If I offered you a deal, Sunday morning, in which the Vikings would be top of the NFC North by midnight, would you have taken it or taken your chances?
Yeah, me too.
We can take our delight in three things:
1. Knowing our team better (really).
2. Some excellent individual performances by Vikings.
3. We lost, but we lost with honor in OT, due to referee robbery, while the Packers were utterly humiliated, in much greater need of bravery than the lion of Oz and in much greater need of heart than the tin man of Oz.
Little known fact: More than half of all homeless men appear less depressed than Aaron Rodgers. More than two thirds look less homeless than Rodgers.
Kirk Cousins: With the nightmare of the OL his performance was incredible. If it was Rodgers or Brady they'd be writing odes and singing campfire songs about his performance for the next two decades. An excellent rating, a couple of 4th down conversions, no turnovers despite no protection, a great completion %, multiple TDs. Quietly amazing.
Meanwhile, NFL.com summarized the game only including Vikings commentary as this is why they call him Captain Checkdown. A) No one calls him that. B) He averaged 7.2 per throw which is neither good nor bad. C) He was told to throw quick and short as per Zim and Zim was right to have him do so considering the turnstile OL. Dak Prescott, for comparison, lost his game and averaged 6.9 yards per attempt but they don't try to hang a new nickname, Captain Checkdown, on him, do they? Of course, he is with the darling, influential, rich Cowboys while the Vikings are getting actively screwed by the refs.
Dalvin Cook: His stats were not amazing but everything he did he did on his own. It was like Cook vs. 11 defenders with almost no help. *Odd observation: Cook's 1st four catches were each and all and every for 9 yards.
At least initially, it does appear like the younger Kubiak plans to use Cook more in the passing game. 6 catches! That is fantastic. Also, 5 more receptions by other RBs. We've almost neglected RB usage in the pass game, perhaps due to protection issues and I like this development.
CJ Ham: This was the worst game I've ever seen from Ham. Two False Start penalties! For a fullback! I don't think I've ever seen that, from one FB, in one game. Ever and I've watched hundreds of football games. Add in no runs and one of his two short catches a clumsy one in which he stepped out of bounds for 3 yards when he easily could have run for 8-10 yards. Just terrible. C'mon, team captain!
Justin Jefferson: Not bad. Had the longest catch of the day for the Vikings and, yes, that was obviously a TD and another example of refs trying to get the Vikings to lose. They moved a lot of coverage on him so JJ did his job just by being on the field. Also, he added an 11 yard completion with a 100% completion percentage! Still, 5 catches for 71 yards, prorated over a full year, if he stays healthy and at that level of productivity, would add up to 85 catches for 1,207 yards. + 187 yards passing! I'd take that if you offered it to me now. (I know, I know, I need to stop making these deals with the Devil. He just sounds so sincere!)
Adam Thielen: He was our #1 WR the entire time Stefon Diggs was here and you could argue he still is our #1 WR. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, "All he does it catch Touchdowns." Stupidest complaint in the history of the NFL. He is the modern Cris Carter. He is the Carter to Jefferson's Moss. Of course, all 4 are quite different from each other, as receivers, other than all of them being great WRs. Against the Bengals, Jefferson was targeted in coverage but we'll see on a game to game basis. When it was Thielen and Diggs, Thielen almost always got the opponent's best CB if they were a team that moved CBs. Jaire Alexander and Marshon Lattimore, etc., were always on Thielen. This was another gem by Thielen. 9 catches for 92 yards, 2 TDs, and drew one penalty at least from the defense. Pro-rate his stats across 17 games = 153 catches, 1,564 yards, 32 TDs. So, yeah, great game.
Tyler Conklin: I hated the false start. Did you know we had 6 False Start penalties? In one game! Conklin was one/sixth of that. He also had 4 catches including a 27 yarder. Not bad.
KJ Osborn: This was it. This was Osborn's breakout game. This is the game that proved the preseason hype was entirely accurate. He did have a false start, but he caught 7 of 9 for 76 yards. More catches and more yards than Jefferson but with less time on the field. EXTREMELY impressive. We have a 3rd WR finally! I think one worthy of #2 on many teams and possibly Thielen's heir in a number of years. He had some real quality catches too. Converting that 3rd and 25 with a 27 yarder that included moves, missed tackles, and a vault for yardage? Fantastic! Almost even better was the tightly covered slant in traffic on 4th down to convert it. That was a big time money play, shows how much trust he's earned, and I also commend Kirk for going to him with a perfect pass, trusting him to make a hard catch. Last year, our 11th man was the 2nd TE. This year, it is Osborn in my opinion. I'd much rather have Osborn on the field than another TE or Ham. (Depending on game situation, too)
THE OFFENSIVE OFFENSIVE LINE:
(NOTE: I track and count all called penalties and still count them fully against a player if the opposing team declines them.)
Brian O'Neill: Two penalties. Darn it!
