There is plenty going on in Viking Land. In honor of three-straight wins, we focus on three topics. First, fans need some nuance when discussing Kirk Cousins. Second, Garrett Bradbury is having a strong season, largely contributing to Minnesota’s recent success. Third, the special teams are struggling, largely hindering Minnesota’s ability to win games decisively. Let’s jump right in.
Nuance, Kirk Cousins, and Vikings Fandom
When Rick Spielman signed Kirk Cousins to a 3-year, $84 million contract, it was either going to be a match made in heaven or a partnership formed in hell. Minnesota was a franchise that had long been starved for stability at quarterback; Cousins was a quarterback who had long been seeking stability in a franchise. It made some sense, then, when Cousins and Minnesota joined forces. As we rapidly approach the end of that initial three-year deal (and the beginning of the two-year extension), Cousins is still an enigma for many of Minnesota’s fans.
Vikings fans are pretty familiar with extremes. Heading into the bye, we were embracing doom & gloom as we fantasized about a high draft pick. After three-straight divisional wins, we are now dreaming about an unlikely postseason push. Adding Cousins into the mix only exacerbates our propensity for extremes.
Part of the issue with Cousins is that he is capable of playing QB as well as pretty much anyone in the NFL. When he is on, Cousins will make breathtaking plays. When he is off, though, Cousins can single-handedly sink a team’s chances of winning (see Falcons, Atlanta). The high ceiling and low floor combine to make Cousins a tricky QB to follow.
Nevertheless, it’s important to appreciate what Cousins is accomplishing. In my opinion, Cousins was the main reason why the Vikings started 1-5. Over these past three wins, Cousins has been among the main reasons why they’ve won. The main reason, of course, is Dalvin Cook. When Cook didn’t find much room against Chicago, though, Cousins was able to step up and lead the Vikings to a crucial MNF win. The importance of this win is hard to overstate. Not only did it ensure Minnesota’s playoff hopes are still alive, but it also shows that Minnesota is capable of winning in different ways. A team can stop Cook and still lose, which is a big deal as the Vikings move forward.
It’s unlikely that these brief thoughts will change anyone’s opinion about Cousins. We’ll only offer this simple plea: give him some respect for his resilience. Before the bye, even Cousins acknowledged that if he continued playing so poorly that he’d end up being benched. He has responded with three-straight strong performances. Cousins isn’t all good; similarly, Cousins isn’t all bad. Try to find some balance in your assessment and then enjoy the Vikings/Cousins roller coaster ride.
Garrett Bradbury’s Improvement
Before the season began, we expressed our dismay about how little Rick Spielman did to address the offensive line. Rather than sign free agents, Spielman instead chose to cut Josh Kline, a reasonably competent player.
The lack of OL attention caused us to speculate about Minnesota’s plan. Like the fans, Minnesota’s leadership obviously knew that the situation along the offensive line was less than desirable. How would the team improve? They didn’t bring in outside help, so the Vikings obviously felt like they could grow internally. This is where Garrett Bradbury enters into the equation.
Bradbury had a rough rookie season. Part of the issue is that he struggled with consistency, often following solid performances with dreadful performances. For the offensive line to improve, Bradbury would need to take a big step forward; being consistent would be a big part of this step forward.
So far, Bradbury has shown the improvement we were all hoping for. In his rookie year, Bradbury was the 28th-ranked center with a 57.8 score on PFF. He is currently the 5th-ranked center with a 74.6 score. Against Chicago, Bradbury was Minnesota’s highest-ranked player by PFF. There is still room for growth, but Bradbury’s improvement is a big reason why Minnesota has won these past three games.
Special Teams Struggle
There is no shortage of digital ink being spilled on Minnesota’s disastrous special teams. Yesterday, we speculated that Marwan Maalouf may even get fired for the persistent struggles. Maalouf is still employed, but it’s fair to wonder about how secure his job is moving forward. Apparently, Mike Zimmer was so upset about the Cordarrelle Patterson return that he was “already scolding” Maalouf as Patterson entered the end zone. Anthony Harris felt compelled to help calm Zimmer.
Part of the key for Maalouf will rest in simplifying things on special teams. When a sports team is struggling, coaches should avoid complicating things (see DeFilippo, John). Instead, coaches need to simplify things. Make sure every detail/responsibility is clear for the players. Everyone needs to know what the solutions are and what their role is in bringing the solution to fruition.
Otherwise, it’s going to come down to the individual players taking care of the small details. Austin Cutting needs to ensure the snaps are crisp. Dan Chisena needs to breakdown so that he can actually tackle someone. K.J. Osborn needs to catch the ball cleanly and show some explosiveness. Dan Bailey needs to avoid kicking the ball to arguably the best returner in NFL history. If they can do these things, then perhaps the Vikings will have a competent special teams.