By the time the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings get together on Sunday, exactly 50 days will have passed since their Week 1 matchup. In those 50 days, the two teams, once thought to be the top contenders for the NFC North crown, will have gone in remarkably different directions.
The Packers, of course, are 5-1 and have played long stretches of fairly dominant football, outside of a significant misstep against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings, meanwhile, have been, uh, considerably less dominant. They’ve stumbled to a 1-5 start, bookended by a Week 1 thrashing by the Packers and a Week 6 faceplant against the lowly Atlanta Falcons.
But any team can be a threat on a given week, and to figure out how big a threat the Vikings could be, we’ve dialed up Eric Thompson of the Daily Norseman to get a better understanding of what’s happened in Minnesota so far this season. Part one of our discussion focuses on the offense. Check back tomorrow for part two, when we’ll see how the Vikings are doing on the defensive side of the ball.
Acme Packing Company: It’s been about two months since the Packers and Vikings met. What’s changed for the Vikings on offense since then?
Eric Thompson: Hopefully the backfield hasn’t changed since Week 1; Dalvin Cook looks on track to return from his groin injury that kept him out of the game before the bye. Cook is obviously a huge part of the Vikings offense. Alexander Mattison is certainly a capable backup, but he was barely a factor in the Falcons game. On the offensive line, somehow the interior has got worse since these two teams last met. Guard Pat Elflein was considered the weakest link on a pretty bad line, but now Vikings fans can’t wait to get him back. Dru Samia was somehow much worse, and rookie Ezra Cleveland looked out of position (which he was) filling in for Samia in Week 6. Elflein is designated for return from the IR, but he won’t play on Sunday. If Kenny Clark plays more than the 15 snaps he played in Week 1, Kirk Cousins is in big trouble. But hey, the rookie wide receiver will probably get more than three targets this time!
APC: Justin Jefferson looks like he’s been as good as advertised. What’s your impression been now that he’s had almost half an NFL season?
ET: Jefferson has been everything you could hope for in his rookie season. His route running and ability to get the ball at its ideal catch point are even better than advertised. The only nitpicks with him coming out of college were that he might struggle getting off the line against press coverage and he would only be a threat from the slot in the NFL. Neither fault has come to fruition thus far. He’s getting open just about everywhere on the field and has almost twice as many snaps out wide than from the slot this season. Since Week 2, Jefferson has lined up wide for 80% of his snaps. He has been the silver lining on a season otherwise filled with dark clouds.
APC: What’s your read on Kirk Cousins? He’s never been a “light up the scoreboard” quarterback but seems to be playing less efficiently than usual.
ET: You want to trigger the Vikings fans in your life? Remind them how the team is basically stuck with Cousins for two more seasons after this one barring a trade or taking a ridiculously massive cap hit in dead money. Remind them that no matter how poorly Cousins plays this season, the team is still miles away from benching him because Sean Mannion is the backup. Cousins is certainly capable of putting together solid stretches, and teams woes certainly aren’t all his fault. But there is no denying that he is playing worse this season. Some of the throws and decisions he has made have been inexplicable. His interception rate, quarterback rating, QBR, and adjusted net yards per attempt are all at career lows since becoming a full-time starter in 2015. The numbers would be even worse if he hadn’t padded them after a few games were mostly decided, including the Week 1 contest against the Packers. The Vikings are paying Cousins very handsomely; he’s performing as an average NFL starter with spurts of poor play. Until that fact changes, it’s hard to see the Vikings being anything more than mediocre.