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Lunchbreak: Barnwell Encourages More Play-Action from Vikings

As Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Sunday, a win is a win, and Minnesota will take it.

But it's fair to say the Vikings win over the Lions was pretty ugly, and the team needs to continue improving if it hopes to dig out of an early hole.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell looked at "four wild Week 5 finishes" across the league: Vikings-Lions, Chargers-Browns, Packers-Bengals and Eagles-Panthers.

In delving into Minnesota's walk-off division win, Barnwell opined that the Vikings "need to get back to play-action" as a significant part of their offense. He wrote:

Under former [Offensive Coordinator] Kevin Stefanski, the Vikings ramped up their play-action usage and improved Kirk Cousins' efficiency in the process, netting the quarterback his first and only Pro Bowl nod in a Vikings uniform. In Stefanski's lone full season as coordinator in 2019, Cousins threw off play-action just under 28 [percent] of the time.

When Stefanski left for the Browns, the Vikings promoted Gary Kubiak into the offensive coordinator's role. Things stayed the same, as Cousins threw off play-action just over 28 [percent] of the time. [Gary Kubiak] retired over the offseason and gave way to someone who should also be very familiar with the tenets of his offense: Klint Kubiak, his 34-year-old son. With just about every meaningful piece of the offense returning for 2021 besides lineman Riley Reiff, there was little reason to think things would change.

Well, through five games, Cousins' play-action rate isn't 28 [percent]; it's just over 18 [percent]. On Sunday, against one of the worst defenses in the league, Cousins was 1-of-4 on play-action for nine yards and a QBR of 3.8. Coaches sometimes claim that a team didn't establish the run enough to get their play-action game going, but in addition to that trope not holding up under detailed analysis, the Vikings had plenty of success running the football.

Barnwell noted that while the Vikings "weren't successful with play-action this past week, Cousins has continued to be a much better quarterback with the help of a play fake."

Between 2019 and 2020, he posted a 76.4 QBR when the Vikings used play-action against a mark of 52.4 when he just dropped back and threw. So far this season, the numbers are similar; he is posting a 70.2 QBR with play-action and a 51.0 mark without it.

[…]

I would encourage the Vikings to consider incorporating more play-action, but I would also understand if they waited until after their Week 7 bye. Next week, Minnesota will match up with the Panthers, who have terrorized teams using play-action so far. Quarterbacks have averaged 8.9 yards per attempt and a 58.2 QBR when they've used play-action this season. Against the Panthers, those passers are 12-of-25 for 76 yards. They're averaging 4.4 yards per attempt and posting a QBR of 11.5, the second-worst mark in football.

Vikings receive 'B-minus' grade for Week 5 win

Per usual, CBS Sports' John Breech rolled out his weekly grades for each team.

Breech gave the Vikings a "B-minus" for their less-than-perfect win over the Lions at home. He wrote:

The Vikings tried to give this game away with a missed field goal and a lost fumble over the final three-and-a-half minutes, but a heroic performance from Kirk Cousins saved the day. With the Vikings trailing 17-16 and just 37 seconds to work with, Cousins worked his team into field goal range by going 3-of-4 for 46 yards, which set up Greg Joseph's game-winning kick from 54 yards.

Alexander Mattison came up big for the Vikings with 153 total yards and a TD, but he also almost cost Minnesota the win with a late fumble. It was a wild game that the Vikings should have won handily, but they just couldn't put the Lions away.

The Lions certainly gave a valiant effort down the stretch, as Breech noted, putting themselves in position to nab their first win of the 2021 season.

View postgame celebration images from Week 5 as the Vikings beat the Lions.

Breech gave Detroit a "C" for its performance against the division opponent.

Although the offense sputtered, the Lions were almost able to steal a victory in Minnesota thanks a huge play from their defense (a forced fumble in the final minute that set up a Lions TD that gave Detroit a 17-16 lead). However, the same defense that came up with the big play also let the Vikings march down the field for a game-winning field goal on the final play. The Lions are now the first team in NFL history to lose on a game-winning field goals of 50 or more yards with no time left on the clock twice in a single season.

Cousins to speak in virtual 'Family Changes Everything' event

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins announced he'll be partnering with Bethany, a faith-based global nonprofit that supports children and families "with world-class social services, all designed to help families thrive."

On Oct. 14, Cousins will be one of three guest speakers at Bethany's event, "Family Changes Everything." The free, virtual event will start with a preshow at 6:45 p.m. (CT) and kick off officially at 7. The evening will feature worship led by Grammy-nominated contemporary Christian singer and songwriter Jeremy Camp. Jeff and Alyssa Bethke will be the main keynote speakers.

To learn more or register for the virtual event, click here.

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