MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings are one of seven 3-1 teams in the NFL through four weeks, and they have yet to play anything close to their best football. Is winning ugly going to be the trend, or is it just some early stumbles on the way to something much bigger?
After dominating the Green Bay Packers 23-7 in Week 1, it’s been tough sledding the last three weeks. The Vikings went to Philadelphia for Monday Night Football and almost nothing went right in a 24-7 loss. They had to come back from down 24-14 in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions, 28-24, only after Dan Campbell’s inexplicable decision to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter, setting up Kirk Cousins’ game-winning touchdown to KJ Osborn.
Last week, a 28-25 win over the New Orleans Saints that was ugly, but it’s still a win. That’s after Greg Joseph made a 47-yard field goal with 24 seconds left, and Wil Lutz provided an assist with his "double doink."
The biggest problem last week? Finishing drives. Three trips inside the red zone, three field goals. Justin Jefferson dropped a touchdown and a catch he normally makes. Johnny Mundt dropped what would’ve been a first down and put the Vikings in position to score. Cousins also hit Adam Thielen short of a first down where Jefferson broke open late in the end zone.
They’re 3-1, but there’s still plenty to fix.
"Outside of the Packer game, I think the other games we’ve come out of feeling like we’ve got to be sharper, we’ve got to be better, there’s plays we’re leaving out there," Cousins said. "I do feel that we have to tighten the screws down on some of our execution."
Part of their struggles on offense is the inconsistency in the run game. Dalvin Cook has one rushing touchdown through four games. His longest run so far is for 16 yards, and he has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game.
Kevin O’Connell, known to be an offensive guru, has yet to fully unleash Justin Jefferson. He torched the Packers for nine catches, 184 yards and two touchdowns. He made 10 catches for 147 yards, and had a rushing touchdown against the Saints. Against the Eagles and Lions? A combined nine catches for 62 yards, and no scores.
O’Connell has put the onus on himself to get his playmakers the ball more. Cook says it’s a matter of time, but winning games is what really matters.
"As long as the wins keep stacking up, I think the room for improvement is always going to be there. Us aiming for perfection is always going to be there," Cook said. "Whatever KO puts out in front of us, we’re attacking it. It’s going to hit at the right time."
The issues, if you want to call them that, aren’t all on the offense. We heard all offseason Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith would be a pain in the new 3-4 defense. Jordan Hicks is a veteran presence alongside Eric Kendricks. Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith are savvy veterans in the secondary to help out Cam Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan and Cam Bynum.
Jalen Hurts carved up that defense for 390 total yards and three touchdowns in Week 2. The Lions put up 416 yards and nearly stole a win from the Vikings in Week 3.
The Vikings are 26th in the NFL in passing defense through four games. They’re 11th in rushing defense, and have seven sacks, which is tied for 19th.
The Vikings aren’t without their warts, but they’ve found ways to win. They have something in common with the Bills, Dolphins, Chiefs, Cowboys, Giants and Packers: They’re 3-1. They also have a chance to go 4-1 Sunday, and 3-0 in the NFC North Division with a win over the Chicago Bears, a franchise in full rebuild mode.
"I think every week is critical. We’ve got goals as a team, none more important than understanding we were able to get another victory last week. We put that behind us understanding that it’s about going 1-0 this week," O’Connell said.