The Vikings did not suffer their first loss yesterday, but the tie in Green Bay was still deflating. It opened fans eyes to a lot of things regarding this team. And while there are still 14 games to go, certain aspects of the Vikings are starting to take shape.
Let’s draw a few of those conclusions now.
Kirk Cousins was worth every penny
The entire game, the only thing working for the Vikings was the passing attack. It was a sloppy game for the defense, special teams and running game, but even as the Vikings fell down 20-7, Cousins and the receivers kept the offense moving. They had the fate of the game placed squarely in their hands and they delivered, willing the Vikings to a second-half comeback. Cousins in particularly dazzled with a pair of jaw-dropping throws: one a 75-yard bomb to Stefon Diggs and the other a 22-yard touchdown strike to Adam Thielen through a virtually non-existent window.
Overall, Cousins completed 35 of 48 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw an interception, but he shoulders none of the blame. We will get into that later. But most importantly, on a day where the Vikings put everything on him (50 pass plays against 16 run plays), Cousins stood toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers and even outplayed him for much of the game.
Few teams can compete with Vikings’ weapons
Cousins was not alone, however. All four of his primary targets had themselves good games. Diggs and Thielen both went over 100 yards, Thielen doing it on 12 catches and a touchdown, Diggs on nine and two touchdowns. Kyle Rudolph added seven receptions for 72 yards, including several big grabs for first downs. And then there was Dalvin Cook. While the Vikings, again, struggled to run and essentially abandoned it in the second half, Cook consistently made defenders miss once he got the ball in his hands. All told, he finished with 13 touches for 90 yards, including a 24-yard catch that moved the Vikings into field goal range in overtime. Simply put, Cousins has a litany of options that few teams around the league can boast.
Don’t know how much more Treadwell we’ll be seeing
Laquon Treadwell had 21 catches through his first two seasons. Now here, in his third season, he is effectively a starter. In those two starts, he has seen 10 targets, four of which went for completions. Of the six incompletions, five have hit him in the hands, and three of those were indisputable drops. For reference, Torrey Smith has the worst drop rate from 2015 to 2017 at 16.82 percent. Treadwell is at 30 percent, and could conceivably be at 50 percent, depending on how you interpret the balls that hit his hands but were tougher catches.
The point is that the one thing Treadwell had to merit a first round pick, his hands, have proven to be a problem. Yesterday, as a perfect pass sailed through his mitts and went for an interception, those hands cost the Vikings a chance to win in regulation. As such, it would seem likely we will be seeing more of Stacy Coley (who also had a drop) and Brandon Zylstra in the coming weeks. Treadwell probably will not be cut; his guaranteed contract is too prohibitive for that. A trade could be possible, but his stock is as low as it could conceivably be right now. So the most likely outcome seems to be a benching.
Defense showing vulnerability
They only get dinged for 22 points officially, as one of the Packers’ touchdowns came via blocked punt. But even so, the defense was noticeably ineffective for a good chunk of the game. With Rodgers nursing a knee injury, it was imperative to put a lot of pressure on him from the start. The Vikings never really did that. Sure, they finished with four sacks, but as a whole, Rodgers had plenty of time to throw. Even when the Vikings blitzed, Rodgers made them pay. Either the Packer line picked up the blitz no problem or Rodgers simply found the receiver filling the spot vacated by the blitzer. Too often, Rodgers had five, six, seven seconds to scan the field and find wide open receivers. As a result, the defensive backfield seemed gassed at times, as they had to cover a talented receiving group for far too long.
Special teams miscues proving costly
Mike Priefer has been the Vikings’ special teams coordinator since 2011. In that time, the Vikings have consistently had one of the better coverage units in the NFL. They have also had three kickers with significant accuracy issues. And Sunday, you can add a badly botched punt blocking scheme that resulted in a Packers special teams touchdown. Given the circumstances of the game, four instances of poor special teams execution cannot simply be a windfall of circumstances. At least some of it has to fall on the coach. Plus, now with three kickers likely ushered out the door in as many seasons, we are starting to see a trend.
Kicker tryouts impending?
Drafting kickers is always risky business. But the Vikings did it. That happened and there is no going back on it. But now, as a Super Bowl contender, the Vikings have to evaluate the kicking situation not through the lens of future seasons, as Daniel Carlson‘s selection was, but with January and February. Carlson cannot be trusted to make big kicks; he missed three in a single game, a game with playoff implications. Chances are good that at the very least, Minnesota brings in some free agents to challenge for the kicking job. Most likely names include former Cowboy Dan Bailey, who is coming off his worst season, and the familiar face of Kai Forbath.
NFC North as competitive as we all thought it would be
Perhaps the greatest implication of them all. The NFC North could be a bloodbath this year. The season’s two most dramatic games have both taken place at Lambeau Field, last week’s 24-23 Packer win over Chicago and this week’s tie. All three teams atop the division seem dead even through two weeks. Expect an exciting race the rest of the way.