The Vikings' loss on Sunday -- giving Mike Zimmer his first 0-2 start as a head coach (since 2014) -- revealed the same issues that popped up in their season-opening 43-34 loss to the Packers. The Vikings lacked pass protection on the interior. The defense was gashed, this time repeatedly against the run. Kirk Cousins struggled to connect with anyone outside of Adam Thielen. Dalvin Cook, the running back Minnesota just paid handsomely, appeared to be an afterthought until way too late in the game.
Most knew that this defense, which lost nine pieces from a year ago (including five starters), was going to take time to develop. In order for that to play out the way it needs to, Minnesota’s offense is going to have to pull its weight. But through two weeks, the continuity on that side of the ball has been anything but.
QB breakdown: This loss played out in eerily similar fashion to last week’s, especially on offense. Minnesota put together a promising opening drive that featured play-action bootlegs on the first three plays, a terrific 18-yard catch by Thielen and a couple of big runs by Cook, only to end in a field goal. From there, everything got worse. Cousins was sacked in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter and threw interceptions in each of the next three drives. A sign that points to the fact that Minnesota has not remedied its issues in pass protection: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Viking are just the fourth team since the 1970 merger to take a safety in three straight games (the 2015 Dolphins, 1980 Seahawks and 1977 Steelers were the others).
What’s most troubling for this offense is the lack of proven playmakers that have earned Cousins’ trust. The quarterback threw eight passes to Thielen, three of which the receiver caught for 31 yards, and didn’t turn to rookie Justin Jefferson (the team’s leading receiver with three catches for 44 yards) until it was too late. It appeared Cousins was forcing too much Thielen’s way, as evident on a second-quarter interception when he threw a pass intended to Thielen into double coverage that was returned 43 yards. Cousins left Bisi Johnson wide open over the middle of the field on that play, and threw a pick when targeting the second-year receiver (a ball thrown outside when Johnson was breaking in on his route) in the third quarter.
Troubling trend: The biggest question for Minnesota’s defense entering the Indianapolis game was whether it could finally generate pressure on the quarterback. It took six quarters of the 2020 season for the Vikings to notch their first sack, which came from recently acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who turned around a lackluster start to his time in purple with three tackles, two quarterback hits, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble (which was was recovered by the Colts), in addition to the sack.
Minnesota had far bigger issues in Week 2 against the run. Throughout most of the first half, rookie Jonathan Taylor (26 carries, 101 yards, TD) gashed the interior of the Vikings’ defensive line. The Colts showed just how much Minnesota is missing Linval Joseph at nose tackle and his replacement, Michael Pierce, who opted out of the season. This was one of the NFL’s best run defenses not long ago. It’s not anymore.
Bold prediction: Minnesota is staring an 0-5 start in the face with games coming up against Tennessee at home followed by back-to-back contests on the road vs. Houston and Seattle. The Vikings’ defense, coupled with Danielle Hunter’s absence because of a neck injury and a young group of corners who have struggled early this season, is in trouble. The same can be said for the offense, which hasn’t found its footing and has strung together more jarring trends than it has touchdowns through the first two weeks.