This year, the Vikings will be getting more tricks, and less treats, after the absolutely brutal news of QB Kirk Cousins’ achilles injury suffered Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
It’s horrendous timing for Minnesota and Cousins, who had just miraculously climbed out of a 1-4 hole to regain a .500 record. Cousins was perhaps the largest part of that effort, balling out to an immense tune of 79/107 (73%), 5 TDs, 1 INT, 833 yards, and 107.6 passer rating.
Now, the Vikings have just over half a season to complete with 5th round draft pick Jaren Hall, who was tasked with just not losing the game two days ago in Green Bay after coming in with a 14 point lead.
Hall did bring it home, but in being absolutely thrown to the wolves at Lambeau Field like that, Hall looked like he was hanging on for dear life and was sacked once in 11 snaps.
His limited appearance signified that everyone else on this team will need to step up (or continue stepping up) in a massive way if this team is to have any shot at competing for the rest of the season.
At least on that front, there is *some* good developments to report.
Simply put, Jordan Addison has emerged as one of the top rookies in all of football, regardless of position, over the last two games.
All signs are pointing to this being another massive hit for Minnesota’s WR drafting history with Addison going for 5 TDs, 205 yards, an average of 14.6 yards/reception, and 14 catches on 18 targets over his last two games. Yes, some of that is a function of Cousins, but even more is that the rookie has heart, best exemplified in his takeaway touchdown just before halftime against the 49ers.
With the mercurial Justin Jefferson hopeful to come back from IR in the next few weeks, the Vikings will have likely the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, only really competing with the Miami Dolphins for that honor.
While the Jaren Hall experience is here much sooner than the Vikings and Hall expected, at least he will have help when it comes to his targets, as well as one other important aspect of the QB game...
The Offensive Line
Minnesota’s offensive line, long derided after a lackluster start to the 2023 campaign, is now looking to be living up to it’s PFF statistical designation as one of the top units of the leauge.
After a less than ideal but winning performance in Chicago, the offensive line, like Addison, had its breakout game against the San Fransisco 49ers in week 7.
In that contest it allowed Cousins to drop back an astounding 45 times with Cousins not getting sacked once (yes, Cousins deserves some of the credit here) against one of the top defensive lines in the league. Cousins was sacked just once in Green Bay before his injury.
The line was seemingly taken to another level with the addition of Dalton Risner, who has played 100% of the snaps over the last two games and looked extremely solid after quickly learning the playbook. Ed Ingram’s name is popping up less for bad reasons and more for good ones.
Christian Darrisaw was rated by PFF as the top lineman in the league after the 49ers game, and Brian O’Neill was ranked 2nd among right tackles in that same metric.
At least for the interim, Hall will present a more mobile option at QB than Cousins. While he does not have the arm that Cousins does, hopefully Hall will have a similar luxury of time while possessing a solid ability to escape pressure - once he gets up to NFL speed.
The Remaining Schedule
Hall will also likely be coming into the Sunday matchup with the Falcons after the brunt of Minnesota’s schedule has passed. By far, the Vikings had their toughest stretch of the season in weeks 2 through 7.
Caveat: This is the NFL we’re talking about, and league parity seems to be trending upwards, especially as the season has gotten to its midway point. Also, 5 of the 9 remaining contests are on the road.
On the face of it, the most imposing matchups that remain are the Week 15 matchup @ Cincinnati and the Week 16 and 18 contests against Detroit. I’m not saying any matchups are to be overlooked, but KOC has to be thankful that games like the Falcons, Bears, and Raiders are coming up.
The toughest defenses yet to be faced are by far the Lions, and to a little bit lesser extent the Bengals. Crucially though, these games come in the final 5 weeks of the season where Hall (or whoever is under center) has had the time to get fully caught up to speed AND are after the now extra important bye week.
None of these games are going to be cakewalks, but most of these games are more easily approached than playing the Chiefs and 49ers in a three week span with a backup QB. Only 2 of the 8 remaining teams left on the schedule currently have a record above 500.
In addition, Hall will have a much easier time next Sunday in Atlanta without the Falcons’ 2-time pro bowl pass rusher Grady Jarrett, who is out for the season after tearing his ACL last week.
Honorable mentions: The Defense, Danielle Hunter, Cam Akers, and TJ Hockenson.