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Final Thoughts: Vikings Focused on Task Ahead, Looking to Bounce Back in Week 2

EAGAN, Minn. — There was a weird and eerie vibe inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. And with no fans to fire them up, the Vikings were flat in a Week 1 loss.

Now, Minnesota heads to Indianapolis for a Week 2 matchup, with both teams sitting at 0-1.

There shouldn't be any excuses for the off environment this time around, even if the Colts are expected to have a maximum of 2,500 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"I think this week will be more normal than it was last week," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "Last week there was a lot of things going on, a lot of uncertainty … 'What's the crowd going to be like?' … I think they just understand a little bit better now what it's really going to be like.

"You know, we just have to be focused on our job and what we're going to do, and we can't worry about crowds and protocols and anything like that," Zimmer later added. "We have to understand what our job is and go out and play real recklessly and hard."

Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill is among the players who are ready for a chance to get a win in Week 2, no matter the circumstances.

"It's different for everybody, and it will be a little bit different this week with fans, but at the end of the day, it's just football," O'Neill added. "That's what we've got to try to keep it like, is just playing football, continuing to go out there and do our job, and try to do it at a high level."

Kickoff is at noon (CT) on FOX from Indianapolis.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com:

Go with what works | By @Eric_L_Smith

There was a myriad of reasons why Kirk Cousins attempted just one play-action pass in Week 1.

Down by double-digits in Week 1, the Vikings had to abandon the run and try to play catch-up in a game where they ended up holding the ball for less than 19 total minutes.

So it's safe to say that everyone involved in Minnesota's offense, including Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, would prefer more play-action attempts from Cousins.

"Yeah, I mean, if we're on-rhythm and doing the things we like to do, we'll definitely get more than that," Kubiak said. "We got in the situation in the second half, we had to go no-huddle, and it's hard to play past people when you're in that situation.

"So, it got a little different from that standpoint," Kubiak added, "but hopefully we stay on-rhythm here this week … but it's definitely something that Kirk does really well."

View game action images between matchups of the Vikings and Colts through the years.

Cousins' lone play-action pass went for a 37-yard score to Adam Thielen, meaning he had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 on that type of throw.

But for a larger sample size, let's look at Cousins' play-action numbers from 2019, according to the analytics website Pro Football Focus.

PFF noted Cousins completed 102 of 142 play-action passes (71.8 percent) in 2019, throwing for 1,373 yards with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And of the 24 quarterbacks who had at least 85 play-action attempts in 2019, Cousins ranked first with a passer rating of 129.2.

The Colts defense, meanwhile, struggled against play-action passes in Week 1. Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew completed six of seven passes for 60 yards and a score, with a passer rating of 142.0.

Kubiak is known for his affinity for play action, and the scheme fits into Cousins' skillset exceptionally well. If the Vikings can get it going in Week 2, they could find themselves with a .500 record entering Week 3.

Different team, same Buckner | By @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings offensive line will have another tough test in Indianapolis this weekend.

After facing Green Bay's 3-4 defense in Week 1, Minnesota is adjusting to face a 4-3 front led by Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus. Not only are the Vikings adjusting for the different scheme, but they'll have their hands full with a talented defensive line bookended by DeForest Buckner and Justin Houston. (Note: Houston missed practice Thursday with a calf injury).

While Minnesota hasn't played Indianapolis since 2016, the Vikings are plenty familiar with Buckner, who spent the first four seasons of his NFL career in San Francisco. The 2016 first-rounder (No. 7 overall) recorded a sack, two tackles, one tackle for loss and a forced fumble against the Vikings in last season's NFC Divisional Round playoff game.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak commented specifically on Buckner during his Thursday session with media members.

"First off, he's a very big man," Kubiak said of the 6-foot-7, 300-pounder. "An extremely good player, plays with great leverage, causes you a lot of problems in the places they play him, knocks balls down, you know, quarterbacks, it's tough with his size inside. He demands a lot of attention and rightfully so. Then, you've got those linebackers over the top that run so well, so they're built very well. Them getting him from San Francisco, we had to deal with him in the playoff game last year and struggled with it, so it will be a big challenge for us."

Kubiak pointed out that Indianapolis allowed just 241 total yards by Jacksonville in Week 1.

"In this league, that's incredible," Kubiak said. "Buckner and Houston, really good players. Linebackers run really well. So we've got our work cut out for us. I mean, they're very talented. Jacksonville did a good job protecting the ball last week, so that will be paramount for us going into this game. Every week's a new challenge to go from a 3-4 to a 4-3, so a lot of channels being flipped this week as we prepare for them."

Quick-fire passing | By @pcraigers

Much emphasis was placed last week on Aaron Rodgers' ability to extend plays with his mobility.

Rodgers had seven pass attempts (out of 44) on which his time to throw exceeded 3.5 seconds. He completed three, including touchdowns of 24 and 4 yards on such plays, but a more prevalent problem was how fast the Green Bay quarterback got rid of the football.

Twenty-three passes left his hands in 2.5 seconds or less, including 14 that were under 2.0 seconds and three touch passes with times of 0.73, 0.77 and 0.77 seconds.

Add it all up, and Rodgers' average time to throw against the Vikings was 2.59 seconds for the game.

Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson described how a quarterback's ability to play that fast can neutralize a pass rush.

"You're not going to get pressure on the quarterback. If he's getting it out in 2.3 seconds, you're not getting pressure on the quarterback," Patterson said. "You've got to make him hold it in order to give the D-line a chance to get there. That's just the true fact of the matter. If he can get it out that quick out of his hands and we can't make him hold it for a little bit longer, there's no way you're going to get there. It's just not going to happen."

The bad news heading into Sunday?

Colts QB Philip Rivers got the ball out even faster. His average of 2.34 seconds tied Minshew for the second-fastest among qualifiers in Week 1.

Twenty-eight of Rivers' 46 total pass attempts left his hands in less than 2.5 seconds. He completed 11 of 12 passes for 84 yards and an 8-yard touchdown to running back Nyheim Hines when his time to throw was 2.0 seconds or less.

Rivers' longest time to throw (3.40 seconds) occurred on a costly interception in the fourth quarter.

Notable Number: 41.4

It's only Week 2, but the Vikings would be wise to get a win Sunday if they want to keep themselves afloat in the NFC playoff race.

After all, there's a big difference between being 1-1 and 0-2, and the playoff chances reflect that.

According to stats provided by the NFL for the past 30 seasons — since the playoffs expanded in 1990 — teams that start 1-1 have a 41.4 percent chance of making it to the postseason.

Teams that start 0-2? Their playoff chances are just 12.1 percent. In other words, the Vikings don't want to be 0-2 on Sunday afternoon.

By the way, teams that start 2-0 have a 61.9 percent chance to make the postseason, according to NFL stats.

Including the Thursday Night Football game between the Browns and Bengals (which was a Cleveland win), there are five games in Week 2 between 0-1 teams.

Sunday's 0-1 matchups include Vikings at Colts, Falcons at Cowboys, 49ers at Jets and Panthers at Buccaneers.

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