1. Cousins shows Watson how to run
How strange was it to watch Deshaun Watson refusing to run with an open field and Kirk Cousins running a called quarterback sweep on fourth-and-2 in Sunday’s 31-23 Vikings win at NRG Stadium? The Vikings were leading 10-0 early in the second quarter when Watson pulled up and forced a throw instead of running for a first down on third-and-9 at the Vikings 22. Eric Kendricks made a diving pass defense and Houston settled for a field goal. On the ensuing possession, Cousins kept a touchdown drive alive with a 5-yard gain on a called quarterback sweep from the Houston 30. “We got the look we wanted,” Cousins said. “I think we did a great job blocking it. I think Chad Beebe had to block someone about three times his size and he held up well, and that’s what allowed me to get to the edge. Just a really good play design.”
2. Pass protection improved immensely
Give offensive line coach Rick Dennison and his embattled starters credit for improving their pass protection as the game went on. The first third-down passing situation couldn’t have gone much worse. Facing a three-man rush on third-and-8, right tackle Brian O’Neill was flagged for illegal hands to the face while left tackle Riley Reiff was getting beat one-on-one for a sack by Whitney Mercilus. Cousins would be sacked two more times but enjoyed his best protection of the season by far. He completed 72.7% of his passes (16 of 22) with a touchdown, no turnovers and a passer rating (127.1) that was 111.2 points higher than the egg laid in Indianapolis. With time to throw, Cousins completed deep balls of 39, 29, 26, 25, 25 and 23. More so than any other quarterback, Cousins is a totally different player with time to throw.
3. See, Kubiak does know a thing or two
For most fans, the offensive coordinator is a dunderhead when his team loses and a genius when it wins. Sunday, Gary Kubiak was a genius. “I told Koobs during the game, I said, ‘Go ahead and be aggressive here, don’t worry about throwing the football,’ ” Zimmer said. “I thought Kirk made some great throws and he got some help.” Koobs was aggressive, but with a nice mix of run and pass. The Vikings’ two second-half touchdowns came on consecutive drives after Houston closed to within one point, 17-16. Kubiak called 14 plays that generated 153 yards in those two possessions. Dalvin Cook had seven carries for 45 yards and three first downs. Alexander Mattison had one run for a 4-yard touchdown. And Cousins completed five of five passes to three different targets — Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph — for 101 yards and a touchdown.
4. Short-yardage power on display
How’s this for an illustration of the league’s leader in yards per rushing attempt vs. the league’s worst run defense? The Vikings ran the ball 14 times when they needed fewer than 6 yards for a first down or a touchdown. They converted 11 times, scoring three touchdowns and notching eight first downs. Cook had nine of those carries and converted seven times with two touchdowns — first-and-goal from the 5; 7 yards on second-and-3 — and five first downs. “Our Coach KP [running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu], he prides ourselves on that,” Cook said. “Collision balance, contact battles. We’ve got to put that on our Coach KP for drilling that in our head and not letting us be complacent. … Just going to get it to help our team get more downs to go score. Mattison scored on first-and-goal from the 4. And Cousins had the 5-yard sweep on fourth-and-2.”
5. Boone has big play at right time
Mike Boone is a third-year running back who hasn’t carried the ball or even played a down on offense this season. He went into Sunday’s game with 20 snaps, all on special teams, including just three on punt coverage. But the undrafted overachiever showed early why he’s still on this team. The Vikings were leading 7-0 late in the first quarter when the offense sputtered and went three-and-out. Punter Britton Colquitt launched a so-so punt of 42 yards. Houston was going to get good field position at its 39 after a 5-yard return by DeAndre Carter. But Boone delivered a bone-jarring hit that knocked the ball loose. Dan Chisena recovered, giving the Vikings the ball at the Houston 35. The Vikings turned the second chance into a 22-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead. Turns out it was the only turnover in the game.