Rashod Hill: Three penalties! Three! And allowed half a sack! Chandler Jones is going to DESTROY him this week. A new single game sack record may be in the works.
Garrett Bradbury: Two holding penalties, half a sack allowed, and no movement in the run game. Facing average DTs. Believe it or not, this still only made him our 3rd worst OL!
Oli Udoh: Two penalties. Darn it!
Ezra Cleveland: A holding penalty and two full sacks entirely given up by Ezra only. Ezra Only sounds like a good name for a band, perhaps a band formed of the children of the band members from Better Than Ezra. Ezra looks like a mess as an LG. He made last year's Dakota Dozier look like this year's Ezra Cleveland. Against average to below DTs! Of all the players, all of them, offense or defense, Ezra was the biggest disappointment. People are moaning about Bradbury, as they should, but keep in mind that Cleveland was worse.
DJ Wonnum: 3 Hurries and a nice pass coverage on a screen pass. Not much effect on the game but not invisible either. Of course, he partially owns a porous Run D.
Dalvin Tomlinson: 2 Hurries, a tackle on the line, and an assisted tackle behind the line. 4 total tackles. Not too shabby but not premiere either, especially considering the Bengals poor IOL.
Michael Pierce: I have a new favorite player, joining Osborn on the newbie list, and players like Thielen, Smith, Kendricks, Hunter, and O'Neill on the main list. 7 tackles for a NT is incredible. Even more incredible were the two sacks. Those were not sloppy clean-up sacks either. They were pure earned sacks he personally achieved. He also had a Hurry, and a nice pass coverage (incredibly). He did have a false start. One of his tackles was on the line and two others were behind the line (not counting the sacks). Also, on the 4th down and 1/2 inch play they had to run to the outside shoulder of the OT due to him and that led to our takeover on downs. Watching a great big, bigger than anyone yet short, looking fat yet super athletic Defensive Tackle is one of life's great delights.
Danielle Hunter: I'm happy to have him back but it looked for most the game like the training camp hype was a false narrative. He was abused in the run game and got no push in the pass rush. Maybe he was just adjusting. I don't know. He suddenly turned it on in the 4th and OT and got a sack, 6 tackles, a Hurry, and was in on 3 different tackles on or near the line of scrimmage. Still, this was not the Hunter of 2018-2019. I am concerned. If he plays the way he did late in the game, no problem, he is all they say. But if he plays the way he did those first three quarters? Below average. I'm not predicting anything, we'll see.
Everson Griffen: If I told you before the game we would have 6 False Starts and none of them were by Griffen, would you have believed either half of that statement? Griffen had 4 Hurries. No sacks but he had four times as many hurries as Hunter. That puts both player's performances in perspective.
Eric Kendricks: A disappointing showing. Run D failure must include Kendricks. He should be better with Tomlinson and Pierce, not worse. So far, he is worse. I'm not worried about it, I'm pretty sure this is an outlier but he had a bad game. I don't care that he was in on 15 tackles. I'd prefer 4 tackles with under 80 rush yards.
Nick Vigil: I did not understand the Vikings focus on him in free agency. Day 1 they were targeting him, attention-wise if not money-wise, just as much as Tomlinson. Now? I get it! Zimmer is right. Vigil is like a in-his-prime Chad Greenway. A fantastic signing, a steal. He had a Sack, 2 Tackles for Loss, 10 total tackles, a good coverage, and was the primary tackler on the 4th down stop.
Harrison Smith: Same as he ever was. That's a big compliment. (Nice sack, man!)
Xavier Woods: A few coverage issues but a brilliant hard hit on that Pass Defense.
Bashaud Breeland: A huge disappointment. This better not be the way he's going to be. Terrible penalties and awful blown coverages. He did do some hard hitting and some good coverages as well and was strong int he run game but we cannot suffer this kind of performance more than once a year. If he plays like this next week, he needs to be benched.
Patrick Peterson: Spooky quiet with only a single tackle. Just never targeted. That should be good but, then again, maybe Breeland was just even more tempting.
Mackensie Alexander: He had two Pass Defenses and one of them should have been an INT. If he'd made that INT, it would have been minus one TD for the Bengals and we'd have won the game. Change that one play and we win the game by 7. Frustrating.
The game was not nearly as bad of a performance as it felt like or as it is made out to be by the pundits. We self-destructed much more than we were beaten. Cut the penalties down to average and we also would have won. Or if we'd had fair refs. This was a close one, obviously, with OT, on a hot day on a grass field, at another team's home stadium.
I want us to go 3-1 vs. the AFC North and I think we can still do it. We can beat the Browns and Steelers at home and the Ravens might be vulnerable even though we travel to them.
We can get back on track if we find a way to beat the Cardinals Sunday. Most pundits and fans foresaw us beating the Bengals and losing to the Cardinals, starting the season 1-1. We can still start the season 1-1.