The Vikings were a popular Super Bowl pick after they reached the NFC Championship last season and added defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and quarterback Kirk Cousins to their roster.
But the Vikings simply haven’t put together a strong start to their season, despite Cousins and Richardson performing pretty well.
Cousins is actually putting up better numbers than Case Keenum did a season ago.
Through 10 games Cousins has completed 289 of 409 passes (70.7 percent) for 2,947 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions, good for a 99.3 passer rating, which ranks 12th in the NFL.
Through 10 games last season, Keenum had completed 218 of 330 passes (66.1 percent) for 2,476 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions, good for a 96.2 passer rating.
But one big difference, which shows how shaky the Vikings offensive line has been, is that Cousins has taken the 10th-most sacks in the league at 26 after Keenum took just 22 sacks all of last season.
Part of the discrepancy is Keenum’s superior mobility compared to Cousins, but not all of it.
And those sacks have made a difference in Cousins’ turnover numbers. Cousins has only thrown seven interceptions, but his four fumbles are tied for the most in the NFL.
Richardson, meanwhile, is on pace for 50 tackles and his interior line play has helped make the Vikings the No. 4 team in the NFL against the run, allowing just 94.8 yards per game.
Giving games away
The simple fact is the Vikings keep giving games away.
In Week 2 they watched as Daniel Carlson missed three field-goal attempts, including one in overtime, in a game that ended in a tie against the Packers and cost Carlson his job.
And it is worth noting that Carlson has rebounded after being picked up by the Raiders and has made 6-of-7 field-goal attempts, including a game winner last Sunday against Arizona.
After that Green Bay contest the Vikings weren’t ready to face Buffalo in Week 3, a 27-6 loss that remains unbelievable.
And they gave away their contest with New Orleans, one in which they were commanding until a costly Adam Thielen fumble late in the first half.
Against Chicago on Sunday you wouldn’t think the Vikings were coming off a bye week and had 14 days to prepare.
In the first half the Vikings were outgained 202-77 and had just five first downs compared to 15 for Chicago. They added a turnover in the red zone when Dalvin Cook fumbled on a potential scoring drive. And Cousins threw an interception as Minnesota was trying to get on the board at the end of the half.
They trailed 14-0 at halftime and never got close to taking a lead.
The Vikings are seventh in the NFL in giveaways with 16, seven on interceptions and nine on fumbles.
Thielen, who caught seven passes for 66 yards in the loss, tried to pinpoint what went wrong.
“Turnovers obviously in the red zone, situational stuff that we missed out on, some third down stuff early in the game,” he said. “You go back and the first thing you do after a game like that is you kind of go and evaluate yourself with what you could have done better to help the team.”
No rest for defense
While the season has had some stumbles, the Vikings defense remains about as good as last season.
They’re fifth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 320.8 yards per game. Only Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago and Jacksonville have been better.
They are giving up over a touchdown more per game at 22.9 points per game this season compared to 15.8 last season, but some of those turnovers have either been returned for scores or led to good field position for easy points.
Safety Harrison Smith, who had two tackles for loss and was second on the team with eight tackles against the Bears, was asked how the team can improve.
“Just like we talked about with that last game, some good things and still not enough,” Smith said. “They did more good than we did and we need to flip that to be on the winning side.”
The Vikings need to figure things out in the middle of the toughest stretch of their season. They have Green Bay at home Sunday night, then go on the road against the Patriots and Seattle.
If the Vikings go 0-3 in those contests their chances at the postseason will be almost nil.
Fleck ready for 2019
The Gophers football team will try to win against the Badgers this weekend for the first time since November of 2003. Saturday will also mark 8,800 days since their last win in Madison on October 22, 1994.
But coach P.J. Fleck, who faced the Badgers in Madison when he was an assistant at Northern Illinois in 2009, said that no matter the result or the Gophers’ final record, this season has been a success for the program.
“You look at the win-loss column and that’s not going to get people excited, but for me I think we are in a lot of positions overachieving and doing a lot of things that I don’t think a lot of people expected us to do,” Fleck said. “There is so many individual and so many team things that we are getting better at and they kind of get hidden behind a little bit of the record, but I am really happy with the progression of the process of what we’re doing.”
Fleck said one of the things he is really excited for is the arrival of the 2019 recruiting class in December.
“Just as good if not a little bit better than 2018,” he said about the incoming recruits. “We have 28 days until signing day so we have a lot of work to do. Win or lose come Sunday we are out recruiting.”
He added that this season the 2018 recruiting class has been as impressive as any he has had.
“Thank goodness we have them,” Fleck said. “They have helped us tremendously at every single position. We’re excited about the ’19 class, as well, adding to the ’18 class and everybody else here.”
Looking forward to next season, the Gophers won’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
With the return of players such as Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith and Antoine Winfield Jr., Fleck believes the future remains bright.
“We have a huge nucleus coming back for next year,” he said. “We are excited about that. The ’18 class is going to grow up and the ’19 class will be here. We’ll just take the next right step.”