A week ago, there was much optimism surrounding the Minnesota Vikings’ offense. Running back Dalvin Cook said Kirk Cousins was playing better than any quarterback in the NFL, and Cook was ready to return after missing one game with an ankle injury.
So much for those high hopes.
The Vikings, third in the NFL in total offense with an average of 425 yards through the first three games, managed just 255 yards in last Sunday’s 14-7 loss to Cleveland and dropped to 1-3. Cousins had a rough outing, completing just 20 of 38 passes for 203 yards and throwing his first interception of the season. And Cook didn’t look healthy, rushing for just 34 yards on nine carries.
Now, the Vikings, who have dropped to No. 15 in the league in total offense, will try to get the attack going again Sunday against Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I got a chance to get back on the right track against the Lions,” Cousins said Wednesday.
“We’re good,” Cook said. “There’s no sense of panic. Just one game, man. Ain’t nothing spectacular we have to do. We know we’ve got the players to play football, we just have to go play. Have a great week of preparation. Forget last week.”
Cook was hurt at Arizona on Sept. 19 but remained in the game before missing a Sept. 26 game against Seattle. Alexander Mattison replaced Cook against the Seahawks and tied his career high with 112 yards rushing in a 30-17 win, increasing the optimism surrounding the team last week.
But Mattison, rotating with Cook against the Browns, had just 10 carries for 20 yards. Cook didn’t practice Wednesday, but said before the workout that his ankle was doing better and he planned to play Sunday.
“This week I feel like I’m taking that step to get back to being who I am, so that’s the plan,” he said. “Just keep attacking my rehab. … Just take it day by day and just try to get back to being Dalvin.”
Cook said he only had to come out once in the second half against the Browns because of his injury, and that the plan entering the game was to divide carries with Mattison.
“I’m not 100 percent yet,” he said. “Still working to get back to where I need to be at. Had a little hiccup right there, but I settled down, got myself back together. … I feel like I’m headed in the right direction to get myself back to where I need to be at.”
Even if Cook returns to full strength, questions remain concerning Minnesota’s shaky offensive line and Cousins’ ability to overcome it. The Browns pressured Cousins 22 times, according to Pro Football Reference.
Asked how many of Cleveland’s pressures had to do with the offensive line and how many were aided by Cousins’ inability to escape the rush, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “I don’t think it’s on any one group.”
Both Zimmer and Cousins complimented the Browns, who have one of the NFL’s best pass rushes.
“It was a test for us, and the next time we face someone, starting this Sunday, we’ve got to be ready to respond,” Cousins said.
It probably helps that the Vikings are facing the Lions (0-4), who rank No. 29 in the NFL in scoring defense and No. 21 in total defense. The last time Cousins faced Detroit, he completed 28 of 40 passes for 405 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions as Minnesota won the 2020 finale, 37-35.
If Cousins has another big game, the narrative surrounding him might change again. Just last week, Cook said that “from a clean pocket,” Cousins is the “best in the game.”
At the time, Cousins was ranked as the NFL’s third-best quarterback by Pro Football Focus and was fourth in the league in passer rating. He has since dropped to No. 7 and No. 10, respectively.
“You just don’t ride the rollercoaster,” Cousins said of the fickle nature of being an NFL quarterback. “You just stay level headed, don’t get too high, don’t get too low, and that’s really the way I’ve done it for my whole career.”