Mike Zimmer, Klint Kubiak, and Kirk Cousins will feel better if the select members of the Vikings’ first-team offense who play on Friday night in the exhibition finale at Kansas City are able to generate a touchdown or two during the time they are on the field.
Cousins and Co., generated no points, three first downs and 23 yards passing in three series in the Vikings’ 12-10 loss to the Colts last Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings’ offense did not have a touchdown in the game after also failing to produce one in a 33-6 loss to Denver in the preseason opener. The difference was no starters played in that first game and while Cousins completed 5-of-7 passes against the Colts, the top offense didn’t look sharp.
That is one reason Zimmer has decided to put Cousins, the first-team offensive line and a few others back on the field against the Chiefs.
“I’d like to see touchdowns, to be honest with you,” Zimmer said. “We need to have some success. I think they’re confident, but you know, confidence comes when you play well, and you show it. I really don’t want to go into the first ballgame and we haven’t looked crisp or sharp. … We didn’t get the ball down the field vertically hardly any. If you’re going to throw 5-yard check-downs all day long, it takes 20 of them, so we’d like to get the ball down the field a little bit more.”
While a deep strike down the field might boost confidence, it’s difficult to say that will serve as any type of precursor for the regular-season opener on Sept. 12 at Cincinnati. Running back Dalvin Cook, wide receiver Justin Jefferson and Dede Westbrook and No. 2 tight end Tyler Conklin all did not play against the Colts, and likely will sit out on Friday. They will be joined on the sideline by wide receiver Adam Thielen who suffered a thigh bruise early in last Saturday’s game.
The addition of these players doesn’t mean the Vikings’ offense will magically start to click against the Bengals. But Cook and Jefferson are two of the best at their positions in the NFL — Jefferson hasn’t gotten full credit yet, but it’s only a matter of time — while Thielen remains an excellent receiver.
Nonetheless, there are some key unknowns involving the first-team offense that will remain that way until Week 1. Let’s examine three of them:
- Kirk Cousins wasn’t particularly sharp in training camp practices and that continued in his preseason debut. Cousins’ longest completion went for only 10 yards. He did look better on Tuesday during a scrimmage that featured the first-team offense going against the first-team defense, but the Vikings need a big season from their $31 million man and a second consecutive poor start isn’t an option for a team with significant aspirations. Getting Jefferson, Thielen and Cook on the field should provide a significant boost. Basically, the hope has to be that any training camp issues Cousins might have had were nothing more than a blip and he is ready to thrive for the majority of 17 games this season. Cousins finished last season by throwing 24 touchdown passes and only three interceptions in the final 10 games, but had 11 touchdowns and 10 picks during a 1-5 start.
- There probably hasn’t been enough focus on the guy calling plays for this offense. That will be new coordinator Klint Kubiak, who takes over for his now-retired father, Gary. The Vikings finished 11th in scoring offense last season (26.9 points per game) and fourth in total offense (393.3 yards per game). The Vikings are expected to build on those numbers with the 34-year-old Kubiak now in charge after a two-year stint as the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach. It’s well-known that Zimmer likes to run the ball and has more of an old-school approach to offense. That means Klint isn’t likely to take many chances and face the wrath of his boss. Kevin Stefanski was able to parlay a season as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator into the head coaching job in Cleveland. Stefanski was only 36 at the time, but he had the advantage of having Gary Kubiak working alongside him as an offensive advisor. Klint can always call his father for advice but he won’t be nearby on game day.
- The Vikings invested two high draft picks in their offensive line, selecting left tackle Christian Darrisaw with the 23rd pick in the first round and right guard Wyatt Davis in the third round. The expectation was that Darrisaw would replace Riley Reiff (now in Cincinnati) at left tackle, but that clearly isn’t going to happen as soon as expected. Darrisaw underwent a core-muscle procedure in January to repair a groin injury and had to have a second procedure this month. He has yet to participate in a practice since training camp opened, and while his absence isn’t expected to be an extended one, he is a rookie with no practice time and coming off an injury. That means that Rashod Hill is almost certain to be the left tackle for Week 1. Hill is a valuable backup swing tackle, but having him to protect Cousins’ blindside is a big ask. Hill gave up a sack against the Colts when Kwity Paye easily beat him to get to Cousins. That has to be a concern. As for Davis, he has spent the majority of the preseason with the third team but has graded out well in his two exhibition appearances. Uli Odoh, who is making the move from tackle to right guard, beat out Dakota Dozier for the starting job and has looked solid.