With the Vikings storming into Soldier Field to an important early season divisional match up, I reached out to Ted Glover of the Daily Norseman to get an idea of what to expect this Sunday. I asked a few questions and his answers affirm my suspicion that this is going to be a tough, competitive game on Sunday. If you want to hear more from Ted, be sure to check out his guest appearance on Bears Over Beers this week as we dive into some of these topics at length. Thanks to Ted for taking the time to both answer my questions thoughtfully and for recording the podcast. If there’s one thing that can unite us Bears and Vikings fans, it’s a mutual hatred of green and yellow.
Windy City Gridiron: Dalvin Cook is off to an early lead for the rushing title with 375 yards over his first three games, eclipsing 100 in each. Mike Zimmer talked about committing to the run this off-season and it has paid off thus far. What’s been the secret for Cook’s ascendance to premiere running back? Is it health, scheme, or an improved offensive line?
Daily Norseman: It’s been a combination of all three, actually. Cook tore his ACL in week four of his rookie season in 2017, and then last year he hurt his hamstring early in the season against the Rams, and it took him until after the bye, which was like in week 8 or 9, to be fully healthy. This year he’s been good to go all year, and it shows. He’s explosive, elusive, and when he gets to the second level his acceleration is eye popping. The scheme is new, too. In the off-season, the Vikings hired Rick Dennison to be their o-line coach, and Gary Kubiak to be an offensive assistant and assistant head coach. They brought a zone blocking scheme with them, and it really plays to the strength of the offensive linemen. They also upgraded the interior line, which was a tire fire last season. Gone are LG Tom Compton and RG Mike Remmers. Last year’s C Pat Elflein has been moved to LG, first round pick Garrett Bradbury is the new starting center, and Minnesota signed RG Josh Kline in free agency. All three are playing better than last year’s interior line, and it’s really paying big dividends early.
WCG: Let’s talk about the $84M man, Kirk Cousins. He played poorly in Green Bay with two interceptions including one at the goal line that likely cost the Vikings the game. He’s played well, if sparingly, in the two blowout victories against Atlanta and Oakland. Can this team win big games with Kirk Cousins under center? What do you need to see from him against a good Bears defense to believe he’ll be able to steer this ship to the playoffs in 2019?
DN: That’s the $84 million guaranteed question. The Vikings didn’t sign Cousins to go 8-7-1, or 9-7 with an early playoff bounce. His track record to this point says, quite simply, no. Against the Packers, on a day when the Vikings weren’t playing great, they still managed to crawl back into the game, and had an opportunity to take a 4th quarter lead before Cousins threw a backbreaking interception in the end zone. At some point, against a good team, let’s hypothetically call this team the Shminago Cares, the Vikings running game is going to get shut down. This isn’t a knock on Cook, but the NFL adjusts and takes away what you do well, so you’ll have to adjust. When that happens, Kirk Cousins is going to have to do two things: take care of the football, and make throws. They don’t have to be 50 yard bombs, but they need to be accurate, the Vikings need to make first downs, and they’ll need to drive the ball down the field while primarily throwing it. I will say, if he can do that, and the running game can at least keep the defense honest and give the Vikes a consistent manageable down and distance situation, this can be a really good football team.
WCG: This Vikings defense ranked top five in DVOA last year and minus a first-quarter blip in Green Bay, they look like an excellent unit again this year. Who are the keys pieces to this year’s unit and what can Mitchell Trubisky expect when he drops back to pass?
DN: He can expect a tremendous rush off the edge from both Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. Griff struggled with some well documented mental health issues, but he seems to be back and as good as ever. I believe they lead the NFL in pressure through three weeks, and Trubisky is going to be feeling the heat. The Bears seemed to have a lot of success against Washington using short crossing routes, and the Vikings have been really good, for the most part, at taking those away in recent years. His wide receivers have formidable match ups in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mike Hughes, last year’s first round pick who is back after he tore his ACL in week six. The Bears and the Vikings defense are very similar in that they have fast, athletic players at every level, and they pursue to the ball really well. I think it’s going to be a low scoring game.
WCG: The Vikings went heavy on offense in this year’s draft, taking a Center in the first round and a Tight End and Running Back early. Who are the new faces and how have they looked so far this season?
DN: We talked about Bradbury a little bit already. He scored a John Blutarski like 0.0 pass blocking score from PFF in week one, but he’s steadily progressing. Long term, I think he’s going to be a fixture at center for a long time. TE Irv Smith, Jr. was taken in the second round, and he emerged last week, with 60 yards on 4 catches. He’s going to be really good in this offense, and I expect to see him a lot more as the season progresses, as the Vikings are using the ‘12’ package with him and long time TE Kyle Rudolph more than anyone else in the NFL, I believe. In the third round they took RB Alexander Mattison, who has been really good as a third down back and spot relief to Cook. He scored a highlight reel touchdown against the Raiders last week, leaping from the five yard line across the goal line. No, I’m not kidding. It was sweet.
WCG: Okay, cards on the table, how will the Vikings break your heart this season?
DN: Triple doink miss in the playoffs to get bounced. We’re not gonna stand for your kicker to show up ours, because we own kicker heartbreak in this division, pal, and don’t you forget it.
I think that’s a title Bears fans will happily give back to Minnesota. Thanks again to Ted and Daily Norseman! You can find Ted on the Twitter machine @purplebuckeye talking trash to WCG writers including me, who can be found @gridironborn.