Offense Undermined on Third Downs & Goal-to-Go in Seattle

The Vikings had multiple chances but never shifted into gear.

Minnesota’s first drive hit a hitch early. Quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with receiver Stefon Diggs for a 15-yard gain on the second snap of the night, but three plays later the Vikings were penalized for a delay of game on third-and-4.

The next play brought a blitz by Seahawks cornerback Akeem King, and Cousins was pressured into throwing an incomplete pass.

From there, it seemed mostly downhill.

Dalvin Cook was used in both the run and pass game but had up-and-down production. On Minnesota’s second drive, Cook had a 13-yard run but carried for a 1-yard loss and was stopped 4 yards short of the sticks on two separate screen passes, one of which was salvaged by an unsportsmanlike penalty called on Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.

The Vikings were forced to punt on all four of their first-half drives and didn’t run a play in Seahawks territory.

Heading into the locker room after two quarters, Minnesota had accrued just 61 net yards.

Receiver Adam Thielen wasn’t targeted at all in that span, making it his first half without a catch this season. He was more productive in the second half, finishing the night with five catches for 70 yards.

Thielen said he’s seeing defenses approach him and Diggs differently than in the beginning of the season. He added, however, that it can’t be an excuse.

“When we get opportunities, you have to make plays and have to move the sticks. We’ve got to start fast,” Thielen said.

Added Diggs: “When I get doubled or tripled, I’ve got to win. I don’t care. I’ve got to win.”

Cousins said he took note of double teams against Thielen and Diggs on “two third downs early,” one of which was a third-and-12 when he targeted receiver Aldrick Robinson deep down the middle but overshot him.

“On the other one, on the Microsoft Surface picture [on the sideline], they literally dropped, it appeared, nine defenders,” Cousins recalled. “If they didn’t drop nine, they dropped eight, and Diggsy was triple-teamed. So they were really saying, ‘We’re going to dare you to work somebody else. We’re going to give you the time back there, but we’re going to cover everybody.’

“And let’s be clear – when it’s third-and-3, they’re not going to do that,” Cousins added. “I think it was third-and-12. So it’s going to be pretty hard to take off and run or get the first down with the check-down. Probably more important is, let’s stay out of third-and-12. Let’s get to third-and-3. In the second half, we had pretty manageable third downs. We didn’t see that scheme in the second half.”

Even with the more manageable distances, however, the Vikings struggled in third-and-short situations. Below are the results of all eight attempts on third-and-less-than-5, with the only two conversions coming via quarterback sneaks:

Third-and-4: Delay of game

Third-and-3: Cousins sacked for loss of 9

Third-and-2: Incompletion

Third-and-1: Successful; Cousins QB sneak for 4 yards

Third-and-1: Incomplete

Third-and-3: Diggs makes 2-yard catch

Third-and-goal: Cook up the middle for 1 yard

Third-and-1: Successful; Cousins QB sneak for 2 yards

The Vikings also went 0-for-2 on fourth-down attempts.

Minnesota didn’t cross midfield until just over four minutes remained in the third quarter, when the team strung together a few plays to keep grinding down the field. Down 3-0 and having not gained much ground all game, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Seahawks 40. Latavius Murray took the handoff but was stuffed up the middle for no gain.

Cook, who totaled 13 carries for 55 yards on the ground and five catches for 28 receiving yards, expressed a sense of urgency and aggravation after the game.

“It’s frustrating to not execute. I’m going to nip this in the bud,” Cook said. “Fourth-and-1s, we didn’t execute. We’ve got to put it together, go back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to do. Every situation that we didn’t execute, it’s frustrating.

“We practice so hard. Coach Zim’ tells us the right things we need to do,” Cook continued. “He puts us in the right place, all of the coaches put us in the right place. … We’ve got to fix it, watch film and get it right.”

When asked if issues were rooted in play-calling or in poor performance, Zimmer didn’t blame it all on one thing.

“There were a couple that we didn’t execute well enough, and then there were a couple that we probably could have called something better,” Zimmer said.

The Vikings biggest play of the night came two plays after the Seahawks kicked a field goal to go up 6-0 in the fourth quarter.

Cousins dropped back, wound up and let it fly deep for Diggs, who leapt up and made the 48-yard catch in coverage by cornerback Tre Flowers.

The flashy grab seemed like it could swing momentum for Minnesota. Cousins connected with Laquon Treadwell and Thielen for gains of 7 and 6 yards, respectively, to put the Vikings at first-and-goal from the Seattle 4.

Murray rushed for 2, Cousins threw an incompletion, Cook was stopped for no gain and a pass to Kyle Rudolph in the end zone was broken up by safety Bradley McDougald.

“[We] ran it twice, threw it twice – they covered the passes well, and they stopped the run enough to prevent us from getting in,” said Cousins.

The Vikings were in danger of being shutout for the first time under Zimmer but got on the board inside the final two minutes with a 6-yard catch by Cook for a touchdown. But it was too little, too late.

“It’s a loss. It’s frustrating. When you don’t win, it’s always frustrating,” Cook said. “We all came to the NFL to win games and championships. It’s going to take time. We’ve just got to put it together.

Zimmer told a reporter, “That’s a good question” when asked about the key to getting the offense back on track.

“Keep at it. Keep trying to find things that we’re good at,” Zimmer said.

Minnesota has scored at least 20 points in 10 games this season, but in the past two weeks against the Patriots and Seahawks, the team totaled just 17.

“Part of it is being better on third downs. We haven’t really done a good job there. Part of it’s being better in the red zone. We had the ball on the 2-yard line and didn’t score,” Zimmer said. “So, you keep doing things like that, you’re not going to score many points.”

Cousins finished 20-of-33 passing for 208 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 89.0.

He said it’s extremely disappointing when the offense isn’t able to put up the points “you know you’re capable of” and have demonstrated in past contests.

A consensus among Minnesota’s offensive players was that they let down the defense, which played well throughout a majority of the evening.

Thielen emphasized that the defense pulled its weight in a tough road game.

“When you don’t move the ball the whole first half as an offense, you feel like you let the team down. We’ve got to figure it out, and we’ve only got three games left to do it,” Thielen said. “We’re going to go back to work. That’s the good thing. We’ve got a bunch of guys that want to win. We want to be successful. Now we’ve got to go out and do it.”

The 21-7 loss moved Minnesota to 6-6-1 on the season but not out of playoff contention. If the postseason started tomorrow, the Vikings would be the No. 6 seed and have the second Wild Card spot.

“Our defense, I feel, the last couple weeks or the last several weeks, really, has played playoff football, high-level football,” Cousins said. “[If] our offense would bring it the way we brought it in some of the earlier weeks of the season, we can be pretty dangerous. Unfortunately, we haven’t really put the whole complementary football together enough this season to be really be the team we know we’re capable of.

“That’ll be the challenge these last three weeks,” Cousins added. “I said it last [Thursday] that that was a challenge this week, and we didn’t necessarily do that. That’ll be our focus these last three weeks, and if we can put it all together, there’s the kind of feeling where we’re saying, ‘Hey, watch out.’ If we put it together, it could be special.”

View game action images as the Vikings take on the Seahawks under the lights for Monday Night Football at CenturyLink Field.

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