Don’t blame Gary Kubiak.
Boy, that sounds strange. The Vikings lost a critical game at home to the hated and inferior Dallas Cowboys. Their dwindling playoff chances were gut-punched.
And the offensive coordinator isn’t under siege from social media’s Purple Pitchfork Posse?!
Smart, too, because Kubiak had another strong game. An excellent feel for how to initiate his 10 possessions using the league’s hottest running back, Kirk Cousins’ accuracy to all parts of the field, and the gifted hands and body control of two elite receivers.
Kubiak opened those possessions with four runs and six passes. Not bad for an unapologetic run-oriented team.
Dalvin Cook had 34 yards on those four carries, an 8.5-yard average with a game-high carry of 16 yards.
Meanwhile, Cousins completed five of the six passes to four different players for 98 yards and four first downs. Cook had two of the receptions, including his longest catch of 26 yards. Kyle Rudolph’s longest catch (12 yards) also came at the start of a possession.
The other two completions to open a possession were deep balls of 28 yards to Adam Thielen on the right side of the field and 27 yards to Justin Jefferson on an over-the-shoulder grab down the left sideline.
“One of the things I appreciate about Gary is he’s done what I’m doing, he’s been a head coach, so he sees the big picture of the game,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last week when Kubiak stayed doggedly committed to the run in scratching out a win against the Bears at Soldier Field.
“Against the Bears, Gary knew their offense wasn’t going up and down the field on us. That’s part of the process of having a feel for the game. He knew he could continue to grind it out with the running game. And Kirk also did a great job in that game of getting rid of the ball quick, getting it in the right places for some runs after the catch.”
The Cowboys game would be a little different. Kubiak could open things up a little more. Plus, with the Vikings defense failing to pressure Andy Dalton, Kubiak knew he’d have to score more than the 19 points it took to dispose of the Bears.
Here is a closer look at how Kubiak opened each possession:
• Cook up the middle for 4 yards. The best player on the field should be the first to touch it. Just don’t keep sending him up the middle to start drives.
• Deep ball to Thielen for 28 yards down the right side. The Cowboys were looking for Cook.
• Deep ball to Jefferson for 27 yards down the left side. The Cowboys probably still were looking for Cook.
• The Cowboys wised up and sent a safety blitz off the front side. They guessed right because Cousins was looking to throw deep right to Thielen. He threw it away under heavy pressure.
• Cousins looked deep right again before turning left and delivering the screen pass that Cook took 26 yards.
• Cook carried 9 yards up the middle.
• Cook ran off right tackle for 5 yards.
• Cook sneaked around left end for 16 yards.
• Rudolph was open for 12 yards off another play-action look.
• Cook took a short pass around left end for 4 yards.
That last play came with 1:37 left and the Vikings trailing 31-28. Cook went out of bounds at the Vikings 29-yard line.
That’s when it became Cousins’ responsibility to make something happen. He had 1:33 and one timeout left. The minimum requirement at that moment was to get 34 yards to give Dan Bailey a chance to tie the score with a 52-yard field goal, which would have matched his season long.
And what happened?
Nothing. And it happened so fast, the Vikings didn’t even have an opportunity to call their third timeout.
Cousins had a good game overall. But when the Vikings needed a touch of unscripted greatness, it took him 15 seconds to throw three incompletions and turn the ball over on downs.
Don’t blame Gary Kubiak.