When you’re only four games in to a 16 game schedule, obviously there’s a lot of football left to be played. 2-2 is definitely not the end of the world, and it’s still very possible that come the end of the season, the Minnesota Vikings will be a very good football team. All we have to do to prove that is go back to 2017. Back then, the Vikes stood at 2-2, and with the loss of the starting QB and dynamic rookie running back, they were staring down the barrel of a lost season.
Yet somehow, that team found a way to fix what ailed them, managed to go 12-1 for the remainder of the regular season, and advance to the NFC Championship. And the Vikings have the talent on the roster, as it’s constructed, to do just that.
After that ugly, ugly game to the Bears, the Vikings don’t feel like they’re sitting at 2-2, though, because yesterday’s loss felt different. The Vikings were outclassed by Chicago on both sides of the ball, for most of the game, and instead of competing for the division title, it feels like the Vikings are playing closer to a team that is not even going to make the playoffs. After spending the better part of two off-seasons to try and fix the same recurring problems, those problems are still there.
There are still massive questions at quarterback and offensive line, and that is baffling to me.
And at this point, I honestly don’t know what the answers are.
The Vikings tried to solve their QB problem by signing Kirk Cousins to an $84 million contract last year. They also signed Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to $81 million and $64 million contract extensions respectively. How’s that working out so far?
Kirk Cousins: 3 years, $84M— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) September 30, 2019
Stefon Diggs: 5 years, $81M
Adam Thielen: 4 years, $64M
Vikings: 31st in passing yards per game, 32nd in passing first downs per game
Honestly, if the Vikings were 3-1 or 4-0, this was a run centric offense with passes being made when they needed to be, I wouldn’t care. But passes aren’t being made when they need to be. Yes, the offensive line...AGAIN...still sucks. You could make a strong argument that the two Cousins fumbles weren’t all his fault, as the interior line got blown up on the first one before he could even set up, and Khalil Mack flat out embarrassed Riley Reiff on his strip sack to open the second half.
But that said, Cousins has had time to throw the ball downfield, and he isn’t, or he isn’t hitting them when he does. In a game like that those throws HAVE to be made, and made accurately. It’s not happening:
2nd Q, 13:07 - Cousins checks down to C.J. Ham in the flat for a 2 yard gain. Meanwhile he has Thielen on a go route and Diggs on a slant where the receivers were open and wouldn't have been impeded by the nearest defender. Cousins also had 3.5 seconds to throw on the play. https://t.co/mMCiRXCWoh— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) September 30, 2019
Another example. Cousins hits Ham for a 4 yard reception when Thielen is wide open about 20ish yards down field by the time he gets to the top of his route. Prob an example of the pressure getting to the QB. Cousins didn’t wait for Thielen’s route to develop. pic.twitter.com/x9gjnzcnpB— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) September 30, 2019
Brandy - "Almost Doesn't Count" (1998) pic.twitter.com/VcxySucH2l— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) September 30, 2019
You bring in Cousins to make those throws, not to add to the woes of a questionable offense, and not to check down to the fullback who ended up with two less targets than Adam Thielen on the day.
Thielen played 50 more snaps than Ham and ended up with two more targets, one less reception, and four fewer yards than his fullback. Seems less than ideal! https://t.co/yVuNDVvjsi— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) September 30, 2019
If you want to sit here and absolve Cousins of any blame at this point, you are blind. Yes, he has a sub-par offensive line in front of him, but he does not use his feet to create space and give himself time to throw. Complain all you want about this, and defend Cousins to Team Teddy and Team Case fans, but both of those guys could consistently climb the pocket, buy time, and make a throw when they were under pressure.
But is the o-line THAT awful?
Cousins' NextGen passing chart. Only four of his 36 passes went ten yards past the line of scrimmage. According to PFF, he was under pressure on 17 of his 42 drop backs. pic.twitter.com/oJyHWYnjwo— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) September 30, 2019
An interesting note from @ArifHasanNFL's latest story: Five of the Bears' six sacks yesterday came after Kirk Cousins had more than 2.5 seconds to throw. By NFL standards, Cousins did have time to get the ball out. https://t.co/lPZbJ5N6EA— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) September 30, 2019
Btw, it's not all the OL.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 30, 2019
Kirk Cousins has the highest average time to throw in the NFL through 4 weeks.
QBs control their pressure rate more than any other single variable, and Cousins is screwing himself.
