Ahead of the first week of the season, I of course had to ask questions of my counterpart with our legendary Vikings sibling site, Daily Norseman. Christopher Gates has been running that site about as long as I’ve been running The Falcoholic, making both of us ancient in blogging years. As you’d expect, we have some accumulated wisdom, and Chris was kind enough to share his here.
Dave Choate: Kirk Cousins is certainly a good quarterback. Is he the right man to lead the Vikings to the promised land, out of a competitive NFC North and on a deep playoff run? Will this be his best year yet?
Christopher Gates: I thought that Cousins was the right choice, given the other options, when the Vikings signed him during the 2018 offseason, and I still think that he’s the right choice. Now, with an offense that should see significant improvement on the offensive line, a system that he’s quite comfortable with, and (hopefully) a healthy Dalvin Cook, we should see this offense be significantly better than it was in 2018. Is it going to be his best season ever? Statistically, that might be a tall order.
People forget that in 2016 he threw for nearly 5,000 yards (albeit with only 25 touchdown passes), and he did set a career-high in touchdown passes last season with 30. With the Vikings expected to show a greater commitment to the run this season, I don’t know if he’s going to approach those kinds of numbers. Hopefully, he won’t have to. The real measuring stick for Cousins this season is going to be how he performs in big games. The Vikings were 1-6 against teams with winning records last season, and while Cousins got the brunt of the blame for it, he had plenty of help losing those games.
I think this team is set up nicely for this season, and I think—and certainly hope—that this is the year that Kirk Cousins silences a lot of critics.
Dave Choate: I’m really excited to see what Dalvin Cook can do this year. What are expectations for his 2019 season at this point, and how has Minnesota tackled the depth behind him in case injury strikes again?
Christopher Gates: Expectations for Cook this year are pretty high, and they should be. Going into 2018, he was coming off of the ACL tear that he suffered in 2017, and trying to come back too quickly from that may have led to some of the other injuries he dealt with for the first half of 2018. He hasn’t had that problem this season, and hopefully the injury bug will stay away from him. The Vikings’ offense is just different with Cook on the field.
Over the past few years, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have been solid backs, but neither of them have the skill set that Cook does. The Vikings’ new zone blocking scheme is similar to what Cook was a part of at Florida State, and if the Vikings’ o-line can pick it up quickly when the real bullets start flying, we could really see something special.
In the event that he does get hurt, the Vikings used a third-round pick in April’s draft on Boise State running back Alexander Mattison, who was drafted to be more of the “thunder” to Cook’s “lightning” and a replacement for Murray. The team also has Mike Boone, who is probably closer to Cook’s overall skill set than Mattison is. If Cook were to get hurt, those two would likely split carries.
Dave Choate: The Falcons have (not to toot our collective horns or anything) the makings of a pretty great offense, yet Minnesota has shut them down in recent memory. What are the weak spots for Atlanta to attack on Sunday, and what should the Falcons definitely avoid doing?
Christopher Gates: The weak spot of the Vikings’ defense, at this point, might be right up the middle. That seems strange to say, considering that’s where big Linval Joseph is lurking, but he’s been dealing with injuries and didn’t play in the preseason. He says he’s feeling “stronger than ever” now, and if that’s true then he’s going to stuff the middle on his own. Right now, the starting 3-technique is Shamar Stephen, who returns to the Vikings after a year in Seattle and replaces Sheldon Richardson, who left for Cleveland. Stephen has always been better-known for his run-stopping prowess than his pass-skills, and will likely be substituted out in obvious passing situations for someone like Stephen Weatherly or Hercules Mata’afa.
Other than that, the defensive ends remain solid with a returning Everson Griffen and the best player in the NFL that nobody talks about, Danielle Hunter. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are one of the NFL’s better linebacker duos, and the secondary is pretty deep overall. So, if there is a weakness, right in the middle of the defensive line might be it until we see otherwise.
Dave Choate: The kicking game seems like an issue after the Vikings traded for and subsequently dumped Kaare Vedvik. Is there any concern there, and if so, is it due to some powerful hex on Mike Zimmer?
Christopher Gates: As a Falcons fan, you should be well-acquainted with the kicking failures of the Minnesota Vikings. (GARY ANDERSON HASN’T MISSED A KICK ALL YEAR AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH HE MISSED IT!) Honestly, I don’t know what it is. Blair Walsh was solid for this team until he missed that field goal in the playoffs against Seattle, and then he was too far inside his own damn head to be effective anymore. Kai Forbath was solid, too, but the Vikings didn’t bring him back because...I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine.
For as good as job as Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer have done constructing this roster, they haven’t gotten it right at the kicking spot. Perhaps Dan Bailey will return to form this year, with an assist from new punter/holder Britton Colquitt. Apparently the past four or five years have all been the holder’s fault, so we’ll see how that goes.
Dave Choate: It’s standard, it’s cheesy, but what are your expectations both for this game and for this season?
Christopher Gates: I think this is going to be a pretty good football game between two teams that are hoping to bounce back following disappointing 2018 campaigns. I think that the Vikings will hold serve on their home field, but the Falcons aren’t going to make it easy for them. I’ll call this one for the Vikings with a score somewhere in the range of 27-20. As far as this season, I think the Vikings will bounce back this season and win the NFC North for the third time in five years.
Mike Zimmer’s Bret Saberhagen-esque ability to get his team to play well in odd-numbered hears (division title in 2015, NFCCG in 2017) will come into play again, and the Vikings will finish with a record of 11-5 and host at least one playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium.