Allowing for the fact Nick Easton is out for the season after surgery for a herniated disc, Thursday’s game against the Rams was the first time the Vikings had all five of their starting offensive linemen on the field for a game this season. Tackle Riley Reiff played on a foot injury that kept him out of practice all week, while tackle Rashod Hill also played through a foot injury after full practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Vikings had center Pat Elflein in the lineup for the first time this season, as they faced the Rams’ formidable pass rush.
Though the group might have been marginally better on the road against the Rams than it was at home on Sunday against the Bills, the Vikings again gave up enough pressure to turn one of their longest-running issues into a prominent theme again in 2018.
Kirk Cousins, who was pressured on 53.3 percent of his dropbacks on Sunday against the Bills, was pressured 46.4 percent of the time on Thursday night, according to Pro Football Focus, getting sacked four times and being stripped of the ball for the third time in two games as John Franklin-Myers hit his arm on the Vikings’ final offensive play Thursday night.
Even with the Vikings’ pressure issues, Cousins completed 15 of his 21 attempts for 163 yards and a touchdown while under pressure, according to PFF.
But as the Vikings regroup before a NFC Championship Game rematch with the Eagles on Oct. 7, they’ll again have to sort out their issues keeping their quarterback upright.
According to PFF, Mike Remmers was responsible for eight pressures on Thursday night, and Tom Compton allowed seven, including two sacks. Elflein gave up five, as the middle of the Vikings’ line was forced to contend with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Hill allowed five, and Reiff gave up four, though he was blocking Franklin-Myers on the final play as Cousins hitched once before being hit as he tried to throw.
“I always go back and look at the plays I can control,” Cousins said. “Those are the ones I agonize over, if I feel like I can control a better result. Sometimes the fumbles, sometimes the sacks, sometimes the incompletions are not so much something I can control as much as just unfortunate. So I think it’s a balance.”
Here are some other notes and observations from Thursday’s game:
–While Sean McVay’s offense stole the show on Thursday, Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo unleashed a series of his own wrinkles, using five different personnel groupings on the Vikings’ opening touchdown drive, where five different skill position players touched the ball and Aldrick Robinson caught his first of two touchdown passes. DeFilippo used extra tight ends early to help with some of the edge pressure around the Vikings’ tackles, and found ways to incorporate role players like Robinson, C.J. Ham, Mike Boone and Tyler Conklin in the offense early. The Vikings also moved Cousins around to keep him away from the rush, employing moving pockets and bootlegs frequently.
–Cousins’ 45-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen in the third quarter came on a seam route where the receiver gave a subtle shoulder fake before turning upfield, on a play Cousins said he “wished we’d gotten back to a few more times.
“You’re just trying to move the safety, and we moved him. They spot dropped [in zone coverage], so they didn’t carry [Thielen’s route] downfield, and he was kind of just left all alone. That play’s about as old as time, and it’s a good one. You still run it, because it works.”
–As the Rams spread the Vikings out, it meant the Vikings spent virtually the entire game in their nickel package: linebacker Ben Gedeon, who typically only plays in the Vikings’ base defense, logged just two snaps on Thursday night, as the Vikings started the game with Mike Hughes on the field and eventually gave Mackensie Alexander some nickel work, likely to keep Hughes fresh. Once Trae Waynes left the game with a concussion, the Vikings had to use Hughes in their base defense, and also gave some playing time to rookie Holton Hill. Hughes led all Vikings cornerbacks with 46 snaps, ahead of Xavier Rhodes (42), Alexander (29), Waynes (24) and Hill (12).
–Mike Zimmer said on a conference call Friday afternoon that he did not expect the team to have Everson Griffen back this week, as the defensive end undergoes treatment for mental health issues. Griffen’s absence in the Vikings’ pass rush has been noticeable, allowing teams to devote more attention to Danielle Hunter. On Thursday night, Jared Goff was kept clean on 24 of his 35 dropbacks, according to PFF, and hit 21 of his 24 throws in those situations, for 380 yards and four touchdowns.