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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Evaluates Vikings Before Week 4

The Vikings are almost through the first month of the 2021 season and have already withstood a roller-coaster ride.

Minnesota suffered an overtime road loss to open the season and then lost by one point in Week 2. The Vikings trailed by 10 in Week 3 before rallying for a convincing home win on Sunday.

Chad Graff of The Athletic broke down where the Vikings stand as Week 4 looms, and he gave plenty of compliments to Minnesota's offense.

Graff posted his weekly observations and went heavy on the Vikings most consistent unit, which included praise for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Graff wrote:

Cousins has had a lot of great three-game stretches — his trio in October of 2019 against the Giants, Eagles and Lions is probably the best. But he doesn't have a lot of great four-game stretches. This could be a historical pace for him with another good game this week.

Through three games, the Vikings starting quarterback has thrown for 918 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

He ranks second in ESPN's QBR stat, and is the third-highest ranked QB (with a grade of 89.1) by analytics website Pro Football Focus.

And while Cousins has connected with Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson for five combined scores this year, he's also spread the wealth on offense.

Graff highlighted the play of second-year wide receiver K.J. Osborn, who has become a consistent option in the passing game.

Speaking of Osborn, he was great again. I feel like we note him in this column every week, but he continues to do things that warrant attention.

The Vikings have lacked a viable third target since Jarius Wright left. But Osborn has stepped up when teams take away Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen in big moments. That's Osborn now. He's been targeted seven times on third or fourth down this season and has caught all seven passes.

"I have (lots) of trust in K.J.'s ability to separate versus man coverage and go get the football," Cousins said.

Graff also made sure to include the Vikings offensive line, which has had back-to-back strong games after a disappointing opener.

The offensive line is improving. Week 1 is starting to feel like a distant memory when the front five was a mess both in protection and with penalties. Brian O'Neill has become the no-doubt leader of that group, Zimmer said, which is important after Riley Reiff departed for the Bengals.

The offensive line is above average at run blocking and, the last two weeks, they've been sufficient in pass protection. The Vikings can win with a line like this.

Graff's full list of observations, which also includes notes on kicker Greg Joseph and a preview of Sunday's game against the Browns, can be found here.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Browns.

Cronin: Mattison providing solid depth behind Cook

Not many casual Vikings fans knew who Alexander Mattison was when Minnesota took the running back with the final pick of the third round (No. 102 overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft.

You can bet they do now after Mattison's big day helped the Vikings to their first win in 2021.

ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin took a look at Minnesota's decision to draft Mattison back in 2019 — even though they already had Dalvin Cook — and noted the move is paying off in a big way for the Vikings.

She wrote:

"What we're looking for in that particular case with Alexander … we're looking for another bell cow," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. "You know that you have Dalvin, but you're looking for a guy that can carry the load."

Even though Cook was healthy entering the 2019 season after a hamstring issue caused him to miss five games the previous year, the Vikings chose to plan ahead in the event another injury hampered their star running back.

That foresight has paid off throughout Mattison's three-year career, none more critical than Sunday, when the Vikings got their first win of the 2021 season. Mattison filled in for Cook, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, and helped lead the Vikings to a 30-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Mattison tied a career high with 112 yards rushing on 26 carries and had career-highs in catches (six) and receiving yards (59).

He was every bit the lead running back Minnesota needed him to be, and it allowed the Vikings to achieve offensive balance in one of their best performances of the Zimmer era.

Mattison's strong showing in Week 3 put him over 1,000 rushing yards for his career. He now has 225 carries for 1,021 yards and three touchdowns.

That includes a pair of 100-yard games, both have which have come against Seattle with a final tally of 112 rushing yards in each game.

Cook missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury after not practicing last week. Minnesota is scheduled to hold its first practice of Week 4 on Wednesday afternoon.