The Vikings loss at Green Bay continued a trend that started with their loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 17 at home last season — a loss which made them miss the postseason and led to the revamping of their entire offensive coaching staff — where this team continues to find new ways to beat themselves.
Last season the Vikings were the most disciplined team in the NFL, they had the fewest penalty yards in the NFC with just 779 on 92 penalties. But after two weeks of the 2019 season, they lead the NFC in penalty yards with 200 on 19 penalties and are also tied for second in the NFC with four turnovers.
Coach Mike Zimmer said this week that the team has to change those stats if they’re going to compete this season.
“We made too many mistakes, had some bad penalties and we have to make those corrections, get them corrected fast and then move forward,” he said. “Home game this week and time to get back with it, which we will.”
Yes the fact is the Vikings should have won that game at Lambeau Field. In the first half the Packers outgained the Vikings 230-209 but in the second half there was no contest as the Vikings outgained Green Bay, 212-105.
But that second half also had some real ugly moments for the Vikings offense, as they committed five penalties for 55 yards, lost a fumble and had Kirk Cousins throw an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Zimmer said that after watching the game film, he was not pleased with what he saw from his team.
“Undisciplined. I know [Garrett] Bradbury had two [penalties]. I think [Stefon] Diggs had two. I think [Adam] Thielen had two,” he said. “They got to start playing within the rules. And they know the rules, it’s their responsibility to do what they’re supposed to do.”
And for all the focus on Cousins, he is off to a much slower start than last year.
In two games in 2018 — a 24-16 win over San Francisco and a 29-29 tie at Green Bay — Cousins completed 55 of 84 passes for 669 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. This season through two games he has completed just 22 of 42 passes for 328 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
But if you want to find a big positive, the Vikings set out to improve their run game this season and that has been extremely effective.
Through two games last year they had rushed for just 184 yards on 50 attempts — a 3.7 yard per carry average. This year they have rushed for 370 yards on 65 attempts — a 5.7 yard per carry average.
The difference in the run game is night and day as they lead the NFC in rushing and are tied for the NFL lead in yards per carry.
Cook’s historic pace
And speaking of that running game, the Vikings have had a lot of great runners in their long history, but Dalvin Cook’s 265 rushing yards are the third highest total in team history after Week 2.
The only running backs to put up more yards through two weeks of the season were Adrian Peterson in 2009 and Robert Smith in 1998, when the Vikings broke the record for most points scored in a season.
Cook has 265 yards rushing through two games while Peterson had 272 and Smith had 269.
He said that this is all the product of preparing in training camp and the offseason.
“We have been working extremely hard, putting this thing together,” Cook said. “Whatever outcome we got out of it, it wasn’t shocker, what we accomplished. But it’s just a start. We have to finish how we’ve started.”
Yes and the fact is Cook did enough to help the Vikings get a win on Sunday, his 154 rushing yards were the second highest total ever for a Viking at Lambeau Field — trailing only Peterson (210 yards in 2012) and Ted Brown (179 yards in 1983).
“It definitely was a memorable moment,” Cook said. “That’s our rivalry and part of this culture. Being a part of it is definitely great.”
Still he said the loss was tough to take.
“A division game. Another game. We want to win them all, as competitors,” he said. “So it’s tough.”
Maybe the most confusing play of the game came when the NFL umpires reviewed a touchdown pass to Diggs and called Cook for an offensive pass interference penalty that took back the score.
“I have never been called for offensive pass interference in my life and I wasn’t planning on being called for it on Sunday, either,” Cook said. “It just comes with the territory, I guess.”
When it came to the Cousins turnover in the redzone in the fourth quarter, Cook said he doesn’t concern himself with play-calling.
“However many times they wanted to give it to me, I would have ran it,” he said. “I don’t get into play calling. I just want to go run the ball.”
After two games, Cook is tied with Julio Jones of the Falcons for the NFL scoring lead, with three touchdowns. And his 311 total yards from scrimmage easily top the second place mark of 274 by Saquon Barkley of the Giants.
Healthy and prepared
After rushing for 354 yards in six games before tearing his ACL during his rookie season, and rushing for 615 yards in 11 games last season as he worked his way back from that knee injury, Cook is showing that he can be the best running back in the NFL.
What’s changed this season to set him on this early pace?
“Just staying healthy, that’s it, staying on top of everything and pretty much being self critical for myself,” Cook said. “Every little thing, I am staying on top of it and just being a student of the game. That’s it.”
Does he think this offensive line is improved enough to keep putting up these kind of numbers?
“I don’t like to compare recent years, but we definitely did a good job of bringing in guys, drafting guys, moving guys around to find the right fit for this thing,” he said. “I think it has been great for us.”
Sunday figures to be a challenge for the Vikings running game, because the Raiders have been excellent against the run.
They rank fifth in the NFL allowing just 63.0 rushing yards per game.
Cook said the Vikings will be ready.
“A new opportunity to go win a football game,” he said. “We’re back home. Fans are going to be loud. They’re expecting a win and we’re expecting a win. We’re going to go fly around and play some good football.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org