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Lunchbreak: Vikings RB, DL Earn ‘A’ Grades for 1st Quarter of 2019

The Vikings 2019 regular season is 25 percent complete, as Minnesota has split its first four games to find itself 2-2 after September.

Minnesota has had an even distribution with two wins at home, plus two losses on the road, meaning the final 12 games will be evenly split between going into opposing venues and playing at U.S. Bank Stadium.

With the second quarter of the season beginning Sunday with a road game against the Giants, Chad Graff of The Athletic took a peak back at the first four games and handed out grades to each position group.

A pair of units — the running backs and the defensive line — each earned an ‘A’ grade from Graff.

Minnesota currently ranks second in the NFL with 621 rushing yards, spearheaded back Dalvin Cook’s 411 yards on the ground, a total that is also second among individual players.

Graff wrote:

There should be little doubt remaining over whether Dalvin Cook is one of the best backs in the NFL. Early this season, he’s been as dominant as Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott.

His lone blemish was a 35-yard rushing performance in Chicago, though that was aided by another 35 yards receiving and seems quite forgivable considering how few holes were opened for him against one of the league’s top run-stopping defense.

It seemed a bit risky at the beginning of the season that the Vikings built an offense so focused on a running back who had only played 15 games in two NFL seasons, but Cook has made the move look smart.

View exclusive images shot by Vikings team photographer Andy Kenutis as the Vikings and Bears competed against each other in the Week 4 matchup at Soldier Field.

Graff also handed out the highest possible grade to the Vikings defensive line, noting that Everson Griffen has been been stellar through the first four games.

Even after a trying year, Griffen has bounced back with an incredible start to the season. The Vikings knew they had one of the game’s best defensive ends in Danielle Hunter, but with Griffen returning to Pro Bowl form, they now have one of the best edge-rushing duos in the NFL.

Griffen’s sack total isn’t super impressive (two in four games), but that doesn’t tell the full story. According to SportRadar, Griffen is tied for sixth in quarterback hits [with eight]. Hunter, meanwhile, has three sacks and six quarterback hits.

Linval Joseph remains a very talented defensive tackle and has 14 tackles, including four for loss. Shamar Stephen hasn’t been super impressive through four games, but Griffen, Hunter, and Joseph have done enough to score a high grade for the D-line.

Hunter leads the Vikings with 3.0 sacks, while Griffen and Joseph each have 2.0 apiece. Stephen notched his first sack of the season Sunday against Chicago.

Graff handed out ‘B’ grades to three other units — the linebackers, defensive backs and special teams.

Here’s what Graff wrote about special teams:

First-year Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf has had a mostly quiet start to his tenure, surely a welcome thing for any Vikings coach in charge of this unit.

He orchestrated the team’s first punt block since 2014 in the opener, but it’s been mostly unremarkable since then.

Marcus Sherels has taken over punt returning duties after [Chad] Beebe’s injury and showed in Chicago that he still has sure hands and swift moves. Britton Colquitt ranks 12th in net punt yards (43.3).

And while kicker Dan Bailey hasn’t been asked to kick any big-moment, go-ahead field goals, he’s 3-of-4 on field goals and 9-of-10 on extra points.

Graff gave grades lower than a ‘B’ in four other areas — quarterback, offensive line, wide receivers and coaching.

Allen, Cousins & Peterson make ESPN’s All-Pro Team for NFL’s London Games

The Vikings don’t play in London this season, but have done so twice in the past, coming away with wins both times.

Minnesota defeated Cleveland in 2017, and the Vikings also posted a win over the Steelers back in 2013.

With four more NFL games scheduled in London this year, starting this weekend with Chicago versus Oakland, Nat Coombs of ESPN.com selected an All-Pro team of players based on their performance across the pond.

Former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen made the list, as Coombs noted his play against Pittsburgh in 2013 when he recorded four tackles, 2.5 sacks and two tackles for loss.

Coombs wrote:

Rounding off our All-Pro defensive line is DE Jared Allen, a five-time pro-bowler and surely a Hall of Famer, who notched up 136 sacks in his career, including 2.5 at Wembley back in 2013 when he was a Viking. His second quarter performance helped turn the game for Minnesota, who cantered into what proved to be an unassailable lead against the Steelers.

Former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is now with Washington, was also selected for his play in that game. His 60-yard touchdown run is the longest play from scrimmage in a London game. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was also on the list based off a 2016 game in which he threw for a career-high 458 yards with Washington.

Chicago and Oakland, the Vikings two most recent opponents, play each other Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Carolina and Tampa Bay square off on Oct. 13 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Rams play Oct. 27 at Wembley Stadium, which will host the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars on Nov. 3.

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