Let’s Hit the Brakes on Praising the Vikings Offense

Over the first two months of the Vikings season, one of the universal Vikings fan pet peeves is a lack of aggresiveness. Last week, I discussed the differences in production for the scripted vs. non-scripted offense for the team. Just to recap, it wasn’t pretty. The Vikings essentially had one of the best offenses in the league for their first drive, and then it dropped to among the worst after that. Check out that article for a deeper dive into the reasoning behind that. This week, we’ll be discussing the team’s most recent win against the Chargers.

Flipping the Script

This weekend, things seemed to change for the Vikings. First off, they did not get off to a blisteringly fast start. In fact, they didn’t score on their opening drive for the first time since week 1 in Cincinnati. Kirk Cousins then lost a fumble via a strip sack by Joey Bosa on the second drive. Luckily, the defense also held the Chargers in check, so the game didn’t get out of hand.

After the slow start, the Vikings scored on four of their next six drives, completely flipping my argument from last week on its head. Or did it? As much as the Vikings were better on offense this week at being aggressive in key moments, there were a few where they continued to do the things we spent the first 9 weeks of the season tearing our hair out over.

Let’s look at the final drive that ended with Cousins kneeling out the clock. It’s easy to point to the deep ball to Justin Jefferson or the fourth down run by Dalvin Cook to officially seal the game and say “that’s the Vikings team we’ve been waiting for!” Except, in a lot of ways, it wasn’t that different. The Vikings played plenty of conservative football even on this drive.

For instance, after the first play of the drive was whistled dead for a holding penalty on Brian O’Neill, the Vikings next two plays were a dump-off pass to C.J. Ham on 1st & 20, then a run by Dalvin Cook on 2nd & 17. This sequence of plays would have been exactly what caused Vikings fans’ blood to boil in recent weeks, except on this occasion, Cook dragged Chargers defenders for 11 yards. This set up a manageable 3rd & 6, and Kirk Cousins laid this beautiful pass in Justin Jefferson’s waiting arms.

Of course immediately after this pass, Luke Stocker was flagged for a 15-yard face mask penalty. Just like the previous drive, the 1st & 25 play resulted in a dump off pass; this time to Tyler Conklin. To Minnesota’s credit though, the next two plays were both deep pass attempts, and the third down play to Adam Thielen put them just close enough to the markers to go for it.

This moment is where I’ll give Minnesota credit. A couple weeks ago, this seemed like a situation where the Vikings would have punted and relied on their defense to hold a lead. Instead, they put the ball in the hands of their best player, and Dalvin Cook converted the 4th & 2 to seal the game.

Looking Ahead

Obviously, there are some things to be happy about with this game. The Vikings got a big road win, and they made an effort to be aggressive with the ball. However, I’m still not sold that they’re all the way there. Not only did they get very lucky that Dalvin Cook was able to make a play out of a 2nd & 17 run, but they continuously shot themselves in the foot on that final drive.

Two penalties for 25 yards is usually a death sentence for a drive. It’s especially so for a team that has been as run-heavy as the Vikings. Luckily, it didn’t go badly against the Chargers, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to do the same against teams like this week’s opponent, the Green Bay Packers. An overlooked part of this game is that while Minnesota continuously committed dumb penalties, the Chargers did the same. Minnesota was flagged 10 times for 118 yards, but the Chargers were also penalized seven times for 52 yards.

The Vikings likely won’t benefit from a littany of calls against the Packers. Green Bay happens to have the fewest flags per game called against them this season. Additionally, it’s unlikely Aaron Rodgers only scores 20 points if Minnesota commits 110+ yards of penalties.

The good news is that Green Bay has had their struggles against the run this year. Maybe Minnesota can get away with calling some 1st-and-long or 2nd-and-long Dalvin Cook runs. However, the Vikings proved that they are at their best when they put the ball into their stars’ hands. While Cook is the brightest of these stars, there are multiple capable pass-catchers that Minnesota will need to rely on. This is especially true against a banged-up Packers defense. The Vikings will need to continue making this a focus if they want any chance at beating the Packers.