After their Week 6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Minnesota Vikings must face the unpleasant reality that their season has slipped away. Maintaining any hope of seeing the postseason involved securing a win against the 0-5 Falcons. Instead, the Vikings looked completely overmatched on Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings Fail in Week 6
The expectation during the off-season was that the offense would lead the Vikings. At LWOS, we wrote that Kirk Cousins and the offense needed to be strong, “especially in the early weeks when Mike Zimmer’s defense [was] still getting its footing.” Far from leading the team, the offense has been the main issue for the Vikings.
Cousins played an awful game against Atlanta. Two of Cousins’ interceptions came off forced passes to Justin Jefferson. For good measure, Cousins added a third INT before the end of the half. He went into the break with only eight completions for a little more than 100 yards.
Kirk Cousins with his 3rd INT today (10th of the season) which is the most in the NFL
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 18, 2020
Adam Thielen’s first catch came with less than two minutes in the half, and Alexander Mattison was held to 26 yards on eight carries. The best part of Minnesota’s offense was the tight ends: Irv Smith Jr. had a sensational catch for 36 yards and Kyle Rudolph had a couple catches for 28 yards. It’s concerning that Smith’s and Rudolph’s relatively average numbers were the highlights of the opening half.
One of the truest measures of whether a team is good or bad rests in its consistency. Indeed, even bad teams can have brilliant moments. At times, Minnesota’s offense had brilliant moments, usually when Cousins was throwing to Smith or Jefferson. Minnesota always followed these moments of brilliance with awful play, suggesting that they’re far from a good team.
Their third-quarter touchdown drive featured a critical fourth-down reception from Smith before Jefferson scored. Overall, it was a nine-play, 80-yard drive that took just over four minutes. On the next drive, Minnesota’s offense picked up one yard before punting the ball. Perhaps the best takeaway from today’s game is that Jefferson is already a star, one who should go on to have a tremendous career. Otherwise, the only notable detail is that Cousins again picked up some meaningless stats before the clock hit zero.
Minnesota’s coaches, like the fans, are heading into the bye wondering how the team should move forward. The season is done, even with the extra playoff spot available. The Vikings must therefore set their sights on next season. What needs to be done for Minnesota to succeed in 2021? That’s the priority for the remainder of the year.
For starters, the Vikings need to determine whether Cousins is the answer. During the opening half, Over the Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald tweeted that the only way the Vikings could reasonably move on from Cousins involves a trade. If they cut him, the Vikings would be responsible for $20 million in dead money, a debilitating number. The Vikings have put themselves in a tough spot with Cousins.
On defense, the Vikings need to determine whether their young corners can develop into legitimate NFL starters. The Vikings were forced to match Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage with rookies Jeff Gladney (first-round pick), Cameron Dantzler (third-round pick), and Harrison Hand (fifth-round pick). Their Sunday performance shouldn’t factor too heavily into Minnesota’s evaluation; even a strong, veteran group would struggle with Atlanta’s receivers.
Otherwise, the Vikings will look to build around a strong front seven. Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, and Yannick Ngakoue give the Vikings a talented d-line. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr combine elite athleticism and intelligence. All five of these players are part of the solution for Minnesota. The Vikings have a foundation in place for a strong defense in 2021.
Minnesota must face the reality that their season is over. Even still, it’s unlikely that Zimmer will be fired during the bye. If the Vikings struggle in their three straight post-bye divisional games, then it’ll be fair to wonder if the Wilfs will consider a coaching change. In the meantime, the Vikings will once again need to devote their energy toward building for next season.