The Vikings were being shut out by the 49ers 14-0 at halftime in their third preseason game of 2017. They had rushed for just 22 yards and converted on just one of six third downs.
Kirk Cousins watched on television that Sunday night as Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook took a seat at halftime, as did the NFL’s eventual No. 1 defense.
A year later, Cousins takes the Vikings into their “dress rehearsal” exhibition Friday night against the Seahawks, when starters should play the entire first half.
The lessons Cousins and the Vikings’ evolving offense will learn about themselves will be much more nuanced than the final score and yardage totals indicate.
“The way that game went was certainly not a tale of the way the seasons went for those two teams, especially out of the gate,” Cousins said. “Yet, I do think it tells you something. You have to learn from it and teach off of it.”
Teaching moments will come from a Vikings offense closest to completion since Cousins arrived in Minnesota this spring. Cook is expected to play at least a series or two at running back, and right guard Mike Remmers will make his preseason debut after recovering from an ankle injury.
Where the offense is in its progression is the question hanging over the Vikings before the Sept. 9 opener against the 49ers. Not even Cousins said he can answer that, and he cautions he still won’t have the answer after starters take a seat Friday night.
So far, two preseason outings fielded the most varying results; Cousins threw for more yards (28) on one downfield touch pass to Stefon Diggs in Denver than he did through four series (12) against Jacksonville. Practices have been even more lopsided toward the Vikings defense.
“I thought that they were better [Wednesday],” coach Mike Zimmer said. “When you go against guys every day, I don’t know if it’s ever really a good test because the defense knows a lot of their plays and [the offense is] still installing. But I thought they looked better today. Hopefully they look good Friday night.”
So as little as Friday night’s performance might tell about the upcoming season, it’ll be Cousins and company’s best measuring stick to date.
“We do our best [in practice], but that’s why I think it does take the first few weeks of the regular season to really evaluate where you are as a team, as an offense,” Cousins said.
“We’ll do the best we can and that is where this Friday night, we are all pretty excited for this opportunity to get some level of measuring stick for where we are.”
The linchpin still is missing, with concerns rising the longer center Pat Elflein remains on the physically unable to perform list.
He’s yet to pass a physical and practice with Cousins, who has given honest assessments about how difficult it is for a quarterback to install a new offense without his center.
The Vikings try to calm offensive line concerns by reminding themselves their 2017 line didn’t play a snap together until Week 1 against the Saints. But this time around they’ve already lost starting left guard Nick Easton for the season and Elflein is working his way back from shoulder surgery.
A bright spot has been the run game with Latavius Murray, Mike Boone and a patchwork line. Against the Seahawks, Zimmer wants to see a better pocket for Cousins with four of the five projected offensive line starters in the lineup.
“We need to firm up the pocket a little bit, stay stout in there,” Zimmer said. “That’ll help the quarterback some.”
On defense, the Vikings will be without defensive end Everson Griffen (left leg) and cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander (ankle) and Mike Hughes (undisclosed). The biggest question about Zimmer’s premier group is how this week’s free-agent acquisition, George Iloka, will fit into the lineup at safety.
We’ll find out a little more on Friday night.
“They wouldn’t want me to come out here this fast to practice if they didn’t have plans on playing me in some capacity,” Iloka said.