Thu, 09 Dec 2021

Monday Morning Mailbag: Assessing the Vikings Entering the Bye Week

Minnesota Vikings
18 Oct 2021, 20:37 GMT+10

Eric Smith

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One thing you have to say for this Vikings team is that there is no quit in them. However, if they continue to win with these last-second miracles, most of the fan base is going to have heart failure before the season is over. Great win, but it was in doubt until the last second!!

- Curt in Valdosta, Georgia

Curt speaks for all of us on this Monday morning. Man, what a draining game. And what a draining first six weeks of the season.

I almost had to double check the schedule to make sure that there are still 11 games left since it feels like we've played 11 already with the emotions, drama and sighs of relief so far this season.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his players let a little of that fatigue show after Sunday's wild win.

"I'm worn out," Zimmer said. Kirk Cousins said postgame that he was "spent," while Eric Kendricks said he was "exhausted with it."

Welcome to the 2021 Vikings, a team that looks like it won't get blown out in any game this season. But it's also a team that doesn't appear capable of blowing anyone out, either.

Zimmer on Sunday afternoon assessed his team after he was asked where he thought Minnesota stood at the bye.

"3-3. I mean, could we better? Yeah. Could we be worse? Yeah. We are where we are," Zimmer said. "But I like the resiliency of this team. They fight. I thought there were so many times we should have put the game away today, and we didn't do that.

"So, we still have to get where we get to the point where we get a team down, and we put them away," Zimmer added. "We didn't do that today. That's something we'll keep talking about, keep working on and trying to fix."

That quote is exactly who the Vikings are. There's a case to be made that Minnesota could be 5-1 if the outcome had been different in Cincinnati and Arizona. But there's also a case to be made that the Vikings could be 1-5 if back-to-back close wins against the Lions and Panthers had gone the other way.

To me, the bye week comes at a perfect time. The Vikings need a week to catch their breath and relax for a minute.

And, as Zimmer alluded to, hopefully they can figure out a way to eliminate the egregious mistakes that have popped up and allowed the Vikings to let other teams hang around of late.

That formula may have worked against a winless Lions and a Panthers team that was going nowhere on offense Sunday. But with the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers and Packers coming up (those teams are currently a combined 20-5 and all lead their respective divisions), the Vikings will likely need to clean up their game in order to survive a tough stretch.

Allowing a blocked punt for a score or fumbling away the ball late in the fourth quarter (both of which the Vikings have done in recent weeks), won't cut it against those contenders.

But for all their faults, give the Vikings credit for clawing back to 3-3 following an 0-2 start. Minnesota, which would be the seventh and final playoff seed if the season ended today, has now positioned itself to remain in that postseason race in the coming months.

Buckle up. If this team has proven anything so far, it's that the rest of this season is going to be one roller coaster of a ride.

While I'm happy with the win, I was completely emotionally drained once again. To be honest, it's frustrating to not yet have our high-powered offensive be more ... well, high powered! Having said that, Kirk Cousins has been awesome during "back-against-the-wall" situations at the end of the game. I was wondering if during those 2-minute (or 40-second) drills, Kirk has more freedom in calling the plays? If so, then I say give him more control during the game because he seems to operate more freely and has been quite effective. In addition, I'd be interested in knowing the percentage of audibles he calls [compared to] some of the other top performing QBs.

- Bernie in NYC

Bernie's email is an interesting one. There were times where Minnesota's offense was downright ugly in Carolina. And when the Vikings had 192 yards of offense at halftime, I would have probably agreed with Bernie's point.

But that group got its act together in the second half and overtime, compiling 379 yards in the final 35 minutes of play to put up 571 yards of total offense. 571! Believe it or not, that is actually the third-most offensive yards by the Vikings in one game ever.

And yes, Cousins played a key role yet again in a strong offensive performance. As Bernie alluded to, his 40-second drills at the end of regulation in back-to-back weeks have been masterful.

