The Vikings' offensive linemen, by now, have grown accustomed to amplified reactions from offensive line coach Phil Rauscher to whatever they do — good or bad — on the practice field.
After a first game in which the oft-scrutinized group was at the center of a penalty-and mistake-filled loss to the Bengals, how was Rauscher's demeanor during a film review on Monday morning?
"Demeanor — I mean, it's disappointed," center Garrett Bradbury said with a sigh. "He wanted to take it on you and understand we had a chance to win the game. The first half, the penalties just killed us. I think we had 11 or something penalties in the first half and seven points, and two penalties in the second half and 17 points. So that kind of stat was the first stat we saw this week: 'Listen, when we're playing clean and we're doing what we're supposed to, we're really good. So, let's build off that.' "
The group's first chance to prove it is better than how it played against the Bengals comes on Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., against a Cardinals team that limited two-time NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry to 58 yards on 17 carries while Chandler Jones sacked Ryan Tannehill five times. The Cardinals' approach — eight-man fronts against Henry, and a variety of blitz concepts against Tannehill — could be similar to what they use against the Vikings, and could present a significant test for members of an offense that haven't quite clicked in a game.
"I think us and Tennessee are pretty similar personnel-wise. We like to run the football, use a fullback a lot," Bradbury said. "I think both the Cardinals and Bengals both had a similar game plan, loading the box up. As an O-lineman, you love that; that's a challenge. They're saying they're going to load the box up and you can't run on us, so you have to be able to run the ball and take that attitude of we're going to run the ball no matter how many people you put in the box. At the same time, you have to be balanced. So we have to keep Kirk [Cousins] clean back there and be able to take our shots on them when we can."
If the Vikings are to be better against the Cardinals than they were against the Bengals, Bradbury could be a key. He gave up a sack, a hit on Cousins and two pressures in Cincinnati, according to Pro Football Focus, continuing his struggles against bigger defensive tackles.
The Vikings also had moments where miscommunication appeared to be the reason for lapses in both pass protection and run blocking, and though they could have opportunities to take downfield shots off play action if the Cardinals stack the box, coach Mike Zimmer said that's incumbent on everything working the way it should up front.
"Potentially, yeah, if we can get some protection and get guys on the right guys and get some open looks," Zimmer said.
Cousins, who's in his third year working with Bradbury, has the kind of longevity with the center that he never had as a starting QB in Washington. He has the ability to overrule Bradbury in setting the Vikings' protection — a privilege he said he rarely uses, except in the case of an exotic defensive look — but the center is largely responsible for adjusting the Vikings' blocking based on what he sees from an opponent's front.
Cincinnati used a number of five-man pass rush looks against the Vikings, occasionally dropping defensive ends into coverage after initially using them to occupy tackles Rashod Hill and Brian O'Neill.
On Sunday, Bradbury will have to deal with Jones, J.J. Watt and a Cardinals defense that can complicate its looks with a pair of players who line up in a number of different spots.
"They move [Isaiah] Simmons around quite a bit, move [Budda] Baker around quite a bit, so we're going to have to identify the fronts," Zimmer said. "Quite honestly, it wouldn't surprise me to get the exact same front we saw last week."
On Wednesday, Cousins and Bradbury talked to reporters shortly after going through their weekly protection walk-through, where they rehearse their pass protection concepts for that week's opponent.
Handling things there, and clearing more room for Dalvin Cook than he had on a 61-yard rushing day last Sunday, will be paramount as the Vikings try to avoid starting 0-2 for the second year in a row.
"Hats off to Cincinnati; they had a good game plan," Bradbury said. "We just have to do — I have to do a good job, I have to take the responsibility and make a call quickly and communicate that to everyone. It's Wednesday so we're going to be on Arizona. We're figuring out their looks and it's just another week. Get back to it."