Through the past two games, only two NFL quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford — have been pressured less than the Vikings' Kirk Cousins.
The running game has been just as efficient since the dismal season-opening loss at Cincinnati, where the offensive line couldn't get out of its own way. Vikings running backs, with a start each by Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, since combined to average 4.8 yards per carry against the Cardinals and Seahawks.
That's a winning formula under first-year coordinator Klint Kubiak.
"We didn't help [Kubiak] the first game," center Garrett Bradbury said Monday. "[But] we all stood up here after Week 1 and we were like, 'This can be a great offense.' We have the players, we have the coaches, the scheme, and I think you saw a glimpse of that."
The Vikings offensive line only has one player, right tackle Brian O'Neill, who has built a strong NFL reputation. The four players to his left — right guard Oli Udoh, Bradbury, left guard Ezra Cleveland and left tackle Rashod Hill — also deserve recognition for more consistent protection and bulldozing the last two weeks.
"They all played well," coach Mike Zimmer said. "O'Neill has played well all year. I think Oli did some good things [Sunday], Cleveland did some good things. Bradbury had a tough matchup with that big nose tackle, but he did a good job. I thought Rashod played well, late he got a little bit high. For the most part he did a really good job. He battled all day."
It was a collective effort beyond the five linemen. Cousins has been very impressive, seemingly comfortable in a game plan with decisive reads and quick throws. He completed more than a handful of passes in which the Seahawks had a "free runner," or untouched pass rusher, that Cousins was responsible for mitigating by getting the ball out. Teammates like fullback C.J. Ham and tight end Tyler Conklin have also played well up front.
Here's a deeper look at how. Stats like pressure and play-action percentages are compiled by Pro Football Focus.
1. Vikings coaches stretched the levels of the Seahawks' deep shell coverage, in which safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs were often far back. Or as Seahawks corner D.J. Reed put it after the game, "they schemed our [butt] up." There were big gains had on play designs that attacked the intermediate levels, under Seattle's deep defenders and over the linebackers drawn up by underneath routes.
Receiver Adam Thielen's 21-yard catch in the third quarter is one example. Even though it's a three-receiver formation, the Vikings are condensed with receiver K.J. Osborn (#17) next to the tackle like he's another tight end. He'll help Hill, the left tackle, by chipping the edge rusher (although coaches might like a better hit from Osborn here).
With chips slowing the edge rush, Cleveland helps Bradbury double 345-pound Seahawks nose tackle Bryan Mone. Udoh, the right guard, gives defensive tackle Poona Ford a "jump set," a pass protection set in which he jumps slightly forward to initiate contact and make the defensive line think run, even if for a split second.
With a clean pocket, Cousins delivers to a wide-open Thielen.
2. It's a group effort in the running game, where fullback C.J. Ham and tight end Tyler Conklin can be just as important as the linemen. And Ham was strong on Sunday. He set a resonating tone out of halftime with this block on a 9-yard run by Mattison.
This run design asks a lot of Bradbury, a 300-pound center, to handle the 345-pound Mone without help from his guards. He's one of three single blocks up front on the Seahawks defensive line, while Cleveland and Udoh immediately climb to the linebackers.
Mone gets inside on Bradbury, working the center backward, but it's Ham's lead block that jars the nose tackle and clears a narrow path for Mattison up the middle.
3. The Vikings have relied less and less on play-action passing, perhaps as opponents have generated frequent pressure from edge rushers attacking uphill against bootlegs. Cousins is faking a handoff before passing on just 20.6% of his throws through three games, including just 23.1% in his banner day against the Seahawks. That's down from 28.7% last year, and 31.4% during the 2019 season.
On this third-and-13 below, Cousins doesn't even have a running back, but he and his offensive line were phenomenal.
Cousins works the hard count, exposing Adams' incoming blitz and the Seahawks' single-high safety coverage. With receiver Dede Westbrook (#12) working the middle of the field, Thielen (#19) runs a post route behind him, forcing the safety to choose a route to cover.
The tackles — O'Neill and Hill — run Seattle's edge rushers downhill, while the interior line is stout against Adams' ineffective blitz. Cousins' pass is perfectly timed to Thielen for a 15-yard touchdown.
"When Kirk has a clean pocket," Bradbury said, "we all see how good he can be."
4. It's a copycat league, they say, and the Seahawks ran the same red-zone coverage the Vikings saw in Cincinnati. The Bengals got a sack out of it. But Vikings coaches have clearly learned.
The Seahawks drop a linebacker onto the line, forming a 4-3 under front, but really it's meant to look like a five-man pass rush. Seattle's edge defenders carry it out that way, faking a rush before dropping into an eight-man coverage with just three pass rushers. It's meant to hold the Vikings' edge blockers, making them hesitate before helping the interior line. The Bengals successfully did this, isolating three rushers on three interior linemen, for a sack in Week 1. This time, Kubiak gave the line some more help.
During tight end Tyler Conklin's 7-yard touchdown catch, tight end Ben Ellefson (#82) played an important role. His presence on the field allowed O'Neill to help with the inside rush, giving the Vikings a 4-on-3 advantage that kept the pocket firm for Cousins, because it was Ellefson — not O'Neill — responsible for the fake edge rush.
Conklin (#83) then beats the linebacker in coverage for a touchdown with another timely throw from Cousins, who had few windows against an eight-man coverage.
5. The timing of Kubiak's calls were effective in his third regular season game. Not everything worked, of course. Thielen laughed when asked about lining up in the backfield, saying that's why he's a receiver after he was tackled for a loss on a swing pass. There was also the Cousins' quarterback keeper to the edge that gained just two yards. Some plays can probably be chucked.
However, the screen game was humming. Vikings coaches further stretched the Seahawks defense apart with a timely screen attack that took advantage of an aggressive defensive line.
"It was a big part of our success," Bradbury said. "That slowed the pass rush down a little bit, too. Just staying balanced. That was coach Kubiak's thing when we hit them with the screen game, run game, play-action, dropback, so you had them guessing quite a bit."
Mattison's 23-yard catch and run came immediately after a third-down sack on Cousins was negated by a defensive holding penalty. It was a huge swing in the game, and a great time to call a screen against a salivating pass rush that had just sacked Cousins but had it wiped away.