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Zulgad’s Roundup: Vikings’ second-half struggles on offense can be attributed to play calling

Vikings Kubiaks Calls Football
FILE – In this Aug. 21, 2021, file photo, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak watches warmups prior to an NFL preseason football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Minneapolis. Three games into his debut as the play caller, Kubiak is clicking with quarterback Kirk Cousins and making a seamless transition from his now-retired father. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs, File)

What’s wrong with the Vikings’ second-half offense?

That’s the big question after Minnesota failed to score a third or fourth quarter touchdown during the three-game homestand it completed with a last-second victory Sunday over the Lions. The Vikings beat Seattle and Detroit with a loss to Cleveland sandwiched in between and will have a chance to even their record at 3-3 when they play at Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

Minnesota hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the second half since Week 1 in Cincinnati. Linebacker Nick Vigil returned an interception 38 yards for a score one-minute into the third quarter of a Week 2 loss in Arizona, but Minnesota has managed only 18 points on six Greg Joseph field goals in seven second-half quarters since that time.

The Vikings have far too many quality skill-position players — Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn and Dalvin Cook or Alexander Mattison — to be kept out of the end zone this much. Especially against the Seahawks or Lions’ subpar defenses.

It was baffling why coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak weren’t more aggressive in the second half against the winless Lions, who entered with the 29th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL. Jefferson caught five passes for 104 yards in the first two quarters, but only two for 20 yards in the second two.

Thielen, who had a reception deep into Lions’ territory wiped out by a penalty in the second quarter, finished with two catches for 40 yards and both came on the winning drive that ended with Joseph’s 54-yard field goal. Osborn had one more reception than Thielen, but only 14 yards as Kubiak called only six more passes than running plays (34-28).

Considering Cook sat out for the second time in three games because of a sprained ankle, and the Lions are battling injuries in the secondary, this seemed like a perfect situation to let Cousins air it out. That didn’t happen and the game ended up being far too close as the Lions rallied for 11 points late in the fourth quarter to take a one-point lead.

The strength of this Vikings team is its offense, but the coaching staff doesn’t seem to understand that. At least not until it’s almost too late. Will that change against the Panthers? Don’t count on it. Carolina, which has lost two in a row after a 3-0 start, is first in the NFL in passing defense, second in total defense and third in scoring defense (17.4 points per game).

If Cousins isn’t allowed to go to the air more often against the Lions, it seems unlikely that Zimmer and Kubiak will trust him against a far better defense. That will be especially true if Cook returns in this game and is asked to carry the workload.

  • The Vikings inquired about Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert before sending a fourth-round pick to the Jets to obtain Chris Herndon in August after Irv Smith Jr. got hurt, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. Herndon was called for as many penalties on Sunday against Detroit (2) as he has targets this season. He has yet to catch a pass in five games. Goedert, who was placed on the COVID-19 list by the Eagles on Tuesday, is third on the Eagles in receiving yards (216) and tied for first with two receiving touchdowns. He has 15 catches in five games.
  • Former Twin Nelson Cruz was only 3-for-17 with one home run and an RBI for the Tampa Bay Rays in their four-game ALDS loss to the Boston Red Sox. Cruz, traded to the Rays at the deadline in a trade that brought back pitching prospect Joe Ryan, slashed .176/.222/.353 with a walk and five strikeouts in the series. Cruz has played in the postseason the past three years, twice with the Twins, and is hitting .212 with two homers and four RBIs in nine games. His teams are a combined 1-8 in that time. There are some who would like to see the 41-year-old Cruz return, but that seems unlikely considering the internal candidates to get at-bats from the DH position.
  • The Wild are 25/1 to win the Stanley Cup and tied with Dallas at 15/2 to finish second in the Central Division, according to BetOnline. Colorado (4/1), Tampa Bay (7/1) and Vegas (9/1) are the three favorites entering the season. The Avs are 2/5 to win the Central. The over/under on the Wild’s point total is 97.5. Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov is 40/1 to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. Kevin Fiala is 80/1. Dean Evason is second to Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper to capturethe Jack Adams trophy as coach of the year. Cooper is 5/1 and Evason is 6/1.
  • The Wild will start the season on Friday night with a roster that is the 26th oldest in the NHL (28.63 average age). The Blue Jackets (25.71) are the youngest team and the Islanders, with former Wild winger Zach Parise, are the oldest (29.65).
  • Parise’s contract with the Islanders has finally been filed and it’s a one-year deal for $750,000. Parise’s contract with the Wild had an average annual value of $7.538 million and had four years remaining. The team bought out his deal, along with defenseman Ryan Suter’s, in July. Suter has a four-year, $14.6 million deal with the Dallas Stars.
  • Former Vikings offensive lineman Alex Boone, who appears on the Purple Daily podcast each Tuesday, was impressed by the debut of first-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw did not start but was in for 28 of 67 snaps against the Lions. Veteran Rashod Hill played 39 snaps. It’s only a matter of time until Darrisaw takes over the left tackle job permanently.
  • Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma and sideline reporter Sara Walsh will have the call of the Vikings-Carolina game for Fox.
  • The Gophers’ offensive line took a hit in its depth when junior guard Curtis Dunlap Jr., reportedly decided to enter the NCAA transfer portal. Dunlap started three games this season, played extensively in all five and figured to be a starter next season. His decision to leave the team now means his 2021 season is over.
  • Nebraska had won 14 consecutive games against the Gophers football team between 1963 and 1990 before joining the Big Ten in 2011. The Cornhuskers beat the Gophers easily in 2011 and 2012, but since then the Gophers have won five of eight in the series against their Big Ten West foe, including the past two meetings. The Gophers (3-2, 1-1) will try to increase that streak to three on Saturday against Nebraska (3-4, 1-3) at Huntington Bank Stadium. The Huskers opened as 3-point road favorites.