The one last week led to a game-winning field goal, and the drive Sunday put the Vikings in position to do it again. And while Greg Joseph's 47-yarder sailed wide right, Cousins wasn't fazed one bit.

He promptly led the Vikings 75 yards in nine plays for the game-winning touchdown, a 27-yard strike to K.J. Osborn. On those final two drives (and not counting his spike that goes down as an incompletion), Cousins completed nine of 10 passes for 80 yards and a score. That's about as clutch as you'll get.

And keep in mind that Cousins also had a key 16-yard scramble on the final drive in the fourth quarter, too. He evaded pressure and motored for a first down. Perhaps that play is a strip-sack a few years ago, but not now. Not with the way Cousins is playing, which is the best he ever has in Purple.

Zimmer said the turning point in regards to late-game situations might have come during the playoffs against New Orleans back in January of 2020.

"I think it's really come a long way. I don't know - you guys know all the stats on second-half comebacks or fourth-quarter comebacks and all that stuff, but I know that he's done an awful lot," Zimmer said. "Even since that New Orleans game down in the playoffs, he's done this continually now.

"I think that breeds a lot of confidence in him in some of the 2-minute drills. We talked about going some 2-minute during the game today, too," Zimmer added. "We weren't on the ball a couple times, and we didn't really go 2-minute. But he's been really successful at it."

So, Bernie, the answer to the latter part of your email lies within that answer. If Cousins continues to thrive in the 2-minute offense going forward, it would only make sense that the Vikings turn to that when there aren't just a few seconds or minutes left in a half.

It could lead to a more - to steal a word from Bernie - "high-powered" Minnesota offense in the final two-thirds of the season.

Another exciting game for sure, but not all look at it optimistically. The common thread I see from fans is that the Vikings play to lose, instead of taking control of the game. A lot of the accusations fall on the coaching staff. What is your take on this???

- Jeff in Littleton, Colorado

I won't go too long on this answer because it's been covered a bit in previous emails. A quick recap: Zimmer has historically preferred to run the ball and play good defense while touting his team as tough, smart and physical.

But if we go back to the quote he just gave above, perhaps that signals a shift or sorts in that approach? That's not to say the Vikings won't run the ball at all. I mean, Dalvin Cook casually ran for 140 yards and a score while not at 100 percent.

But with Cousins playing lights out and Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Osborn making up a productive trio, the Vikings have shown they are more than capable of airing it out.

Another group that also deserves kudos is the offensive line, which didn't allow a sack despite 48 pass attempts against a good Panthers defense.

That unit - Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Oliseameka Udoh and Brian O'Neill - could be the starting group for the foreseeable future if they continue to play like they did Sunday.

How hard is it to trade for a kicker? We had better find out. Why is that we can't put anyone away when it counts?

- Mike McGee in Belvidere, Illinois

I'd say it's pretty tough, especially given the fact that we're six weeks into the season and teams are likely set with who they have.

And Zimmer struck a supportive tone of Greg Joseph yet again Sunday, even if he did miss a pair of long field goals. It was a fairly windy day in Charlotte and Zimmer noted his kicker did the best in those tough situations.

Why not trade for Odell Beckham, Jr.? Kirk Cousins would know how to use him. It's a business and I love Adam, but his age and contract don't match.

- Warren W.

An interesting trade scenario from Warren, but another proposal I'll squash rather quickly.

The Browns are a run-first team, but they likely need Beckham if they want to go on a deep playoff run. There has been some trade chatter around him of late, but I don't think the Vikings are pleased with the way the passing game is taking shape.

And if you thought Thielen was slowing down anytime soon, Sunday proved you wrong once again. He was fantastic with 11 catches for 126 yards and a score. Teammates love his passion, and he's also a fan favorite, so getting rid of him for Beckham, who has 14 catches for 203 yards in four games this season, is a no-go for me.

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