Run Game, Defense Lead Vikings to Season-Opening Victory over Falcons
Ten pass attempts. That's all the Vikings needed from Kirk Cousins on Sunday.
Cousins completed eight of them, including a touchdown to Adam Thielen, and scored on a leaping 1-yard run as the Vikings cruised to a 28-12 win over the Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. He threw the ball three times in the third quarter and zero times in the fourth.
There was simply no need to air it out given how much success the Vikings were having in the running game. Dalvin Cook ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, and Alexander Mattison added 49 yards on just nine carries in his first career game. That's a combined 5.3 yards per carry from the team's top two runners.
Cook and Mattison deserve credit for their decisive running and burst, but they had plenty of gaping holes to run through against the Falcons' front seven. It was an impressive debut for Gary Kubiak's outside zone running scheme and the Vikings' new-look offensive line. Garrett Bradbury and Josh Kline were outstanding in creating running lanes and getting to the second level.
Time and time again, the Vikings used outside runs to pick up major chunks of yardage. Cook and Mattison combined for six runs of 10+ yards in the first half, including a 21-yard scamper by Cook for the Vikings' second touchdown.
It was also an impressive season opener for Zimmer's defense. The Vikings shut down Devonta Freeman early on and made life difficult for Matt Ryan all day. Ryan was sacked four times and threw two interceptions to safety Anthony Harris, one of which was caught in the end zone after the Falcons' best drive of the game.
Xavier Rhodes limited Julio Jones to six catches for 31 yards. As a unit, the Vikings defense kept the Falcons off of the scoreboard until the fourth quarter, when they gave up two meaningless touchdowns.
The Vikings even played well in special teams, with Eric Wilson blocking a punt after the Falcons' first possession of the game. That play gave the offense a short field and really set the tone for a dominant first half. Cousins found Thielen for a touchdown two plays later and Harris picked off Ryan on the ensuing possession, leading to Cook's first score.
Six offensive plays into the game, the Vikings led 14-0. They added a third touchdown early in the second quarter, and at that point it was all but over. Zimmer is now 37-5-1 when the Vikings score at least 21 points.
The Vikings were content to run the ball, kill clock and let their defense go to work the rest of the way.
This was not just an important victory over a potential NFC playoff team, it was also a major confidence-builder. If the Vikings can replicate this type of performance more often than not, 2019 could be a big bounce-back season.
They'll probably have to throw more than ten passes to beat Green Bay next weekend, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.