MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings’ 28-12 season-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons probably couldn’t have been more to coach Mike Zimmer’s liking. Their efforts all offseason to generate a more effective rushing attack were evident early, backed by the tweaks that consultant Gary Kubiak and coordinator Kevin Stefanski made to the Vikings’ outside zone-blocking scheme. After calling rushing plays just 33 percent of the time in 2018, the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL, the Vikings leaned heavily upon Dalvin Cook en route to his second-ever two-touchdown game (and his third-ever 100-yard-rushing performance).
Describe the game in two words: Complementary football. Last season, Zimmer’s biggest gripe was that the Vikings’ three phases rarely played well together, but the opening minutes of the Atlanta game were a microcosm of Minnesota bucking that trend. LB Anthony Barr barreled down on QB Matt Ryan for a sack on the first play, leading to a blocked punt that set up the Vikings for their first score.
Promising trend: Yep, the Vikings’ pass rush is still lethal, sacking Ryan four times and pressuring him all day. Ryan and the Falcons’ offensive line couldn’t handle the multitude of fronts and creative blitzes Zimmer threw out in Week 1, and it only amplified how late the quarterback looked on a majority of his throws. Minnesota’s secondary took care of what it needed to on the back end — even after losing nickel corner Mackensie Alexander to injury ahead of halftime — holding Julio Jones to six catches for 31 yards and a touchdown (which was scored in garbage time). Minnesota scored all 28 of its points off turnovers, the most in the NFL since the Los Angeles Chargers scored 31 points off turnovers in November 2017. All of it can be credited heavily to what Minnesota did with its pass rush.
QB breakdown: The refocused efforts on the run game took pressure off Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who struggled in the pocket at times early but overall managed Minnesota’s offense well in the win, including his own touchdown off a QB sneak. (What was up with that TD “celebration,” though?) Cousins attempted the fewest passes of his career, going 8-of-10 for 98 yards and a touchdown and finishing with a 140.8 passer rating. The Vikings still have one of the best receiving duos in the NFL in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, so don’t expect Cousins’ passing numbers to be this low each week, especially against better opponents. But it was a nice change of pace for Minnesota to be able to rely on its run game to generate explosive plays and power the offense.
Buy/sell: Anthony Harris. I’m buying. The Vikings safety had two interceptions and a fumble recovery against Atlanta, making his mark in the most “critical” moment of an otherWISe blowout victory. Up 21-0 with 3:14 left to play in the third quarter, the Vikings’ defense was in bend-don’t-break mode pinned at their own 3-yard line. Harris picked off Ryan, who appeared to underthrow a ball meant to go out of the back of the end zone.