Yes, it’s the o-line. But yes, it’s also the quarterback, Cousins truthers. Stop using the o-line as an excuse, because many times, it’s simply not true.
Can Cousins change this far into the season, and this far into his career, or is Cousins who he is at this point? It doesn’t matter, to be frank, because whether he can or not, the Vikings are attached to Cousins at the hip. They aren’t going to bench him, they aren’t going to trade him, and they aren’t going to release him, as his contract realistically prevents any of that from happening. I think that’s just a counterproductive conversation at this point, but if this continues I don’t see how Cousins is here after the 2020 season.
If you want to absolve the line of any of this at this point, though, you are just as blind. Cousins is under siege a lot, and yesterday a fair amount of plays were over before they even began.
Garrett Bradbury has allowed 13 total pressures in 4 games.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 30, 2019
Rodney Hudson allowed 5 total in 2018.
He's on course to allow 15 more than any C in football did last year.
Khalil Mack is a freak. Riley Reiff was called for a hold on this play, by the way...and he still got home. pic.twitter.com/Xhh3g0ihfV— Purple Post (@Purple_Post) September 30, 2019
Josh Kline was greatly missed yesterday. Dakota Dozier got abused by Nick Williams all afternoon. pic.twitter.com/HQW31Ec5GE— Purple Post (@Purple_Post) September 30, 2019
This is a team effort level of failure on offense, and unless something dramatic happens between now and the end of the season, what you saw yesterday is what the Vikings offense will be like against good teams that can effectively eliminate Dalvin Cook.
Oh, but I am far from finished, because let’s talk about the vaunted Vikings defense. Yes, they only gave up 16 points, and less than 300 yards of offense, but I am beyond stunned that on the two of the first three drives that the Bears had in the game, they would give up a 14 play, 75 yard scoring drive and then a 16 play, 72 yard scoring drive to end the half. Those two drives ate up one entire quarter of play, and although the drive the Bears had sandwiched between the two scoring drives ended up in a punt, it was still a 10 play drive that ate up six more minutes of the game clock. The Vikings offense had two, count ‘em two, offensive drives in the first half, and they were down 10-0.
Yes, the defense woke up after halftime, but I want to know why can they start hot at home, yet struggle to find themselves on the road, against a freaking backup quarterback, no less, who can run 40 plays and eat up 20 minutes when they KNOW the offense is probably going to have a hard time getting untracked? By the end of the third quarter, the Bears had outgained the Vikings 249 to 64 yards.
Part of that answer lies in the coaching. In his post-game press conference, Mike Zimmer himself conceded he probably called a lot of wrong plays that ended up in soft coverage with no pressure early one. But one of the more baffling coaching snafus I’ve seen in awhile was right before the two minute warning. The Bears had a fourth and three at the Minnesota 34, right on the ragged edge of field goal range. The Bears set up to punt, but Zimmer called a timeout with 2:02 left. During the timeout the Bears reconsidered, decided to go for it, and converted. The drive ended with a field goal as the half ended and a 10-0 lead for the Bears.
The reasoning given for the timeout? Replay looked like the Vikes would have had a 12 men in the huddle penalty called on them as they were switching personnel out, but other folks disputed that and said the Vikings thought the Bears might try a fake punt, so Minnesota was preparing for that possibility. In the ensuing confusion Minnesota called timeout...but if you look at the lack of urgency from Chicago before the timeout, it looked like they were more than willing to take a delay of game penalty to back up five yards and give their punter a better opportunity to pin the Vikings deep.
Either way, whether it would have been a penalty or the Vikings were deciding whether or not they needed to try and defend a fake, they failed to get properly set up, and that, kids, is a coaching issue and a lack of preparation and execution. How did Zimmer address it in the post-game press conference?
“That was a bad mistake. That’s my fault.”
Oh, cool. Awesome. A head coach six years in shouldn’t be making crucial mistakes like that, nor should he be getting outcoached in two divisional games against guys that have less than half the head coaching time combined than he does.
I am NOT advocating for firing Mike Zimmer, but if this team fails to make the playoffs for the second year in a row after having a roster this loaded, there will be blood in the water for Zimmer, Rick Spielman, and half the roster.
There are different levels of 2-2, and this feels a lot closer to a 2-2 that can spiral out of control before you can stop it than a 2-2 that has a team figuring things out, getting better, and are poised to go on a run. We’ll find out which 2-2 this is soon enough.
Thank you for listening to my TED Talk.