the front door REALLY?
Danielle Hunter, DE: When Everson Griffen’s issues surfaced (get well soon, big man), the Vikings desperately needed someone to step up and fill Griff’s shoes. Hunter has done that, and is mimicking Griff’s start to last season. Hunter now has at least one sack in every game, and is a disruptive force off the edge. After Mike Zimmer’s encouraging words about Griffen coming back sooner than we expect, the duo of Griff and Hunter off the edge for the second half of the season could be utterly terrifying for opposing offenses.
Dan Bailey, K: Made all three extra points, you say? AND made both field goals? Look, the bar here is low for kickers at the SMR, so don’t judge me harshly for giving a blue chip stock to a guy that did his job. Maybe I’ll quit inflating a kickers performance when I can finally watch an extra point or field goal as opposed to looking away or going to the kitchen for a beer.
Anthony Harris, S: George Iloka started over Harris, and Iloka wasn’t bad, but when Harris was in he made plays. he had the Vikings lone interception on a nice read and anticipation of where Arizona QB Josh Rosen was throwing the ball, broke up a couple of passes, and really stood out on a day when Harrison Smith was up (big sack on Josh Rosen near the Cards goal line) and down (got turned around on a big completion that he should have made a play on early in the game).
Laquon Treadwell, WR: Treadwell had the first two catches of the game for the Vikes offense, and he’s finally starting to become a reliable option. I don’t know what the future holds for him when his contract expires, and I think the days of him being considered WR1 material have passed, at least with this team, but solid production out of the WR3 spot only makes this offense better. And Treadwell did that yesterday.
Brian O’Neill, RT: For all the issues on the offensive line yesterday, O’Neill didn’t seem to be one of them. When pressure got to Cousins, it came from the interior (Mike Remmers, Tom Compton), or the left side (Rashod Hill). O’Neill seems to be working out well so far, and based on how he played yesterday compared to Rashod Hill, I feel O’Neill should be the starting RT when Riley Reiff returns from injury.
Mackensie Alexander, CB: Mac had a good game yesterday. He was on Larry Fitzgerald a fair amount, and acquitted himself well. He had two pass break ups, which tied Harris for the lead, and really seemed to step up and play well after Mike Hughes went out with an injury.
Anthony Barr, LB: Barr is either improving, or the Vikings are no longer scheming him to a personnel disadvantage, like they did against the Rams. I thought he had a solid game yesterday, in terms of assignment and gap discipline. He didn’t really make any stand out plays, but Barr did what he does best—set the defense, play his assignment and gap, and generally kept the Cardinals offense from making a big play.
Mike Remmers, G. Mike Remmers was getting beat early and often yesterday in pass protection. Still not sure why the Vikings took their best tackle from 2017 and moved him to guard, where his performance has dropped noticeably. And it was mostly poor again yesterday.
Rashod Hill, T. Last week in the SMR covering the Eagles game, I wrote that after Riley Reiff went out with an injury, Hill looked decent when he switched to the left side, O’Neill acquitted himself well on the right side, and that the line play seemed to stabilize and do okay. Yeah, that didn’t happen yesterday. Rashod Hill was awful, from the first snap until the end, for the most part. True, he was facing Chandler Jones, but Hill never seemed to get the upper hand.
Buy: The Kirk Cousins Dead Arm TD dance. The Vikings offense has become very creative with the TD celebrations over the last couple years. This wasn’t on par with Leap Frog or Duck Duck
Goose Grey Gray Duck, but when I was finally able to watch the game last night I chuckled. Why? Because Kirk Cousins is literally transforming into everyone’s Dad right in front of our eyes. That was the ultimate ‘imma embarrass my kids at the junior high winter festival dance’ dance, and I’m quite certain that by season’s end his game uniform will consist of cargo shorts, flip flops, and black socks. And we will celebrate that, damn it, while we are looking up the hot new yard care products for the coming Spring!
