The Vikings look like a very balanced team right now, ranking 5th on offense and 11th on defense according to Football Outsiders DVOA. Their defense is loaded with stars, including Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, and Harrison Smith. Their offense is built around Gary Kubiak’s zone run scheme, a relative of the Shanahan scheme the Redskins faced last week. Early in the season the Vikings were extremely run heavy, but have recently balanced their attack with more passing. The threat of the run has really set up their play action passing game.
I asked Ted Glover of Daily Norseman five questions to better understand the state of the Vikings and what to look for in this game.
1. Similar to his time in DC, it seems Kirk Cousins has had somewhat of an up-and-down time with the Vikings. What do you think are the factors behind his good days and his bad days? If the decision had to be made right now, would you extend him at the market rate for QB ($34M / year or so)?
I think it’s a combination of a mental outlook, the offensive line, and playcalling. Until Cousins starts winning regularly against good teams in prime time, the ‘he wilts under pressure’ label won’t go away, so I don’t know that there’s anything more to address on that topic; I mean it is what it is at this point.
In the five wins, Minnesota has had a common theme--really good protection and o-line play in general, an elite running game, and very dynamic playcalling by OC Kevin Stefanski.
Last year, the offense was put on Cousins to deliver with a pass heavy attack that ignored the running the ball for large chunks of games, and it didn’t work. This year, Stefanski is doing a job that is nothing short of brilliant in calling plays that steer right into the strength of Cousins and the offense as a whole--heavy play action, roll outs, running Dalvin Cook to the perimeter, and the utilization of the entire playbook.
When he’s had a bad day, it’s because teams shut down what he’s good at, they have been able to bring heavy pressure, and the Vikings haven’t been able to adjust. For example, both Chicago and Green Bay were able to take away the play action roll out and rush Cousins, and the Bears eliminated the Vikings running game. During their three game winning streak, that hasn’t happened, so when it does happen again It’ll be interesting to see if the Vikings have come up with a way to overcome it.
As to the extension...I honestly don’t know. If it’s fully guaranteed again, no. Although the Vikings haven’t been hamstrung to the salary cap because of his deal, they don’t have nearly the wiggle room or flexibility that they could have, and next year some hard decisions are going to have to be made.
Cousins needs to play more like the last three weeks than he has the first 20 games before I can offer an enthusiastic “yes” to the question of an extension. He’s not a bad quarterback, but he’s not an elite one. He’s good, and that means he’s right in that gray area of paying him top dollar or not. Sometimes his performance makes me think ‘yeah, why not’, and then other times I’m convinced the Viings would be better off getting a QB in the first round and using the extra money to build around him. That’s a risky proposition, too, because if you whiff on a first round QB you set the team back 3-4 years, and we’ve seen that with both Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder.
2. In previous years under head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings defense has looked good most games, but completely fallen apart in others (most famously in the playoffs against the Eagles two years ago). This year, the defense has looked much more consistent, until giving up 30 points to the Lions last week. Why did the Vikings give up so many points to the Lions last week, and do you think it’s a fluke or an indication of the inconsistency of previous years?
Before the Lions game I had said to our friends from Pride of Detroit that their receivers matched up about as well as any receiver group would all year against the Vikings. Matthew Stafford is a good QB, and the Vikings weren’t able to generate a lot of pressure. Give a guy like Stafford time, and he’ll shred you. That’s exactly what happened. And collectively as a group, the Vikings secondary had a terrible day. There wasn’t one guy in what’s usually a really good position group that didn’t blow an assignment or miss a tackle, things that are fairly uncharacteristic of a Mike Zimmer defense.
I’d like to think that it was an anomaly--every team has a bad day at some point, and when it’s against an opponent that really matches up well these days happen. But it’s definitely something to monitor moving forward.
3. What do you think of Mike Zimmer as a head coach?
I like him. He came in and took what was literally the worst defense in the NFL and turned it into one of the best, year in and year out, since he’s been here.
He’s had to deal with a litany of issues that no other coach has had to deal with, and still found a way to win. Whether it was Adrian Peterson missing almost all of 2014, his first year, to nearly losing an eye and undergoing something like a dozen surgeries, to playing in a temporary stadium for two years, to another wide left in the playoffs, to losing what he thought was a franchise QB a week before the season began, to trading for another QB, to watching a third QB catch lightning in a bottle, to signing yet ANOTHER QB after 2017, to having to deal with a serious mental health issue with a star player in the middle of a season...Zimmer has run the gauntlet with this team, and he still wins a lot more games than he loses.
I think he was too stubborn early on with regards to running the ball this season, but has since embraced letting the offense do what they need to do to be successful. He’s an old school guy, he’s irascible and frustrating at times, but he’s a good coach, and I hope he’s the guy that can hoist the Lombardi Trophy for this franchise.
4. What is the Vikings’ offensive philosophy? How much of the credit for the offense’s success goes to Assistant Head Coach Gary Kubiak and how much goes to Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski?
Early this year, it was run first, run second, and hey let’s run some more. That got re-calibrated when the Bears embarrassed the Vikings in week four, and then the subsequent Adam Thielen post game comments, the Cousins apology, and the Stefon Diggs episode. I am convinced those three things led to a come to Jesus meeting within the locker room that cleared some dirty lingering air, and since that game this team has been a passing offense that sets up the run exceptionally well. They use play action so well that it forces a defense to try and defend both, they can’t, so things are open for either Cook or for Cousins to throw. It’s been a heck of a lot of fun to watch the last three weeks, that’s for sure.
5. If you were head coach of the Redskins, how would you gameplan for this matchup and what would you do to exploit weaknesses on the Vikings?
On defense, take away Minnesota’s play action roll out and make them pass, and bring a lot of pressure. When the Vikes offense has been slowed or stopped, it’s when either Dalvin Cook can’t get going, when the Vikings can’t effectively use their play action rollout, or both. That’s going to make the Vikings try to stretch the ball downfield, and one of Cousins’ favorite targets to do that, Adam Thielen, will probably not play due to a hamstring injury. Making the Vikings pass-heavy with no effective rollout option has made Cousins uncomfortable twice this year, and both times the Vikings lost.
On offense, pick on Xavier Rhodes. No, seriously. It sounds weird to say that, but the former shutdown corner has been anything but good to begin the season. He had a horrid game against Detroit last week, and until he can once again reliably cover his guy, opposing offenses are going to have opportunities there for some big plays.
Thanks again to Ted Glover for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Vikings.
As of right now, Vegas has the Vikings as 16 point favorites over the Redskins. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Vikings win by more than 16 points
Vikings win by 16 points or fewer
Redskins win outright
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 42 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
More than 42 total points are scored (both sides combined)
42 or fewer total points are scored (both sides combined)