The original numbers were strong for Minnesota’s passing attack on Sunday in Cincinnati. Kirk Cousins completed 73 percent of his passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns. Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and KJ Osborne each received over 70 yards.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stated that despite all the struggles with penalties, the Vikings scored 24 points.
“So, if we eliminate some of these penalties that we had and we do a little better with some of the protections, I think we’ve got a pretty good chance,” Zimmer said.
But it’s important to put in context that the Vikings scored those 24 points in, essentially, five quarters of the game. And he did so against a Bengals team that allowed 26.5 points last season, 21st in the NFL.
Yes, the Vikings crushed themselves by punishment, but they also didn’t make any big plays on the crime. The passing offense was devoid of any deep shots down the field. Cousins averaged 5.4 yards behind first-down markers, the second-worst in the NFL in Week 1, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. His throws averaged 6.1 yards in the air, the sixth-lowest among a qualifying quarterback.
This is baffling in a game in which the Vikings faced several second and third and lengthy situations that required chunk play to move the sticks.
“We’ve always wanted to be an explosive offense, so we’re always looking for opportunities to make that happen,” Cousins said Wednesday. “I think when you come into long yards, the defense is going to be smart and play the sticks and put things in front of them, whether it’s a 2-minute drill with a little bit of time left and the teams know that They can back up.
“And if you’re in the long yard, they can back up. So they put most things in front of them. If we tried to field in too many plays it probably would have been a very long foul ball or a tight look.”
Tight windows weren’t what Cousins was looking to throw at last Sunday. Only 10.1 percent of his throws were for receivers who had a defender within a yard, again in the bottom third of the league. Instead, the signal caller played it safely and the defense took what was given to him. This will win you many soccer games, but probably not ones that have significant obstacles for you to overcome.
ESPN’s QBR formula classifies Cousins’ performance as follows. Its stat titled PAA—which tallies up the quarterback’s points paired on an average signal collar—gave Cousins a minus-0.7. He ranks Cousins 20th among Week 1 quarterbacks.
Part of that equation was Cousins taking three sacks and losing 26 yards in the process. Part of this was that there weren’t many plays in which Cousins added value. Deep shots are the game-changers that the Vikings went without, even when they needed them. There was little risk, and little reward.
Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the Chiefs’ 33–29 win over Cleveland had 10 minutes remaining in the final frame, with the Browns leading 29–20. Patrick Mahomes rolled right on 1 and 10 and launched a deep ball in the general direction of Tyrek Hill, moving. The pass didn’t hit Hill either way, but an all-world wideout adjusted the ball and scored a 75-yard touchdown.
Mahomes was later asked if there are times when he throws the ball in the general direction of the hill, even when there doesn’t seem to be much.
“Sometimes, you just have to throw it away,” he told reporters. “(Hill is) a little dude, but he goes and grabs her, and she’s very fast, and good things usually happen.”
The Vikings don’t have Tyrek Hill, but Adam Thielen has long been one of the league’s top talents, and Justin Jefferson is a rising superstar. You don’t always see that the talented receiving corps of the Vikings get equal opportunities to play in tough spots.
“When you catch football, you have a lot of people who rely on you. So, you need to be smart,” said the cousin. “There is no science to it. … you play longer and you learn when to do and when not to. It’s part of what playing and playing quarterback for a long time teaches you what you can and can’t do. This is the kind of journey I’ve been doing since 15 years in my early college days. ”