Tony Romo has quickly ascended to the top of the heap in terms of NFL broadcast analysts since being hired by CBS before the 2017 season. Luckily for Vikings fans — but maybe not the Vikings — Romo missed the cut in his dual career as an aspiring pro golfer and was available to work Sunday’s broadcast during Minnesota’s 16-6 loss to the Bears.
Romo offered sharp assessments throughout of the Vikings’ offense. Here are six that I gleaned from re-watching the game Monday (I did it so you don’t have to):
1 — “For Chicago and Minnesota because they’re so good on defense it lets you breathe. If you can get the lead early as a play caller it completely changes the game on both sides of the ball. … You don’t have to get this play. You don’t have to get this third down. You can be efficient.”
Romo said that after the Bears chewed up half the first quarter on the way to taking a 7-0 lead, and it’s worth repeating: In their last six losses, many in marquee matchups dating back to the middle of last season, the Vikings have fallen behind by double-digits before they had any points on the board. This team is built to play with a lead, but not from behind. Many teams are, of course, but that’s particularly true when you build around a running game and defense.
2 — “It’s a different offense you’re seeing out of Minnesota and Kirk Cousins now … I actually love it. I think this is exactly how this team should be built right now. (Dalvin) Cook is amazing. They run fullbacks. Two tight ends. Three tight ends.”
It’s worth noting that Romo approves of the way the Vikings are playing, and upon further review the first half was not quite as miserable as I remembered. The Vikings only had two drives and moved the ball OK both times. Once Cousins missed Adam Thielen on a deep shot on third down at midfield and on the other Stefon Diggs fumbled in Chicago territory. After the Thielen play, Romo said:
“When you look at other angle you’re like, ‘boy, you should have those,’ but it’s tough. Great design, take your shot and move on.”
3 — “If he’s able to do this — extend the play on third down with the way they run the football and play defense normally — if he can make some of these plays and move the chains, this team is really good. … That’s what you need to see out of Kirk Cousins because they’re going to run the football and run it a lot.”
That came after Cousins eluded a rush and made a nice pass for a first down. The problem is, that’s not really where Cousins generally has proven to be at his best. On the day, the Vikings were OK percentage wise (38) on third down conversions, but that was via 5 makes on 13 tries. That’s a slim margin for error and leads to a lot of stalled possessions.
4 — “Cousins has had trouble holding onto that football. … If you have trouble holding onto the football, Mack is going to at some point make you uncomfortable and see if you have changed.”
After the strip sack on the opening play of the third quarter, which gave Chicago a short field the Bears cashed in for a field goal and a 13-0 lead. Cousins’ fumbles are a known problem, but when you combine them with the other things ailing the offense against quality defenses the turnovers are magnified.
5 — “Kirk Cousins is going to be upset with himself later. Watch how open Cook is going to be … that’s up the sideline and might be a touchdown.”
Romo with a good dissection of a missed opportunity on a third and short in the third quarter that ended with an incomplete pass and stalled drive. Perhaps skittish (and rightfully so) from a Bears pass rush that was all over him most of the day, Cousins didn’t see Cook open early on the left side. Cousins instead flushed out to the right and had to throw the ball away. It’s maybe less obvious than a deep ball that doesn’t hit, but it’s just as damaging.
6 — “This is exactly what I think Minnesota should have done on the series before. It should have been no-huddle. Obviously the other stuff wasn’t working. … Let Cousins be what he’s done most of his career. Get the ball out of his hands and get up fast.”
On the Vikings’ TD drive in the latter half of the fourth quarter, which was too little, too late. Romo thought the Vikings needed to abandon their game plan a little earlier than they did. I think most fans would agree.
Overall, Romo pretty much nailed it. The Vikings’ system — a work in progress through just four games — is fine in theory, and they have the personnel to run first to set up the pass. But it’s a hard way to play when they fall behind, and in those situations they need better decisions from Cousins, better play from the offensive line and more creativity on offense when the game plan isn’t working.