Through the coordinator changes, coaching staff shuffles, quarterback investments and offensive line overhauls, the Vikings have lacked one thing on offense above all else in Mike Zimmer’s tenure: consistency.
The Vikings, who beat the Eagles 38-20 on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, have employed four different offensive coordinators since 2014, twice switching play-callers in the middle of seasons. They’ve had at least three different coaches at each offensive position (with Kevin Stefanski coaching tight ends, then running backs and quarterbacks before becoming coordinator), and have used seven different starting quarterbacks in that time.
Their defensive coordinator (George Edwards) and the primary position coaches at each level (defensive line coach Andre Patterson, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray) have all been here since Mike Zimmer became head coach, presiding over units full of hand-picked players that have ranked in the Top 10 in fewest yards allowed four times and fewest points allowed four times.
The defense has been a model of stability. Before Sunday, the offense had only put together one streak of consecutive games over 400 yards since 2014, when it had a three-game run in 2017. The Vikings and Titans were the only teams in the NFL with only one such streak in that time.
Putting together a pair of games over the 400-yard threshold, as the Vikings have now done in consecutive wins over the Giants and Eagles, won’t win them any championships. But when they’ve routinely struggled to achieve even a modicum of offensive consistency, the Vikings bold effort against the Eagles on Sunday is worth noting.
They first pulled away from Philadelphia, and then suppressed the Eagles’ comeback attempt, with a round of haymakers from their maligned passing game, in moving to 4-2 before their final NFC North road test at Detroit next week.
The Vikings ended the day with 447 yards of offense, a week after posting 490 against New York, with Dalvin Cook running for just 41 yards against an Eagles defense keyed up to stop him. The Vikings built a 24-3 lead thanks to downfield shots from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs, with Cousins directing a pair of second-half touchdown drives after the Eagles pulled within four points on a diet of wheel routes to running back Miles Sanders and throws to Alshon Jeffery.
“It was an aggressive, creative game plan, and credit Kevin for the way he just kind of kept it unpredictable,” said Cousins, who threw four touchdowns for just the second time in a Vikings uniform. “I think we were very multiple in the way we moved the ball today, and much of it was effective.”
It was Cousins’ sixth win in nine career starts against the Eagles, and he’s now thrown for 21 touchdowns against six interceptions in those games. Of Cousins’ six wins in 33 career starts against teams with winning records, two are against the Eagles.
Eagles linebacker Zach Brown’s Friday comments about Cousins being the weakest part of the Vikings’ offense — which Cousins claimed not to have heard and Brown did not want to revisit after Sunday’s game — suggested the Eagles would approach the Vikings with a focus on taking away Cook. Philadelphia often brought a safety close to the line of scrimmage or played “quarters” coverage, with safeties creeping up to play at the same depth with cornerbacks so the defensive backs could react to the run.
It put the Vikings in prime position to attack a defense that ranked No. 1 in the league against the run but was missing two starting corners.
Their first salvo against Eagles corner Rasul Douglas came on the game’s fifth offensive play, when Cousins threw deep for Diggs off play action with Douglas running step-for-step with the wide receiver. The pass was too long for Diggs, but it would be one of the few times Cousins would miss him.
His first touchdown to Diggs, on a 62-yard strike following a slight play fake in the second quarter, saw Cousins burn Douglas with a throw that had Diggs looking back at the cornerback as he strutted into the end zone. Cousins came back to a downfield shot off play action on the Vikings’ next drive, hitting Diggs on a 51-yard throw that had Douglas looking around for the safety help he expected. The routes looked similar to the ones the Vikings used against the Giants last week; this time, instead of throwing underneath to Adam Thielen, Cousins hit Diggs deep.
The final Cousins-to-Diggs score of the day was a confident red-zone throw to the back of the end zone, where Diggs could reach up for an 11-yard score and tap his feet in bounds after beating former Vikings corner Craig James.
“The way the coverage played today, it gave Diggs some chances and we missed a post at the end of the [first] half,” Cousins said. “He probably could have had four. That was there for the taking, and that ball was a little overthrown. Also, Adam Thielen could have had a second one today, and I thought the throw was what prevented it from happening [in the second quarter]. I feel like we left some out there, but because we were able to keep going, it didn’t come back to haunt us.”
Diggs, whose frustration with the direction of the offense triggered a two-day absence that netted him more than $200,000 in fines earlier this month, became the first Vikings receiver with three touchdowns in a game since Marcus Robinson in 2005.
“I feel like [it’s] depending on the week because if it doesn’t work, we have a bad day and the world ends,” Diggs said. “However, when things are going right and everyone has a positive energy, it’s good.”
They’ve rarely gone right for the Vikings on offense, for long stretches of time, in the past six years. Perhaps the way they’ve played the past two weeks suggests they’ve found a recipe they can repeat.
“I think the mixture of the run, the play action pass, moving the pocket, getting inside runs, outside runs, I think all those things add to what we’re doing, and I think the coaches do a good job of scheming,” Zimmer said. “The more that you have success at one, typically you can have success at the other."