Sell: The Kirk Cousins Dead Arm Interception. The Vikes had a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, and Minnesota was facing third and one from their own 40. A first down here really gets them moving towards the Cardinals side of the field and sets them up for some more points. The running game had been effective, but the Vikes called a pass, which seemed odd, but whatever...and Cousins did...something. I don’t know if it was a route miscommunication, a bad overthrow, or a half hearted attempt to throw the ball away, but it was a really brutal pick that set the Cardinals up in Vikings territory, and gave them momentum and hope. Just a terrible sequence.
Buy: The goal line stand of the defense in the second quarter. HOWEVAH, the Vikings defense rose up when they had to. For the second time this season, they had an inspired goal line stand, and they stuffed David Johnson on fourth down. It kept the score at 10-3, and turned out to be an even bigger moment when the Cardinals defense scored a couple drives later. Instead of that fumble/scoop/score tying the game at 10-10, it would have been a 17-10 Cardinals lead, and it changes the whole feel of the game.
And just an aside, but this game really felt like we were watching the Vikings defense of last year. They only gave up 10 points, harassed Josh Rosen all day, and Arizona didn’t do much of anything running the ball. Maybe I should have given them a blue chip as an overall unit, but these last couple games seeing the defense rebound and play to their potential. Heck of a turn around, and I hope it continues.
Sell: The two minute drive of the offense to end the first half. I like John DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator. He’s had his ups (unleashing the Cousins Kracken late in Green Bay) and downs (abandoning the run like an absentee father), but overall he’s called really good games against the Eagles and the Cardinals. Seriously kids, what is it about the Vikings and an inability to execute a two minute drive? This one actually started off well, with the Vikes beginning at their own 34, with 1:20 left and no timeouts. A field goal seemed doable, but back to back 17 yard completions to Thielen and Kyle Rudolph put the Vikings on the Arizona 25 with 20 seconds left. They had a legitimate chance to take at least one, if not two shots at the end zone here and really go to the locker room with some momentum. But the Vikes shot themselves in the foot with a really dumb delay of game penalty, and then an incompletion to Thielen that was more of a WHAAAAAAAAAAAT than anything. They got points in the form of a 48 yard field goal from Dan Bailey, but it felt they had put themselves in position for a touchdown, and missed a good opportunity for six points there.
Buy: The throws Kirk Cousins makes under pressure. I’ve said this before, but every week Cousins makes throws that makes me rewind the DVR and ask how he did it. Usually, they’re just dimes to a receiver, or thrown in a window no wider than a coffee cup. But today, he made a couple throws under duress that were utterly remarkable. The ridiculous third and 12 to Thielen comes to mind, but he also made a nice throw to either Diggs or Treadwell for a first down that was right on the money, after his arm had been hit. His overall accuracy and ball placement is pretty impressive, but some of those money throws with guys hanging all over him? That’s a rare and special talent.
Sell: The fumbles and blocked passes. One thing that is becoming a concern is the fumbles Cousins has, though. He had 13 last year in Washington, and is up to six so far this season. He lost two against the Bills, lost one on a potential game tying drive against the Rams, and coughed up the scoop and score against Arizona yesterday. It kind of feels like the Vikings have hired Dave Krieg to be the Assistant Coach To Quarterback Ball Security, and they need to fire him. His pick yesterday was bad, but through six games bad throws have been very much an anomaly in his game. If there’s a chink in his armor, it’s holding on to the ball when he’s hit. Yes, we can demand more of the offensive line in terms of protection (Cousins has been sacked 17 times this year; last year the Vikes only gave up 27 all season), and yes, sometimes Granitejaw McDreamy’s internal clock seems to be off by a second or two and he should get rid of the ball faster, but when he’s hit it’s imperative that Cousins hold on to the football. It already has cost the Vikings at least one game, and had not the defense come up with a goal line stand, yesterday’s turnover and TD could have completely changed the complexion of this game.
No grandson quote this week, as we had family in town visiting and we didn’t get to watch the games together. We’ll see you next week.