Mike Zimmer has been the Vikings’ coach for 120 regular-season and playoff games. He never has seen a better offensive showing by his team than Sunday’s.
In a 30-17 victory over Seattle at U.S. Bank Stadium, with star running back Dalvin Cook out because of an ankle injury, the Vikings still rolled up 453 yards of total offense and converted 9 of 14 third downs while getting near-flawless play from quarterback Kirk Cousins. Afterward, Zimmer called it “the best offensive performance that I’ve seen in the eight years I’ve been here.”
So, taking it another step, could this be the Vikings’ best offense in Zimmer’s eight seasons?
“Potentially, maybe,” he said Monday. “Stay healthy and the offensive line keeps improving. I think we obviously miss Irv Smith (Jr.). He’s a terrific player. But (Tyler) Conklin has done a good job, and we’ve got good receivers. We’ve done a good job. Just got to keep it up.”
It was a blow to the Vikings when Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final preseason game, but Conklin has taken over as the starting tight end and looks to be coming into his own. Conklin, in his fourth season, has career highs Sunday of seven catches and 70 yards receiving.
“The sky’s the limit,” Conklin said Monday about how good the offense can be. “We’ve just got to keep stacking them week by week.”
Minnesota is 1-2, but not because of the offense. Heading into Sunday’s game against Cleveland at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings rank fourth in the NFL in total offense but 27th in total defense. Those are the same rankings they finished with last season.
Though the Vikings had their highest offensive ranking in 16 years in 2020, there still were questions and concerns about the unit entering this season. Long before Smith was lost for the season, the Vikings released tight end Kyle Rudolph in March in a salary-related move.
Minnesota also released left tackle Riley Reiff for salary reasons only to have his expected replacement, rookie Christian Darrisaw, suffer a groin injury, casting doubt on the offensive line. And the Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Klint Kubiak, who never had called plays before taking over for retired father Gary Kubiak this season.
The offense hardly began the season in fine fashion, producing no points, four penalties and moving the ball a grand total of eight yards on its first three drives in the Sept. 12 opener at Cincinnati. The Vikings eventually got the offense moving but still finished the game with 12 penalties in a 27-24 overtime loss.
“The tough start was in large part due to penalties,” center Garrett Bradbury said. “We were just shooting ourselves in the foot. Coach Kubiak has done a great job the first three weeks. We didn’t help him the first game, but we all stood up here after Week 1 and we were like, ‘This can be a great offense. We have the players, we have the coaches, the scheme.’ ”
The Vikings have shown that the past two weeks. Even in Week 2’s 34-33 loss at Arizona, they rolled up 419 yards of offense.
Cousins is off to his best three-game start since he became a regular starter with Washington in 2015, which includes no interceptions in the first three games for the first time. Ranked as the third-best quarterback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, he has completed 73.9 percent of his passes for 918 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I play with really good football players,” said Cousins, who completed 30 of 38 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. “I think that helps. I also think that Klint Kubiak’s doing a phenomenal job. I think (quarterbacks coach) Andrew Janocko’s doing a phenomenal job.”
Cousins has spread the ball around. His three touchdown passes against the Seahawks went to Conklin; Justin Jefferson, who caught nine passes for 118 yards; and Adam Thielen, who had six receptions for 50 yards.
The Vikings were balanced on offense Sunday even without Cook. Alexander Mattison started in his place and ran the ball 26 times for a career-high-matching 112 yards. He also had six catches for 59 yards.
And then there’s the offensive line. Cousins was sacked three times at Cincinnati but has been sacked just once in each of the past two games.
“I thought they all did well,” Zimmer said of the starting linemen.
Those on the offense, though, are not getting carried away by the recent success. Cousins and Bradbury both said the Vikings still must do better in the red zone, and not settle for field goals.