EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was equally impressed with a 1-yard completion as he was with a dazzling 28-yard grab down the sideline in Minnesota’s preseason opener.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was on the money Saturday night in the Vikings preseason opener, completing all four of his passes for 42 yards.
His first attempt went to wide receiver Stefon Diggs for six yards, followed by a 7-yard pass in the flat to fullback C.J. Ham.
Cousins and Diggs then produced a highlight-reel play as the quarterback dropped a perfectly placed pass into Diggs’ outstretched arms down the right sideline for 28 yards.
Three plays later, Cousins found Diggs for a 1-yard touchdown on a quick slant, a play that received plenty of praise from Zimmer on Monday.
“Really, the 1-yard touchdown pass that Cousins threw was a heck of a throw,” Zimmer said. “He was getting pressured, and he got it out quick and stuck it in there.
“People probably don’t appreciate that kind of play as much as the one down the sidelines,” Zimmer added. “But that was a really good throw.”
The score was the final throw of the night for Cousins, who watched from the sideline the rest of the way as the Vikings earned a 42-28 win over the Broncos.
Here are four other takeaways from Zimmer’s podium session Monday:
1. Firing off the ball
Perhaps the biggest question entering the preseason opener was how a makeshift offensive line would perform without three starters.
Yet when asked what caught his eye on the most early on in Denver, Zimmer pointed to the big boys up front.
“What I was probably most impressed with was the way we came off the ball with our offensive line,” Zimmer said. “I thought we were physical up front, I thought we came off the ball well, and we did a nice job getting to the second level with the linebackers.”
Zimmer said he had a hunch the unit would perform well, based on what he had seen at training camp in recent weeks.
“I have been saying this in practice, ‘Our guys have been coming off the ball [well].’ It looked like it does in practice,” Zimmer said. “So those things were really good. I think the footwork for the most part with the offensive line when they were in there was good.”
The starters, from left to right, were: Riley Reiff, Tom Compton, Cornelius Edison, Danny Isidora and Rashod Hill.
Reiff came out after the first series and was replaced by Aviante Collins, who later moved to guard.
Zimmer also had praise for Collins’ performance as the second-year lineman played multiple spots.
“I was just sitting there one day, and I said, ‘Let’s just look at him at guard and see what he can do. Run-game wise, the footwork is similar between a guard and tackle, so that’s not a big change,” Zimmer said of Collins. “But pass sets are different, things happen a lot quicker in there, but he’s a very, very athletic guy. It happens a lot quicker in there, so that’s kind of the thing we have to find out about with him. He’s got a little bit of a nasty streak, and that’s good. He’s a big guy, so I just thought, ‘Let’s look at him.’
“This week with Aviante, when we went from tackle to guard, it kind of took him a series to get back and say, ‘Okay, I got to do it this way now.’ That will come,” Zimmer later added. “But it’s good for him to do those things, because on game day he could play almost anywhere.”
2. Boone, Brown and Thomas
The trio of running backs aiming for the third spot behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray all had somewhat similar performances on the ground against the Broncos.
Each back got between eight and 12 carries, and their total rushing yardage measured between 22 and 34 yards. Brown had a long of 11 yards, Thomas’ lengthiest run was nine yards and Boone had a 10-yard run on the night.
Zimmer said he liked what he saw from Boone and Thomas, who are undrafted rookie free agents, and Brown, who is entering his third season in the NFL.
“All three of them, including Mack Brown, had some very good runs,” Zimmer said. “We missed a protection one time with one of them that got us a sacked.
“But they showed some explosiveness,” Zimmer added. “I was actually pleased with those three guys. Hopefully we can continue to work with those three and see where that leads.”
Thomas had a memorable night in the passing game with three catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns, including a 78-yard score on a screen pass.
3. Calm, cool and Carlson
There is still a ways to go in determining the kicking competition between Kai Forbath and Daniel Carlson, but the rookie made a strong first impression.
Forbath handled kickoff duties Saturday night, and Carlson was tasked with field goals and extra points. The fifth-round pick out of Auburn didn’t miss, hitting all four extra point attempts and nailing his field goal tries from 39 and 57 yards.
Zimmer said Monday that he was glad the pressures of playing in his first NFL game, even a preseason contest, didn’t faze Carlson.
“I thought it was pretty impressive that he went out there and didn’t have any hiccups,” Zimmer said. “With PATs, he drilled them right down the middle.
“Obviously a long field goal, which was a good kick, and then I think we had one other field goal,” Zimmer added. “He looked confident. Timing was good. Everything was pretty good.”
4. Focusing on Flip
It turns out Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo enjoys getting feedback, even from himself.
DeFilippo, who was hired in February, called plays from the sideline Saturday. Zimmer revealed a humorous nugget that the offensive coordinator was talking to himself.
“What stood out was probably when he made a call he didn’t feel like should have made, how he talked to himself,” Zimmer quipped. “It’s a long story.”
Zimmer then turned serious in assessing how DeFilippo did during his first game with a new organization.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Zimmer said. “He asked me a lot of times, ‘Hey, do you want to run the ball here, do you want to throw it? This situation, how do you want to handle this?’ We talked a lot during the game. I thought it was all good.
“[He] had good communication from upstairs to him, and he got the plays in quickly. We really didn’t have any clock issues for the most part,” Zimmer added. “Just from watching practice, you can kind of see when we have got unscripted plays going on, you can kind of see tendencies, at least I can. I talked to him about some of those things, and he kind of went away from some of those in this game.”