The Minnesota Vikings approach their Week 8 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys with guarded optimism. Although their record only stands at 3-3, they are 3-1 in their last four games and have played solid defense. And their offensive line is much improved with the addition to the starting lineup of first-round draft pick Christian Darrisaw. But, what do the Vikings need to do to stay in the playoff hunt?

Quarter back and receivers

Kirk Cousins is converting his biggest detractors into believers. NFL Network analyst and former Minnesota Vikings great Cris Carter had this to say about the Vikings quarterback. “Dude is playing some football. I’m gonna tell you. Kirk Cousins hasn’t been one of my favorite quarterbacks since I’ve been covering the Vikings, but you got no complaints from me.”

Despite playing behind a sometimes porous offensive line, Cousins has thrown for 13 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. More importantly, he has led the Vikings on several fourth-quarter heroics to either tie or win ballgames. Yes, the unvaccinated wonder has become a surprise offensive leader this year. He is looking calm under pressure and in complete control of the Vikings offense.

The Minnesota Vikings would be wise to ease the burden on star running back Dalvin Cook. Coming back from an ankle injury, he rushed for 140 yards on a season-high 29 carries. The Vikings should utilize Cook’s backup, Alexander Mattison, and rookie Kene Nwangwu to keep Cook fresh and healthy as the season progresses.

The receiving corps has been one of the strengths of Vikings for the past few years. But a pleasant surprise has been the play of second-year wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Osborn flamed out as a return specialist last year and his chances of making this year’s team looked dim.

But with hard work and renewed confidence, he has become the perfect alternative to star receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. He has been so productive that Minnesota Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer did not even mention Osborn’s helmet tossing incident after scoring the winning touchdown against Carolina in Week 6. As everyone knows, the never bashful Zim kind of frowns on such things.

Minnesota Vikings and their rejuvenated offensive line

Finally, the Vikings’ offensive line showed the most improvement of any team unit during the overtime win against the Panthers. While center Garrett Bradberry and guard Oli Udoh continue to play matador with opposing team’s interior defensive linemen, rookie Darrisaw had an outstanding performance in his NFL debut.

He allowed only one quarterback pressure, and he stood his ground against veteran defensive ends Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. The Vikings helped him having Cousins release the ball more quickly on his passes, but Darrisaw still acquitted himself well. He and right tackle Brian O’Neil should be quality bookends for the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line for many years to come.

Defensive line and linebackers

The Minnesota Vikings defensive line has to be their most improved unit compared to a year ago. Last year the team was 27th overall in rushing defense and 27th overall in pass defense. These also produced a paltry 23 sacks and brought very little pressure in general on opposing quarterbacks. What a difference a year makes.

After six games, the Vikings 5th in pass defense, an improved 17th in run defense, and they have an overall defense ranking of 7th in the league. So what has changed? The addition of tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and the return of middle linebacker Eric Kendricks has put the bite back into their run-stopping ability.

And with their 21 sacks and 30 QB hits, the Vikings’ defensive line has been having a party living in the opposition backfield. All-Pro defensive end Danielle Hunter has returned with a vengeance racking up 6 sacks and 10 QB hits already. And the “Big Dawg,” Everson Griffen has brought fury from the opposite direction with 4 sacks and 7 QB hits to date.

The rush defense should improve now that linebacker Anthony Barr has returned. He missed most of last season and the first four games of 2021 recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. Also, Nick Vigil filled in nicely for Barr in his absence, but he has struggled against the run, and he must step up his play for the Minnesota Vikings to improve against the run.

Secondary

The Vikings’ secondary has also seen massive improvement from last season. Safety Harrison Smith continues to play at a Pro-Bowl level and ex-Cowboy Xavier Woods has been a nice complement to Smith’s hard-hitting style. Future Hall-of Famer Patrick Peterson has been a steadying influence from his corner position and will be missed as he recovers from an ankle injury.

Fellow cornerback Bashaud Breeland started the season as a wide-receivers best friend, but he has been much improved in the past few weeks. His interception against the Panthers in Week 6 was the key to their first score of the game.

Cameron Dantzler, after a rough start, is looking more like the player who earned a spot on the NFL’s All-Rookie Team last season. The Vikings hope he makes a smooth transition as he subs for Peterson for the next couple of weeks.

Minnesota Vikings Special Teams

Kicker Greg Joseph’s season has been like a teeter-totter. There have been highs such as kicking the winning goal on the final play of the Detroit game. And there have been lows such as missing the game-winners against the Cardinals and Panthers. Consistency will be the key to his second-half success.

Punter Jordan Berry had been performing well this year, but the punt team overall must improve their blocking. The Panthers’ penetrated the middle of the Vikings punt formation and blocked the kick, which Carolina recovered for a touchdown. Dede Westbrook has been average as the punt returner but the Minnesota Vikings get rookie Nwangwu back to put a jolt into their kick returns.

Coaching

Coach Zimmer, offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, and Cousins will never be mentioned in the same breath as Tom Brady when the subject is clock management. But they are running a balanced productive offense should only get better with improved line play. Co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson once again has a defensive line that strikes fear in the hearts of NFL quarterbacks.

Minnesota Vikings outlook

The Minnesota Vikings face the toughest part of their 2021 schedule in the next four weeks. They play four division contenders culminating with a game against the Packers at US Bank Stadium on November 14. The Minnesota fans hope to hear a lot more of this:

as the Vikings march to the playoffs.

Read the Vikings Beat weekly at Belly Up Sports. Follow me on Twitter for more of my articles. In addition, check out other NFL articles by the Belly Up Sports Pigskin Team. 
About Author

Greg Simbeck

Freelance writer who loves telling an informative, creative, and compelling story. I am open to write about anything, but my emphasis is on sports in the Midwest. I look forward to telling you a good story and receiving your comments.

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