I'd typically be saying the Vikings have closed their first quarter of the 2021 campaign, but with a 17-game season this time around, I guess that phraseology doesn't work anymore.
Regardless, Minnesota is through its first four games and has just one win to show for it. Chad Graff of The Athletic looked over the Vikings three losses (Bengals, Cardinals, Browns) and single victory (Seahawks) and provided 10 observations before they host the Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday.
Graff's first takeaway from the first four games centered on Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak, who is in his first year in the role. Graff wrote:
There were two major questions surrounding [Kubiak] as he began his first season as a play caller. Could he effectively game plan? And could he make the necessary adjustments in game, be they scheme-wise or play calling-wise?
The answers so far are resounding in opposite directions. Through four games, Kubiak has shown an incredible ability to build a game script, which consists of roughly the first 15 plays of the game, designed to get the offense out to a strong start. The results from that are great. The Vikings opening drives have resulted in touchdowns each of the last three games. But then the issues begin.
Whether it's because of adjustments or in-game play-calling struggles, the Vikings offense looks significantly different after the opening game script. They haven't reached the end zone in the second half in the last three weeks and have just one second-half touchdown all season, which came on their first possession of the second half in the season opener. They don't have a touchdown on the ensuing 20 second-half possessions.
Worth noting is that the Bengals game was a beast all its own with numerous penalties putting Minnesota in second-and-long and third-and-long situations that would be challenging for any play-caller. And it's also still early in the season, and Kubiak continues to build experience. But Graff did say it's "worrisome" if things don't improve in the near future.
Another one of Graff's takeaways focused on the "recipe for success" for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins: having a clean pocket.
Against the Browns, [Cousins] was pressured on half of his dropbacks, under duress 22 times in total. He completed only six passes on those 22 snaps for 46 yards.
The 22 pressures allowed was the fourth-most the Vikings have allowed in the Cousins era. The Vikings are 0-4 in games in which they've allowed at least 22 pressures.
When Cousins gets the ball out quickly, like he did against a good defensive line in Arizona, he can have success. When he has a clean pocket and can find deep options, he can have success. But when he's facing constant pressure, Cousins struggles more than most quarterbacks.
To see all of Graff's observations, click here.
Goessling: Vikings need to 'get well' against Detroit
The Vikings record to start the season is less than ideal, but they do have a lot of football left to play.
Can Minnesota turn things around?
Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune dived into the loss to Cleveland and said the game gave the Vikings "a road map for things they need to improve to be taken seriously for a playoff bid." He wrote:
Quarterback Baker Mayfield handed off 36 times in Cleveland's 14-7 win over the Vikings on Sunday, and the Browns gained 173 yards with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt running behind a line that featured four players who received All-Pro votes last year.
Goessling noted that, conversely, Minnesota couldn't get its own run game going.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.
The Vikings will likely need to rack up the rushing yards – and stop their opponents from doing so – to start stacking wins.
This week brings an opportunity for a get-right game when the 0-4 Lions come to town, with their 24th-ranked run defense that allowed 188 yards to the Bears on Sunday. First-round pick Christian Darrisaw was also active for the first time against the Browns; he played only one snap on special teams, but if Rashod Hill continues to struggle, the Vikings could eventually turn to the rookie to see if he can provide an anchor on the left side of the line.
The Browns game, though, underscored how much trouble the Vikings can still encounter against talented defensive fronts like Cleveland's. The Vikings talk frequently about wanting to run the ball and stop the run, to put themselves in advantageous situations in the passing game. On Sunday, they ran into a team with the same philosophy, and the ability to do it better.
Goessling did highlight two Vikings, one offensive and one defensive, who stood out against the Browns: receiver Justin Jefferson and defensive end Everson Griffen.
[Jefferson] scored the Vikings only touchdown with another impressive piece of red-zone route running, beating safety John Johnson with his corner route and breaking it off in a zone with Denzel Ward to his outside shoulder. Jefferson saw bracket coverage from the Browns for a good chunk of the day but still caught six of his seven targets from Cousins for 84 yards.
Griffen's role since returning to the Vikings "continues to grow every week," Goessling pointed out, with his 43 snaps against Cleveland being the most for him so far this season.
In addition to the sack he registered after beating Jedrick Willis while Danielle Hunter flushed Mayfield from the pocket, he did a solid job against the run on plays like his back side tackle of Chubb on a 2-yard run in the second quarter.