Ben Goessling’s Second Thoughts
A look back at the Viking’ 16-6 loss in Chicago.
Three players who stood out
• Eric Kendricks: The linebacker had 12 tackles Sunday, leading all players in the game, and was a big reason the Bears weren’t able to get their run game going after Mitchell Trubisky left. Chicago ran for just 72 yards on 33 carries. Kendricks has 26 solo tackles and seven assists through four games.
• Danielle Hunter: He had the hit that knocked Trubisky out of the game, and applied consistent pressure on Chase Daniel after Trubisky left. When Daniel tried to scramble for a first down on a third-and-3 at the end of the first half, Hunter made a play around the edge of the line of scrimmage to stop him a yard short.
• Everson Griffen: On a day where the Vikings mostly had to settle for pressures against a quarterback intent on getting rid of the ball early, Griffen led the team with a pair of QB hits.
Two trends to watch
The Vikings’ plan with Mike Hughes: Now that the Vikings have Mackensie Alexander back from a dislocated elbow and Hughes back from last year’s torn ACL, they have a wealth of cornerback depth, with three first-round picks and a second-rounder available to Mike Zimmer. They took advantage of it Sunday by employing Hughes in a number of different roles in the third quarter, inserting him at right cornerback for Xavier Rhodes before using him at Trae Waynes’ left cornerback spot two plays later. Hughes also saw time in Mackensie Alexander’s nickel cornerback spot. The fact that he is healthy and trustworthy enough to play three spots is a luxury, and as the Vikings work Hughes back into their rotation, it appears they’ll take advantage of his versatility to give their other corners a break and mix up their coverages.
Whether Bisi Johnson can emerge as a No. 3 receiver: Most of the rookie’s playing time came in the final minutes Sunday, as the Vikings were forced to open things up and throw out of three-receiver sets on their lone touchdown drive. But Johnson caught four passes for 35 yards, taking advantage of Kyle Fuller’s off coverage for a 9-yard gain before beating the cornerback with an in-breaking route for 16 yards on a third-and-1. Johnson’s crisp routes are what caught the Vikings’ attention in the draft, and he showed his ability in the preseason as he secured a roster spot. It’s likely the Vikings will continue to employ fullback C.J. Ham or a second tight end more frequently than a third receiver, but it’ll be interesting to see if Johnson is rewarded for what he did Sunday with his slice of playing time.
And one big question
Can the Vikings’ offense operate effectively when it has to rely on Kirk Cousins? There’s no mystery to the method the Vikings have used to be at their best this season: They’ve run the ball effectively at home against middling opponents, built big leads and let their pass rushers go to work in the midst of deafening crowd noise. That doesn’t work on the road, and it certainly won’t work against the opponents the Vikings will face away from U.S. Bank Stadium in the second half of the season (Kansas City, Dallas, Seattle and the Los Angeles Chargers). Early last season, when the Vikings had defense and special teams issues, Cousins directed a prolific passing game that carried them to a 4-2-1 start. Since then, the quarterback has seemed off, and it’s worth wondering at this point how much the Vikings are planning to play around him. In his past 12 games, Cousins has thrown for more than 250 yards just four times, and he has yet to do it this season. As much as the Vikings have emphasized how the ground game is their identity, the fact of the matter is they’ve got one of the game’s highest-paid quarterbacks and two of its highest-paid receivers. Whether they’re choosing not to place more of an emphasis on the passing game, or they don’t believe they can, it’s hard to imagine them going very far without fixing the problem.