“The Vikings would like for a Super Bowl victory to come this season. And who knows, stranger things have happened. If the stars align just right, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Vikings are still playing in early February. ”
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We release three Minnesota Sports Ramble blogs a week, one on Tuesday (Minnesota Vikings related), one on Thursday (Minnesota Wild related), and one on Friday (Minnesota Timberwolves related).
For today's edition, Vikings analyst and podcast co-host Mike Coenen discusses the cost of turnovers in their loss to the Saints, a controversial article about Kirk Cousins, and their upcoming battle with the Detroit Lions.
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The Vikings lost to the Saints 30-20 on Sunday night. The big plays were Theilen’s costly fumble and Cousins’ interception returned for a touchdown (which was actually Diggs’ fault for not completing his route).
Vikings fans are pointing to this as the main reason for their loss. Do you buy this interpretation? Or were the Vikings more outplayed? Are the turnovers concerning to you?
As legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant always said, the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins the football game. Turnovers are the biggest mistake that an NFL team can make. And of course, depending on the timing and circumstance, some mistakes prove to be more costly than others. The Vikings made two big mistakes: the Thielen fumble and the Cousins pick six. And as it turned out, these two faux paus decided the game. Yes, sometimes the difference between winning and losing in the NFL can hinge on one or two plays.
On paper and on the field it was a game between two evenly matched teams. Both defenses kept the opposing team’s offense in check most of the night, despite the fact that 50 points were scored. Drew Brees had a very subpar game (18-23 for 127 yds with 1 TD and 1 INT). The Saints running game was only a little better (106 total yards). Despite these relatively meager offensive numbers, the Vikings still gave up 30 points. While the Brees interception would be relatively harmless, the Cousins interception would prove to be catastrophic, as would the Thielen fumble.
The Vikings weren’t necessarily outplayed. They simply made the most mistakes, and lost because of it, as Bud would attest to.
The Vikings had :30 and two timeouts at the end of the first half. Instead of trying to drive to get into field goal range, they ran out the clock. Was this the right decision? Sure, it would have been a little risky to try it, but I feel like the lack of a killer instinct is something of a sign of weakness.
Mike Zimmer was trying to avoid an even more catastrophic ending to the first half than what had already transpired. He did not want to risk having his quarterback throw an interception while playing desperate when the situation really did not warrant it. The Vikings were only down 17-13 at that point and would be receiving the second-half kick-off. Zimmer wanted to simply get his team into the locker room, regroup, and come out fresh.
As it turned out, this would not prove to be enough, however. I don’t second guess the decision to run out the clock though. A turnover would have been too harmful to the Vikings psyche at that point, and not worth the risk of trying to position themselves for a field goal, especially as shaky as the Vikings kicking game has been all year.
Any other takeaways from the game?
The Vikings offensive line is still bad, bordering on terrible. Kirk Cousins showed again that he is a very good pocket passer, but a sub-par quarterback when flushed from the pocket. The key to stopping the Vikings offense right now is to flush Cousins from the pocket, which the Saints made look pretty easy against the Vikings porous (great word! -ed) offensive line. The Vikings are good, but not great by any stretch of the imagination. They still have a shot at 10-5-1, which is now their best-case scenario.
Mike Freeman at Bleacher Report wrote a controversial article after the Saints game, claiming that Cousins is “already looking like an $84 million flop.” He cites the Saints winning on the road easily and Cousins not being able to step it up to give them a fight (“Cousins is paid the kind of money he's paid for moments like these. To stare down Drew Brees. To win a big game at home. To transform the season”) and his average play (“He made some good throws. As he always does. He made plenty of bad ones. As he always does. Somehow it all ends up even, and that's what the Vikings look like they have. An average, super-duper-expensive quarterback who wasn't worth the cash”).
What do you think of his analysis?
Anything short of a Super Bowl appearance during the 2018 season for the Minnesota Vikings is going to be considered a failed season, and the Kirk Cousins signing will subsequently be looked upon as a major blunder. Granted, Cousins’ price tag was too high to begin with, and most people believed that to be true long before he started getting his passes batted down on a regular basis.
The reality here is that, even though he’s making elite quarterback sums of money, Kirk Cousins is not Tom Brady, nor is he Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. But the Vikings knew this going in. The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins and paid him so much money because they felt they needed an upper echelon quarterback to get them to the next level. Kirk Cousins is an upper echelon quarterback. He’s a pro-bowl caliber quarterback, but not a Hall of Famer the likes of the aforementioned Brady, Rodger and Brees. And the Vikings had no allusions that he was.
That said, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the Vikings have a three year plan in place with Kirk Cousins. If he leads them to a Super Bowl victory in just one of his three years under contract, the Vikings organization will consider the price tag to have been worth it. Yes, they would like for that Super Bowl victory to come this season. And who knows, stranger things have happened. If the stars align just right, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Vikings are still playing in early February.
But more realistically speaking, the Vikings have a good, young nucleus of core players on both sides of the ball who will be under contract for the next 2-4 years. They did not sign Kirk Cousins exclusively for the 2018 season. They signed him with the hopes that he can lead them to the NFL’s Promised Land in at least one of the three years he is under contract. And for an NFL franchise that has never won a Super Bowl in its 58-year existence, one Super Bowl win sometime in the next three seasons would be a huge event, and well worth the $84 million dollars.
How do you feel about Zimmer’s cold, always annoyed attitude towards the media? Seeing as the media is the conduit between the coach/team and the fans, do you think he’s doing fans a disservice by always being so cryptic and angry and never giving any straightforward answers?
Every coach has their own style. I’m not a big fan of Zimmer’s seemingly quiet, reserved manner. I often wonder how he’s able to motivate an NFL team to go out and play hard each week. Most fans seem to be okay with his style, for now, because he wins more games than he loses.
However, I don’t think it will bode well for him if, and when, the Vikings have a down year and lose games on a regular basis. I think his aloofness will rub fans, players, and management alike the wrong way, making it easier to dismiss the soft-spoken coach.
The Lions are a strange team - they’ve beaten the Patriots and the Packers but lost to the Jets and the Seahawks. The Vikings have also been inconsistent this year. What is your prediction for their matchup on Sunday?
The Lions are indeed a strange team. They are definitely better at home than on the road, as most teams are, but they have historically played the Vikings tough in their domed stadiums. The Lions have defeated the Viking three out of the last four games played in Minnesota, so home field will offer no guarantees for the Vikings on Sunday. I do think the Vikings are the better team, and will be playing with more urgency than will the Lions. I see a high scoring game with the Lions hanging around until the end. Vikings win 38-31 in a high-flying shootout.
Mike Coenen is a writer, historian, professor, and author from Little Falls, Minnesota. He is the Vikings analyst for Rambling On and is the co-host of the Minnesota Sports Ramble podcast. Since 2016 he has been creating content for Rambling On as sports analyst and podcast co-host.