Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was the NFL’s most-pressured quarterback in a single game so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was pressured on 18 of 30 dropbacks during Sunday’s loss to the Titans, a 60% rate that is highest recorded by the football analytics site since Week 12 last season.
Coach Mike Zimmer pointed out part of the Vikings’ problem Monday without directly calling out the offensive line. He noted how Cousins was pressured twice in the offense’s doomed three-play sequence to end the game, and the other play was a bad snap from center Garrett Bradbury.
“They’re showing improvement in some areas,” Zimmer said of the offensive line, “and then there’s some areas we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Guards Dru Samia and Dakota Dozier allowed pressures by Titans defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Jeffery Simmons in the closing minutes, highlighting the offense’s Achilles heel in a game when running back Dalvin Cook picked up a career-high 181 rushing yards.
Cousins, who has been sacked seven times in three losses, has needed to make quicker decisions at times. But the right side of the offensive line — Samia (6 pressures) and tackle Brian O’Neill (4 pressures) — were pegged with 10 of the 18 hurries by PFF’s assessment.
The Vikings’ protection issues come while second-round rookie Ezra Cleveland remains on the bench, which is not a good indication of how coaches view Cleveland’s readiness to contribute three games into his NFL career. Samia has struggled through two starts for right guard Pat Elflein, who is on injured reserve with a torn thumb ligament.
Hunter’s return unlikely
Defensive end Danielle Hunter is reportedly “regaining strength” and the Vikings are just hoping he can play again some time this season following a herniated disc in his neck, according to NFL Media. But his return off injured reserve does not appear imminent.
Hunter, who has been on IR since Sept. 9, is eligible to practice after missing three games, but Zimmer indicated Monday that Hunter still has not gained medical clearance. He has not practiced since Aug. 14.
“I don’t know,” Zimmer said. “Whenever the doctors tell me he can.”
Smith ‘can’t be making those penalties’
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. said he’ll appeal the NFL’s $7,752 fine levied against him for an illegal crackback block on Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, saying he was unaware he could cut block while lined up out wide and didn’t intend to injure Leonard.
But Smith, the Vikings’ 2019 second-round pick, was flagged for the third time in two games when he blocked Titans safety Kevin Byard in the back, drawing a 10-yard penalty that helped stall a fourth-quarter drive during Sunday’s loss.
“I can’t be making those penalties,” Smith said. “It’s something I’m going to work on and take notice of, especially at the end of the game and times like that.”
Fans allowed in Houston
The Houston Texans announced Monday that up to 13,300 fans will be allowed at NRG Stadium for the Sunday’s game against the Vikings. That represents about 20% of the stadiums.
The Vikings played in front of no fans at home in Week 1, faced 2,500 in Indianapolis in Week 2, and had 250 family members and staff in the stands Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
• Safety Anthony Harris said the Vikings defense is figuring itself out “a little bit as we go,” as far as how to play coverages with the changing personnel at cornerback. Only the Seahawks defense is allowing more than the Vikings’ eight yards per throw. “We’re continuing to find that rhythm, find our identity of what we need to do, what is best for us to be successful as a team as far as getting guys in position,” Harris said.
• Receiver Adam Thielen said rookie Justin Jefferson’s 175-yard breakout game came against “some good corners,” inferring there’s more to come. “He’s ready to be a big contributor in this offense,” Thielen said, “and that’s exciting for us as an offense moving forward.”
• The Vikings signed former Illinois State safety Luther Kirk to the practice squad on Monday and released defensive back Nate Meadors. Kirk, an undrafted rookie, spent this summer with the Cowboys and was released during preseason roster cuts.