MINNEAPOLIS — With a $84 million contract Kirk Cousins is among the best compensated players in the NFL, but his on field performance during eight seasons says he deserves a middle of the pack ranking among pro quarterbacks. The Vikings learned that last year when their pass-heavy offense was part of the story why the team came up with a disappointing 8-7-1 record and missed the playoffs after almost qualifying for the Super Bowl the season prior with Case Keenum as quarterback.
Cousins, in his first season with the Vikings last fall, struggled against teams with winning records as he had done with the Redskins. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman vowed during the offseason to make the offense more balanced between the run and pass.
In the team’s first regular-season game on Sunday, a 28-12 win over the Falcons, the plan was implemented more extremely than anyone anticipated. Cousins attempted a career-low 10 passes and completed eight. “Never had a game like this,” Cousins said on KFAN Radio’s postgame show. “First time for me, but I would take every one like this. That’s just fine by me.”
The offensive line was impressive and running back Dalvin Cook was elusive, gaining 111 yards as part of the team rushing total of 172 (98 yards passing). “…Dalvin is special. When he gets the ball in his hands he can really go, and I think our offensive coaches did a great job scheming some of the runs they had today,” Zimmer said on the radio show.
Cousins even ran six times, including a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. The Vikings frequently used two and sometimes three tight ends as part of their commitment to the run and taking pressure off their quarterback who should be better in his second season in Minneapolis because he has more familiarity with his receivers.
It helps, too, having the opposing defense guessing how the Vikings will line up with their personnel and whether the pass or run is coming. “Once you have a running team, the (opposing) defensive line becomes less aggressive,” former Vikings defensive lineman Bob Lurtsema told Sports Headliners.
Cousins, who fumbled twice in the game to increase his total to 42 fumbles dating back to 2015, can’t carry a team but his skills and experience are solid enough to give the Vikings a passing game that complements the run. The Vikings won’t have the success against every opponent like they did with the Falcons, but expect them to stay committed to at least something like a 50-50 run-pass ratio.
Speaking of a quarterback who can carry a franchise, the Vikings are at Green Bay next Sunday. Aaron Rodgers is a Houdini who is particularly adept at performing late game magic. With the Packers 1-0 after a road win in Chicago, they play five of their next six games at home. The Vikings have three of their next five away from Minneapolis.
The Front Office Sports newsletter of Sept. 6 reported: “More than 38 million Americans, or 15% of the U.S. population, are planning to bet on NFL games this season, according to the American Gaming Association.”
The University of Minnesota earned an un-Gopher like win at Fresno State early Sunday morning, 38-35 in two overtimes. A program in search of consistency and quality wins for decades can thump its chest after “Rowing the Boat” to an improbable victory against the Bulldogs.
This was the kind of game many past Gopher teams would have found too difficult to put in the win column. Minnesota traumatized itself with fumbles and the most inopportune penalties imaginable. The Gophers had the resolve and the playmakers to overcome and win for the fifth time in their last six games (including 2-0 this season).
Glen Taylor, the 78-year-old billionaire whose companies include the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx, likes to garden at his Mankato home. “…It’s just different from my other job, so I just need some of that time,” he told Sports Headliners.
Taylor has flower and vegetable gardens, plus fruit trees on the grounds of his property. He and his wife Becky do late summer canning. “I love the food that comes out of a garden,” he said.
The Minnesota Wild plays its first preseason game Sept. 17, with the regular season opener coming Oct. 3. Team owner Craig Leipold is upbeat, despite his club missing the playoffs last spring for the first time in seven years. “I am more excited about this year coming up than I have been in a number of years,” he told Sports Headliners.
The roster won’t be dramatically different but Leipold expects the leadership from newly hired general manager Bill Guerin to be impactful. Guerin comes from a winning background as an NHL player and front office decision maker. Already Leipold sees how his players relate differently to Guerin than they did to former GM Paul Fenton. “These guys listen to Billy,” Leipold said.
Leipold, who has owned the franchise since 2008, made it clear during a telephone interview that the word rebuilding is not one he will use to label his team. “Do we think we need to get better? Yes. Are we going to chop the tree down and replant it? The answer is absolutely no.”
Providing Leipold with confidence about the roster’s personnel was the feedback he received this summer while interviewing general manager candidates. “We think we have really good pieces (on the roster), and particularly after going through the process that we just did and asking all of our candidates to grade our players. Yeah, you could say, well, they wanted to grade them high, but if we thought they missed the target, then that wasn’t going to help them. Virtually every candidate who came in said that, hey, we’re a playoff team.”
With decades of experience as a sports reporter and columnist covering professional and college sports, Twin Cities-based sports columnist David Shama not only shares his perspectives, but he also quotes many of Minnesota’s biggest newsmakers among players, coaches and owners.