The Vikings expressed confidence in their offseason plan to rebuild the defense in part because the offense had been so successful in 2020. The Vikings finished fourth in total offense (393.3 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (26.6 points per game). Minnesota remains a Top 10 team in total offense this season, ranking seventh with an average of 394.7 yards per game, but the most important number, the scoring offense, has sunk to 18th (23.3 points) under first-year coordinator Klint Kubiak.
That drop is one of the reasons the Vikings are sitting at 3-4 entering Sunday’s game in Baltimore. Kubiak, 34, replaced his father, Gary, as the Vikings’ coordinator after last season and is calling plays for the first time in his coaching career. Minnesota’s offense has been fantastic at the beginning of games, when it’s running the package of plays that have been scripted during the week, but after that there has been a drop off that includes questionable play-calling decisions.
Kirk Cousins’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen on Sunday against Dallas marked the sixth consecutive game in which the Vikings have gotten points on their opening drive. Four of those drives have resulted in Cousins throwing a touchdown pass. But the Vikings didn’t score a touchdown after that in a 20-16 loss to the Cowboys.
As far as the questionable decisions, the top one might be how much the younger Kubiak has gone away from the play-action pass. The Vikings were eighth in the NFL last season under Gary Kubiak, running play action 29 percent of the time. This season they have dropped to 29th. Considering Cousins thrives when play action is used, and the Vikings have Dalvin Cook and very capable backup in Alexander Mattison in their backfield, deciding to dramatically reduce play action seems unwise.
Coach Mike Zimmer talked about having his offensive staff do a self-scout during the week leading up to a 34-28 overtime victory at Carolina. Combine that with the fact the Vikings had a bye the following week, giving everyone more time to dissect the offensive system, and the lack of execution against the Cowboys gets even more alarming.
The Vikings had three consecutive series in the second half Sunday that went three-and-out and gained a total of 14 yards. Minnesota took a 16-13 lead on a drive that began at its own 26-yard line with 8 minutes, 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter and got all the way to the Dallas 4.
Three penalties on the Cowboys — one for roughing the passer and two for unnecessary roughness — helped put the ball at the 4 but Cook lost 4 yards on a rushing attempt, Mattison lost 3 after a reception and Cousins’ 6-yard pass to Thielen only put the ball at the Dallas 5. Instead of a touchdown, the Vikings had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Greg Joseph.
The Cowboys put together their game-winning drive on the next possession. And this isn’t even getting into the fact that standout receiver Justin Jefferson somehow managed to be targeted only four times, catching two passes, or one fewer than fullback C.J. Ham.
With Zimmer on the hot seat, you have to wonder if he would make a move to try to jump start the offense and get more consistency? He already has Klint Kubiak scripting the opening drive of the second half but that hasn’t worked. Zimmer’s patience with offense never has been high and Kubiak is his sixth offensive coordinator since taking over in 2014.
If the Vikings again come out hot on Sunday and then falter, it will be interesting to see if Zimmer sticks with the status quo or looks to make some type of change with the play calling.
- Center Garrett Bradbury’s continued struggles in pass protection have caused many to wonder if the 2019 first-round pick might be benched. That hasn’t happened but Bradbury has landed on the COVID-19 list and won’t play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. That likely will give Mason Cole, obtained from Arizona during the offseason for a 2021 sixth-round pick, a chance to start. Bradbury has started 39 consecutive regular-season games since joining the Vikings. Cole has started 30 of the 32 games he has played in during his career at center, but the results haven’t been very good. As a rookie in 2018, he served as an injury replacement and ranked 23rd out of 25 full-time centers, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season, he ranked 28th out of 32 centers, or four spots below Bradbury.
- It sounds like the Vikings had interest in Jacksonville defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson as they looked at potential options to add depth after Danielle Hunter suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle on Sunday and Stephen Weatherly was traded to Denver during the bye week. The Vikings failed to work a deal for Chaisson, who was a first-round pick (20th overall) of the Jaguars out of LSU in 2020, before the trade deadline on Tuesday. Chaisson has only two career sacks, including one this year, in 23 games.
- Linebacker Eric Wilson had a strong season for the Vikings in 2020 after Anthony Barr was lost for the year in Week 2, but he didn’t draw as much interest on the free agent market as some expected. Wilson eventually signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with Philadelphia, but he ended up starting only two games and was released Wednesday.
- The Twins must decide this week whether they will exercise the $5.5 million option for 2022 on reliever Alexander Colome’s contract. The Twins can pay $1.25 million to buy out Colome in a contract that has a mutual option. That gives Colome the right to become a free agent, even if the Twins exercise the option. Clearly, he wouldn’t do that and the guess here is the Twins won’t bring him back. Colome, who signed a one-year, $5 million deal for 2021 that included the option, was expected to be the Twins’ closer but got off to a terrible start and had a 1-3 record with two saves, three blown saves and an 8.31 ERA in April. The 32-year-old finished the year with a 4-4 record, a 4.15 ERA and 17 saves in 67 games.
- Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck’s seven-year, $35 million contract extension that he signed this week, adds two years to the deal he signed in 2019 and bumps his average salary to $5 million from the $4.65 he will make this year. What the University of Minnesota gets out of this is not having to worry if Fleck might leave for another job in the next few years. According to the Star Tribune, his previous buyout for this year was $4.5 million and that was going to drop to $3 million for the next two years. Now, if Fleck leaves for another coaching job before Dec. 31, 2022, he would owe the university $10 million. That figure will be $7 million in 2023 and $5 million in 2024. That’s the key reason these extensions keep getting done and are really short-term agreements dressed up as multiyear contracts.
- Former Wild star Marian Gaborik, who hasn’t played since the 2017-18 season, officially announced his retirement from the NHL on Thursday. Gaborik, who will turn 40 in February, was drafted third overall by the expansion Wild in 2000. The winger played eight seasons with the Wild, scoring 219 goals with 218 assists in 502 games. He also had nine goals and 17 points in 18 playoff games in 2003 as the Wild made their run to the Western Conference finals. Gaborik played four seasons with the Rangers, two with the Blue Jackets, five with the Kings and one in Ottawa. He won a Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2014 after being traded by the Blue Jackets. Gaborik’s numbers with the Wild were impressive, but you have to wonder how much better those stats would have been if he played in today’s more skilled and fast NHL.
- Gaborik is still the Wild’s all-time leader in goals with 14 more than Mikko Koivu, who played for the franchise for 15 years. Gaborik’s 437 points are second in franchise history to Koivu’s 709. Gaborik also remains the Wild’s all-time leader in game-winning goals (43) and hat tricks (nine). Zach Parise is next with three. The Wild did pretty well by taking Gaborik third. The top pick was goalie Rick DiPietro by the Islanders and the second pick was winger Dany Heatley by Atlanta. Fellow expansion team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, selected fourth and took defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who played in 659 NHL games with the Blue Jackets and Coyotes. The Wild selected third in that draft after winning a coin flip over Columbus.
- The Timberwolves announced a crowd of 15,386 for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers at Target Center. That was 110 more fans than the Wild announced for their game the night before against Ottawa at Xcel Energy Center.