Mike Zimmer is in such a good mood these days that he is providing analytics with a smile to our guy Matthew Coller. Kirk Cousins is coming off such an impressive performance that, for this week at least, no one is questioning whether he’s worth $84 million. Stefon Diggs is so happy that he hasn’t failed to show up for work once in the past two weeks.
The Vikings have recovered from a 2-2 start to win back-to-back games against the Giants and Eagles and would appear to have a good chance to stretch that winning streak to three games on Sunday in Detroit. The Vikings again are being talked about as a playoff team and yes, the “S” word (Super Bowl), is again coming up in casual conversations.
All of this leads to one question: Do we need to slow our roll when it comes to the Vikings?
Three weeks ago, the Vikings departed Soldier Field following a 10-point loss to the Bears. Mike Zimmer’s team might have been .500 but it felt as if things were going off the tracks. Diggs was so unhappy about the Vikings’ run-first philosophy under new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak that he did not show up at TCO Performance Center on Monday or Wednesday and was fined more than $200,000.
The Vikings’ first loss of the season, a 21-16 loss in Week 2 at Green Bay, came courtesy of a questionable play call and brutal pass by Cousins that gift-wrapped a victory for the Packers.
The Vikings had opened with a victory over Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium and followed the Packers loss with an easy Week 3 victory over Oakland. But those were wins against two brutal teams and told us little about the Vikings. Beating the Giants also didn’t provide much information about the Vikings, even though that win came on the road.
An 18-point victory over the Eagles last Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium was a statement from the home team. Philadelphia’s run defense entered as the best in the NFL and its pass defense was among the worst in large part because of injuries in the secondary. It should have come as no surprise then that Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski came up with a game plan that enabled Cousins to have one of his best days since signing with the Vikings in March 2018.
Cousins completed 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. This included 62- and 51-yard touchdown passes to a now-happy Diggs. So has Cousins turned a corner in this new offense? That might be the easy assumption — just as it was easy to assume the Vikings were falling apart after Week 4 — but it also is dangerous and premature.
The Lions are coming off a brutal loss on Monday night in Green Bay, in large part because of the officiating calls that went against them, and will take a 2-2-1 record into this game. This should serve as the latest chance for the Vikings to combine a top-level defense with an offense that simply needs to do enough to win games. The Lions are 29th in the NFL in total defense (giving up 413.8 yards per game); 27th in rushing defense (133.8 yards); 28th in passing defense (280 yards); and 18th in scoring defense (23.6 points per game).
Standout running back Dalvin Cook, who had only 41 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles, should be in a spot to have a huge day and that should make life easier on Cousins playing in a hostile environment. What will be interesting is to watch how Cousins performs under the pressure of playing in a divisional road game that could drop the Vikings to 0-3 in the NFC North if they don’t win.
There isn’t a lot of room for a loss here.
That’s what makes this tricky. The Lions are coming off a tough defeat and have a short week, while the Vikings are coming off a confidence building victory and have a chance to remain a game behind Green Bay or pull even with the Packers if they get upset by Oakland. The Vikings are even 1-point favorites on the road. So are the Vikings’ troubles behind them and are Cousins and the offense now on track? Two consecutive victories might lead one to believe that.
The Vikings have four more games after the Lions before their bye week. By that time, we should have a good read on whether these Vikings are legitimate playoff contenders or another collection destined to disappoint. Until that time, the smartest move might be withholding judgment.