News, notes and a few hot takes:
Kirk Cousins won’t only be going against a very good defense on Sunday when the Vikings face the Cleveland Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium. The veteran quarterback also will be facing a coach who knows the Vikings’ offensive scheme and Cousins’ tendencies inside and out.
Kevin Stefanski spent 14 years as a member of the Vikings staff under three different coaches, including his final season in Minnesota as offensive coordinator for Mike Zimmer. Stefanski was the Vikings’ quarterback coach when Cousins arrived in 2018 and moved into the coordinator’s job late in that season when John DeFilippo was fired by Zimmer.
In 2019, Stefanski worked closely with offensive advisor Gary Kubiak as Gary’s son, Klint, became Cousins’ quarterbacks coach. Klint is now running the Vikings’ offense, so there aren’t going to be a lot of things that Stefanski hasn’t seen.
Cousins is off to a hot start for the 1-2 Vikings and is coming off a victory over Seattle in which he completed 30-of-38 passes for 323 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has eight touchdowns and no interceptions this season. Cousins has gone 200 attempts without a pick, one off his previous best stretch in 2019.
One thing that might surprise Stefanski when he watches film, is how quickly Cousins is getting rid of the ball. That’s something he did not always necessarily do in the past.
That will be huge against a Browns defense that had nine sacks of rookie Justin Fields on Sunday in a 26-6 victory over the Chicago Bears. Defensive end Myles Garrett had 4.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries and leads the NFL with 5.5 sacks in three games. The Browns are second in the league this season with 12 sacks, two behind the Carolina Panthers.
Cleveland is third in total defense, including, fifth against the run and pass. The Vikings are third in total offense, including sixth in rushing and seventh in passing.
- Stefanski, 39, was named the Associated Press NFL coach of the year last season after leading the Browns to their first 11-victory season since 1994. Cleveland also won a playoff game over Pittsburgh, although he could not attend the game because he was dealing with COVID-19. Stefanski spent his first three seasons with the Vikings (2006-08) as an assistant to Brad Childress. His assignments included being in charge of monitoring weather conditions for training camp practices in Mankato.
- Case Keenum, who had a career year in 2017 and helped to lead the Vikings to the NFC title game after Sam Bradford was injured early that season, is now the backup quarterback to Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. Keenum, 33, has been with the Browns for two seasons and lasted started a game in 2019 with Washington.
- Kevin Harlan, Trent Green and Melanie Collins will be on the call for the Vikings-Browns on Sunday on CBS.
- There is little question that once Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez take over majority control of the Timberwolves and Lynx — that is supposed to happen in December 2023 — that one of the first things on their agenda will be getting a new arena for the teams. The pair are paying $1.5 billion to gradually take control of the franchise and they aren’t doing it to be stuck in an arena that opened in 1990 and will remain dated no matter how many times it’s remodeled. “There’s a great opportunity to eventually build a new arena and infuse it with the latest technology,” Lore said Monday at a press conference. “I think one of the things that really excites us, for example, is augmented reality. It could be incredible if we infuse that into the fan experience. There’s a lot of opportunities if you’re building from scratch and we’re excited about that opportunity.”
- Rodriguez, not Lore, handled the question when asked about potential relocation of the Wolves franchise — “We have no plans to move this,” the former Yankee said — but the real question is going to come down to how much financial assistance the new owners will want from the public when it comes to getting a new building.
- Tom Brady’s return to New England on Sunday night with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the biggest NFL story like this since Brett Favre went back to Lambeau Field as a Viking in 2009 and beat the Packers. Brady is likely to be welcomed back by many Patriots fans. The fact he’s returning with an NFC team, and not a bitter rival of the Patriots, will make a difference. When Favre took the field in a Vikings jersey, after a bitter divorce with the Packers, the noise was deafening and it wasn’t a welcome back.
- While Favre and the Packers have made up, and his time with the Vikings has been forgotten by many, I’ve always wondered what the relationship would be like if Favre had led the Vikings to a Super Bowl championship in 2009. Would the Vikings have considered retiring the No. 4? Could Packers fans have forgiven him? If not for 12-men in the huddle, and too many fumbles in New Orleans, it could have happened.
- Former defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first-team All Pro, will be inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor at halftime on Sunday. Williams, who played for the Vikings from 2003 to 2013, will be the 26th member of the Ring of Honor. He finished his career by playing 2014 in Seattle and 2015 in New Orleans.
- The Wild-Blues matchup on Jan. 1 at Target Field will be the first Winter Classic to have an evening puck drop. The game will start at 6 p.m., meaning the sun won’t be a factor. That has been an issue with other Winter Classics that start in the daytime. The event started in 2008 but this only will be the 13th. The 2013 game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor was postponed because of a lockout and last season’s game, scheduled for Target Field, was postponed because of COVID. This will be the seventh Winter Classic played in a Major League Baseball stadium. TNT, which along with ESPN will be airing NHL games this season, will have the telecast.
- Despite their shocking loss to Bowling Green, the Gophers (2-2, 0-1) are only 2.5-point underdogs for Saturday’s game at Purdue (3-1, 1-0). Purdue is coming off a 13-9 victory over Illinois in which Aidan O’Connell replaced starting quarterback Jake Plummer in third quarter. O’Connell led Purdue on a 94-yard, 10-play drive for the only touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm declined to say which quarterback will start against the Gophers when asked Monday. There also is no word on whether Purdue’s David Bell will be able to play. The standout receiver sat out the Illinois game because of a concussion suffered against Notre Dame on Sept. 18.