Its Big Thing To See
In, Vikings vs. Rams, Rams have four receiving TDs in the first half vs. Vikings. Cowboys have three receiving TDs in the last six regular season games, and one was a shovel pass.
In what might end up as the biggest upset of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills, 16.5-point underdogs, went to Minnesota this past weekend and beat the Vikings. And they didn’t just beat the Vikings, they dominated them. They forced turnovers and ran the ball well. They allowed Josh Allen — Josh Allen! — to get loose out of the pocket. On defense, they got after the Vikings and didn’t allow for much of anything.
Let’s put the spotlight on the Vikings offense, the offensive line in particular. A lot will be made about their poor performance on Sunday, as it should be. The Vikings were playing against a Bills team that allowed 78 points in the first two weeks of the season. This is the same Buffalo team that, two weeks ago, had a player retire at halftime. The Vikings couldn’t score on them.
This seems like a real problem, right. But I’ve watched all three Vikings games so far and I’m here to tell you …
As that Wisconsin guy once said: “RELAX!”
When the Vikings landed Kirk Cousins, it was a big upgrade from Case Keenum. The Vikings franchise and fans had every right to be pumped for the season. They returned one of the most talented rosters in the NFL and added a franchise quarterback. Optimism was sky high.
But … there was that offensive line. Because of injuries, it was considered the only weak point for this team.
In Week 1, the Vikings dominated the upstart 49ers, forcing turnovers and making life tough for Jimmy Garoppolo. Cousins played a solid game and they rushed for 116 yards in Dalvin Cook’s first game back from his injury last season. It was a good start to the season against a big, physical defensive line.
Two weeks ago they headed to Green Bay to face a banged up Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. That game ended in a tie. Cousins engineered an excellent game-tying drive that finished with an outstanding throw and catch. But the running game started to suffer. It only gained 57 yards between Cook and backup Latavius Murray. Watching the film, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. They only used those guys for 14 carries that day, and they averaged 4 yards a carry.
Pass protection wasn’t an issue in that game either. Cousins had time most of the game and when he didn’t, it wasn’t on the offensive line.
It was a poor performance, no doubt. Good teams usually have one clanker a season, and this might have been the one for the Vikings.
Also, credit the Bills here. Everyone, including myself, wrote them off. They went out and dominated that game. The Bills do have talent on their defense, including Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds and others. It’s not out of the question that they could play well.
So, yeah. One bad game. A Bills defense that has a few good players. But let’s dig deeper into this offensive line, and the Vikings’ offense in general.
Looking at the film, I was struck again how it wasn’t just one player getting burned but more of a collective failure. As I say often: It’s not all five guys at once. It’s a different player every play. That’s what leads to poor performances. If you have one subpar lineman, you can scheme around him. When everyone is taking turns struggling, things can get bad in a hurry.
Let’s give the Bills credit: Buffalo did an outstanding job of making things tough on the Vikings offensive line by moving around in the run game. They must have seen on film that the Vikings’ O-lineman don’t move and/or adjust as well other offensive lines, as seen here. The left side of the offensive line sees this movement, but the center gets beat. It also doesn’t help that the fullback has issues.
Things got bad enough that, eventually, starting center Brett Jones was replaced by Pat Elflein, the starter from last season who’s working his way back from injury. Things got better for the line after he entered the game.
It wasn’t just Jones who had a stinker though. Again, on days like this, it’s usually everyone taking a turn getting beaten. The line wasn’t awful for much of the day in pass protection, but with that being said, this is bad. You have your two highest paid lineman getting beat at the same time. Look, guys get beat often, but you’d hope it’s not the guys you paid the most, and not simultaneously.
Now, there are plenty of issues on offense from Sunday that weren’t the fault of the offensive line. A sack in the third quarter happened because a running back got beat.
Also I’m not willing to put the first Cousins fumble on the O-line. Yes, there’s a bit of pressure in his face, but he’s got Thielen directly in front of him. He’s got to pull the trigger and if he doesn’t, he’s got to run and protect the ball. Again, some pressure, but Cousins needs to made it work and step up.
And, lastly, look at this play from the first half on Sunday. When things aren’t going well, and you have the chance to make a play, you have to make the play. Here Cousins misses an open receiver for a long gain. You’ve got to hit these when things aren’t going well.
So in summary, well, let’s go with one of my favorite football quotes: “It’s never as bad and it’s never as good as you think.” This is fitting for the Vikings after three weeks. When you install a new offense, and especially with a new quarterback on a new team, it takes time to get rolling. Even with the loss to the Bills, Cousins is leading NFL quarterbacks in on-target passes with 115. He’s been a great fit in the offense and will continue to play well in Minnesota.
Rushing the ball must be improved. The Vikings only average 3.4 yards an attempt from their running backs and 54 total yards a game. They should get Dalvin Cook back this Thursday against the Rams, which should help. Plus, having center Pat Elfein back will be a big boost. It’s going to be a battle this Thursday against the Rams, but I still don’t see any concerns for the future of this Vikings offense going forward. Not everything goes wrong every game.
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