After another turnover-ridden loss to the Bears where the Minnesota Vikings offense took three full quarters to put three points on the board, the team is 5-4-1 heading into a tough three-game stretch.
With 8:38 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, the Minnesota Vikings offense faced a first and ten at their own 11-yard line. Down 14-8, there was a world of time to win what had been a tough game in Chicago.
Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins takes the snap, moves right from a narrowing pocket, and with a clear field in front of him and ace receiver Adam Thielen facing single coverage by a Bear linebacker five yards away, decides to force the football into zone coverage around wide-out Laquon Treadwell.
It is a poor decision and more poorly thrown ball.
One of the three Chicago Bear defenders around Treadwell, safety Eddie Jackson, intercepts the errant pass and sprints, untouched, 27 yards into the Viking end zone.
After the Bears convert the two-point conversion, the score is Chicago 22, Minnesota 8.
Like the New Orleans Saints game two weeks ago, the pick-6 thrown by Cousins is a game clincher. Two crucial games, two crucial mistakes, two crucial losses.
What’s going on here? Cousins is misreading defenses and his own receivers. He’s buckling under pressure to the tune of three season losses that can be put squarely on his shoulders. He’s making simple mistakes–mistakes like not seeing the open field in front of him for quick first down runs and failing to check out of plays that are obvious losers.
In front of the press conference press, Cousins is repeating himself, saying things in the nuance of “playing better”, and “making better decisions”, but since his complete meltdown against the lowly Buffalo Bills at U.S. Bank Stadium where he fumbled the ball away twice, threw an interception and only managed to score a cosmetic touchdown in the game’s last three minutes, he now has eight fumbles and seven interceptions for 2018.
Before Sunday night’s game, Cousins told the press with some sincerity that he was going to make avoiding turnovers against Chicago his top priority.
He then proceeded to throw two picks in the game and watch another easy one dropped by a Bear defender.
True enough, there is solid blame to share in this loss. You can start with the first half defense. Mike Zimmer took two weeks to look this perplexed by Matt Nagy’s misdirection plays and Mitch Trubisky’s runs through the pocket? Even with Anthony Harris‘ two interceptions, the Vikings were playing catch-up all game long.
But an offense can’t catch up when it’s offensive line is so dominated that Vikings’ running backs average 1.3 yards on 13 carries, and it’s leader–in position to make it a game–throws it away.
When the 2018 season started, I was of the mind that it might take a full season to put a championship package together in Minnesota. A new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, it just didn’t seem correct. But with a 13-3 season behind them, Dalvin Cook scheduled to return, and the league’s number one defense in tow, I can see where hopes and prognostications were high.
But the sudden death of offensive line coach Tony Sparano is not to be underestimated in these precarious times for Minnesota. The Vikings’ offensive line is not adjusting in the game like it did last year and defensive coaches have plenty of film now to see what the Vikings, with their limited line talent, are trying to do.
Here’s the problem. It’s not going to get better. Randall McDaniel and Gary Zimmerman aren’t coming to save us. The plan against playing the Minnesota Vikings is going to be similar to the plan opponents designed in 2016, when the Vikings’ line was the worst in the history of the team.
Stunt, blitz, and find the mismatches. They are certainly there. It will take a significant tank of thought by offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to play away from the Vikings’ weaknesses.
But more essentially, if the Vikings are going to get a crack at the 2018 playoff tournament–where anything can always happen–their leader will need to stop giving wins away and return to playing with confidence and precision.
If he doesn’t, it will be a very long season for him, his coaches, and most especially, a nervous Rick Spielman, who most likely tied his future with the Vikings’ franchise to Kirk Cousins on a massive, guaranteed contract.