Ben Goessling’s Second Thoughts
A look back at the Vikings’ 21-16 loss in Green Bay
Three players who stood out
• Dalvin Cook: Only five of his 20 carries went for 2 or fewer yards, and 10 of his runs gained at least 4 (including his 75-yard touchdown run) on a 154-yard day. The Vikings need the NFL rushing leader to stay healthy — he has been their most productive offensive player by far.
• Everson Griffen: The defensive end came into the game champing at the bit to face David Bakhtiari, believing he had found some ways to avoid Bakhtiari’s attempts to get his hands on him, and he cast a formidable presence for the second week in a row. Even though he didn’t register a sack, he had three hits on Aaron Rodgers and made his presence felt in other ways, as well.
• Eric Kendricks: To the extent the Vikings had a chance to come back and win the game even after Kirk Cousins’ interception with five minutes left, Kendricks helped make it happen. He never got a chance to look back for the ball on a second-and-10 Aaron Jones wheel route after the Cousins pick, but Kendricks read Jones’ eyes and reached up to swat the ball away from the running back with his back to Rodgers. The breakup helped prevent a big gain, and the Packers eventually had to punt with four minutes left.
Two trends to watch
The Vikings’ plan at nickel cornerback: It appeared Jayron Kearse was the recipient of Mike Zimmer’s quick hook on the Packers’ second drive, after giving up a 17-yard completion against Davante Adams. But then Rodgers went after Nate Meadors for his second touchdown pass, and the Vikings returned to Kearse in the slot for the rest of the game; he played 39 of their 75 defensive snaps, compared to only five for Meadors. It seemed unlikely the Vikings would bring the recovering Mike Hughes back for his first game against Rodgers at Lambeau Field; a home game against the Raiders on Sunday could be a more forgiving environment. But if Hughes needs more time to return from his torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the Vikings continue to be without Mackensie Alexander because of his dislocated right elbow, they’re likely to see teams attacking their slot corners like Rodgers did on Sunday.
The Vikings’ ability to limit big plays: After allowing 17 plays of 20 yards or more in the first four games last season, the Vikings have given up only six in two weeks. None has been longer than the Packers’ game-opening 39-yarder to Adams on Sunday, and after Rodgers hit Adams for 21 yards on the game’s second drive, he didn’t complete a pass longer than 15 yards. The Vikings forced Rodgers to hold the ball longer as the game progressed, and that’s going to be a dicey proposition for most quarterbacks given how relentless their edge rushers can be. If they can tighten up their coverages the way they did Sunday, they’ll be able to continue limiting big plays.
And one big question
How much can the Vikings expect Cousins to limit the turnovers? After the game on Sunday, Zimmer said Cousins has “all the talent. We just need to continue to coach him the way we want him to play.” The Vikings will certainly continue to work with their quarterback, and with Gary Kubiak on hand to help Klint Kubiak with the quarterbacks, Cousins has a wealth of resources available to him during the week. But there’s a certain amount of playing quarterback that seems instinctual, and after four straight seasons of at least 10 interceptions, it’s fair to wonder how much that’s part of Cousins’ DNA as a quarterback. We should note that Cousins was ninth in the league in interception rate last year, after ranking outside the top 10 for his first four years as a starter, and that at age 31 he isn’t necessarily a finished product; none other than Brett Favre had the lowest interception rate of his career in 2009 while he played for the Vikings and current offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was the team’s assistant quarterback coach. We’ll see how much Cousins can cut down on the turnovers; the Vikings don’t have much of a choice but to hope he can.