The gauntlet has been thrown down.
No, not in that armored-glove-medieval-kind-of-way.
Instead, the mutual challenges cast by Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak, new quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko and quarterback Kirk Cousins are centering on goals for 2021.
It started before the Vikings buses left Detroit's Ford Field for the airport on Jan. 3.
Cousins boarded and started thinking about ways that 2021 could be better than a 2020 season that included January football only because the regular season crossed calendars.
The 2020 stat sheet included a career-best 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions that tied for a career worst, as well as a passer rating of 105.0, but Cousins was more interested in how many sacks opponents recorded on him.
The answer was 39, which lives in the neighborhood of non-playoff seasons with Washington (41 sacks in 2017) and Minnesota (40 in 2018) and is 11 more than the 28 he took in 2019 when the Vikings made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
"It was just too many, and when you go back and watch the film, you'll see the quarterback can get rid of the ball, the sack can be avoided," Cousins explained during a roundtable with Kubiak and Janocko for Thursday's episode of "#VikingsAtHome."
"When you watch the great, great quarterbacks in this league — think of Tom Brady hoisting another trophy recently, he avoids sacks," Cousins continued. "He gets rid of the ball and finds a way to avoid them. Even if he's not super mobile or running around, he's not taking sacks, so that's one area I want to improve."
Reducing sacks with the goal of staying "under 30" and maybe "under 25 or 20" was included in a list of goals the quarterback emailed to Kubiak and Janocko shortly after they were announced to their new roles.
"That's something you don't take for granted, either, being able to send that email," Cousins said of the comfort level he has with Kubiak, his position coach the past two seasons, and Janocko, who is transitioning from an acclaimed single season of coaching Vikings receivers.
While continuity around Cousins is oft-mentioned to offset the fact that he will have his sixth offensive coordinator in as many seasons, it could prove quite important if offseason programs are again affected by COVID-19.
It stretches beyond familiarity into a relationship in which each man can challenge the other to find ways to help the Vikings team improve.
"I think we've got an advantage because we have familiarity, but we certainly can't just rest on that. We certainly know each other, and that's a great thing," Kubiak said. "Between Kirk, Andrew and myself, we all want to bring the best out of each other and challenge the heck out of each other.
"We've already started that process. Kirk personally emailed Andrew and I the things he wants to do better next year and the things that can help us," Kubiak said. "I just don't know how many teams have a quarterback like that who is willing to put in that kind of thought in the offseason. He's just so dedicated to getting better and for the team to get better, so we're really grateful to have that kind of player on our team."
Janocko said the trio will be able to build on its relationship that utilized communications between quarterbacks and receivers last season, including conversations about the ways receivers were running certain types of routes and adjustments.
"I think facilitating communication during the process of the game, what the quarterback is feeling comfortable with based on what we're seeing and then, 'How are we getting the ball into our playmakers' hands? How are we facilitating plays for our skill positions that make them successful, too?' I think Kirk and myself can do that and make it easier on the play caller throughout the course of the game," Janocko said.
VEN's Gabe Henderson hosted the roundtable for the episode that also featured an interview with Peter Schrager.
The "Good Morning Football" co-host checked in from the corner of Union Street and Court Street in Brooklyn, New York, for the segment.
Sitting in front of a wall tagged with graffiti, Schrager said he hasn't had the opportunity to get to know Kubiak personally but is looking forward to seeing the 34-year-old make his mark.
"The word you hear on Klint Kubiak is that he's excellent, innovative, different, so, 'What wrinkles can you make?' Because, quite honestly, I thought Cousins was good last year."
Henderson also asked Schrager for his "way too early prediction for the Vikings in 2021."
"IMPROVEMENT. I think improvement, because they can't be losing by 30 points and giving up 52 points on Christmas Day," Schrager said. "Defense has to be better. It will be better, and then I would think Klint Kubiak has a little something in his pocket, a younger guy, maybe we have a little more interesting offense as well, which to me is saying a lot because I thought the offense was pretty darn good."
Vikings analyst Pete Bercich is back with another installment of "Film Room." The former NFL linebacker and coach uses game film to highlight some of the strengths Cousins has that can make things particularly challenging for linebackers covering the middle of the field.