The Minnesota Vikings haven’t started a season 0-2 since 2013 when Leslie Frazier was the head coach.
That was until today.
The Vikings’ 28-11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts was a shocking one, not because the Colts didn’t have the potential to put up points and be a good football team, but because, for really the second week in a row, the Vikings didn’t look like they could hang.
In a year where continuity was supposed to be king, due to the lack of offseason workouts amidst the global pandemic, the Vikings returning nine of its 11 starters from the previous season (a season in which they won 10 games) was supposed to be a big advantage for them, especially right out of the gate.
So far that has not been the case.
The Vikings scored 34 points last week versus the Green Bay Packers, but a big chunk of that number came from the later portions of the game where they were really just trying to keep it reasonable against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers; it wasn’t in the form of Minnesota controlling the game or playing their style of winning football.
"This team has kind of been built on controlling the time of possession, playing great in the red zone and on third downs and we haven't been doing that very well," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said after the loss to the Colts. "We're going to have to get back to work and try to figure out what's wrong because the identity of this team has not been what it has been for the last six years."
As for the components of their identity, the Vikings replaced offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who left this past offseason to take the head coaching gig with the Cleveland Browns, with Gary Kubiak, who had been in the building as an offensive advisor in 2019. They did so with the thought that Kubiak getting to work with quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook would avoid a potential slow start to the season.
Unfortunately, it has been just that.
The Vikings have actually begun games strong with their opening drives, but after the first scripted series, it’s been tough sledding for them to get anything going. In Week 1, the Vikings only had two completed passes before their final drive of the first half. In Week 2, they only had three points on the board going into the fourth quarter. Those starts just aren’t good enough, especially for a team that is searching for a defensive identity, too.
A criticism of Cousins is that outside of situations that are nearly perfect setups for him to let it fly, he doesn’t trust it. When Cousins had both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as his receivers, he was able to still make things happen enough to complement the run game and a strong defense in previous years. But without both of those things this year, along with no Diggs, Cousins has crumbled as Minnesota has leaned on him more.
Against the Colts, Cousins went 11-for-26 for just 113 passing yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. His 15.9 quarterback rating was the ninth-lowest rating in Vikings team history. Thielen was targeted a team-high eight times for the second week in a row, but outside of Thielen, the stats even tell the story of a lack of trust between Cousins and the rest of his receivers.
On the flip side, the Vikings’ defense is not where it needs to be for them to win in their own formula. It took them six quarters to record their first sack of the season, and with them replacing more than 2,000 snaps from the cornerback position from 2019, they are clearly still figuring out what works best—they certainly know what isn’t working. The Vikings’ run defense is also not holding up its end of the bargain. They gave up 158 yards to the Packers in Week 1, and let rookie Jonathan Taylor rush for more than 100 yards against them in Week 2.
The Vikings’ over/under win total going into the year was nine. Nine was the same number given to the Packers. Going above that total would surely mean a playoff berth. Two weeks in and the Packers are 2-0 and the Vikings are 0-2. But the Vikings have bigger problems than just being two games back of the division. Even with the expanded playoff, the odds for a 0-2 team to make the playoffs is just 11%.
As one of the more disappointing winless teams to start the season, Minnesota must figure it out fast before their playoff hopes are dashed before they could hardly even begin.