So the Minnesota Vikings are 1-0, big whoop!
Just kidding, it's great that they opened the season with a Week 1 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. There were a lot of moving parts with this team heading into the 2018 season and through one game, there weren't too many of those parts that left us with gigantic areas for concern. That's a much better position to be in than having concerns and sitting at 0-1.
Okay, now that we've got some of those particulars out of the way, it's time to pick this thing apart a little bit.
Each week, after we post about some of the great things we saw, after we get our "The Morning After" post written and up on the website, we'll take a different look at the game, a bit of a more analytical look. Not because I want to be negative, I hate being negative. More so because I want to be real. We're all sitting here thinking about these things and some of the ways the team needs to improve if they want to go deep into the postseason this year. We're just here to highlight some of them, you know in hopes that Mike Zimmer reads this has some sort of an epiphany and then credits us with a Super Bowl ring for righting the wrongs throughout the season. It's that simple...
So here we go.
Why did everybody fall asleep for most of the fourth quarter?
After pretty much dominating the entire first half, the Minnesota Vikings sort of fell asleep on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter. Having just opened up a 24-6 lead over the Niners, Minnesota took their foot off the pedal on both sides of the ball and San Francisco took advantage. Garoppolo started running those little bootleg passes to the tight end that Kyle Shannahan dialed up and identified. A name that no Vikings fans had any familiarity with leading into the game was burned into our memories as George Kittle was daggering out team left and right. No literally, they were running the same play once left and then right, and it kept working. Initially it would set up a second down scrambling pass from Jimmy G to Dante Pettis in the back of the endzone. The next time around it ended up with a 49ers field goal that pushed that game back to a one possession game.
To make matters worse, at the same time that the defense was struggling to slow the 49ers passing attack, the Vikings offense slowed to a crawl as well. After Kirk Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph in the back of the end zone late in the third quarter, the Vikings offense would produce three straight three-and-outs and wouldn't score the rest of the game. Cousins began overthrowing receivers, the Niners began getting more pressure on our guy and nothing was going for our beloved Purple.
The Concern: What happened here and why did it take so long to figure out? It was eerily reminiscent of the Saints game in the playoffs last year. Minnesota gets off to a hot start, takes their foot off the gas and we all sat back and watched as the opposition crawled back in. We know how that game last year ended and thankfully, yesterday the bleeding was stopped before it got too bad yesterday, but the other team adjusted and we couldn't counter punch. That worries me.
Offensive line Ebbs and Flows...
This wasn't a secret heading into the season, there were some concerns with the Minnesota Vikings front five, those concerns reared their ugly heads yesterday too. This isn't to say that the 49ers front is a group of slouches, they're good also, but we saw the struggle up front and in person yesterday.
Credit where credit is due, the lineman did an okay job yesterday protecting Kirk in the passing game. They did give up three sacks and Cousins has to use his legs to evade pressure and evacuate the pocket, but on the whole I would say they got a passing grade. They allowed Kirk the time to make a couple reads before passing the ball and they kept him upright for most of the evening.
Here's where the struggle comes.
The blocking for the running game yesterday was abysmal. Dalvin Cook made the most of his 16 carries getting only 40 yards (2.5 per) and Latavius Murray was only a hair better with 11 carries for 42 yards (3.8 per). There really were no holes for the running game and the offensive line was getting pushed back more often than they should have. Many people will criticize Tom Compton and Brett Jones on the left side and up the middle which due to their inexperience is the easy take. In reality, the right side with Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill wasn't any better. Cook couldn't find an inch to run on the right side of the line which in turn hampered their efforts on the left side as well. In total, the Vikings only tallied 116 yards on the ground, 34 of which came from non-running backs (Cousins 26, Diggs 8).
In fairness, they're still missing their starting center in Pat Elflein. When he comes back maybe that pushes Jones to LG and Compton to a reserve role. That might be the teams best front five. We'll have to see when that might be an option and whether or not it's a better one.
I don't care what they say, no more diving head first...okay?
I'm well aware that Mike Zimmer was quoted as saying that he's "all in" with Cousins diving head first in that scenario late in the game. Here's the problem, Kirk was diving head first all game long. It was only the final run where he awkwardly tucked his head and was hit by a defender, but on all four of Cousins' runs yesterday he "fell forward" or dove headfirst. If the season were on the line, if he were in the midst of a game winning drive or if he was 100% that it would result in the desired outcome, okay maybe I'll hear it. But it didn't. He risked his body, risked the team's investment and still came up short. Again, I repeat, he was doing this all game too. For all of us that watched Trevor Siemian's struggles during the preseason, please don't do that to us again Kirk.