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While I figured the Vikings would beat the Falcons at home for the season opener, I was shocked at how completely they dominated Atlanta.

Vikings 28, Falcons 12

Defense

Photo: Vikings Defense vs Falcons

There was a lot of pre-season speculation that the Vikings defense would fall from its perch as one of the elite units in the league, what with all the aged veterans returning.

I guess we can stop wringing our hands.

There was a lot to like but Anthony Harris sucked all the oxygen out of the room with his two interceptions, fumble recovery, and NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

That left little air left for commentary on the performance of Everson Griffen, who appears to have returned to form from last season’s drop. Griffen returning to his beastly ways is a huge development for this defense, forcing opponents to account for both him and Danielle Hunter.

While I figured the Vikings would handle Atlanta, I was not expecting the team to come out firing on all cylinders from the first play of scrimmage.

Anthony Barr set the tone for the afternoon by sneaking in at the last second untouched to sack Matt Ryan on the first play from scrimmage, setting up a three-and-out.

Special Teams

The following blocked punt by Eric Wilson may have been the most shocking play of the game.

Photo: Vikings Blocked Punt vs Atlanta Falcons

Can you remember the last time the Vikings blocked a punt?

Special teams may have been the biggest question mark coming into the season. While we had a good ride with Mike Priefer as the special teams coordinator (except, of course, for kicking failures), Marwan Maalouf was a complete unkown.

The fact that the punt block was a design play makes Maalouf’s debut as coordinator particularly impressive.

Arif Hasan explains the play in his superb article for The Athletic (paywall):

“…the Vikings effectively ran a cross-dog blitz to isolate the long snapper and free up either Wilson or Ameer Abdullah — usually Abdullah — to take on the punter. In this case, the long snapper, punt protector and left guard all seem to have different understandings of the protection as the snapper blocks to his right while the left guard blocks to his left.”

“Because the punt protector’s job is essentially to cover the long snapper, who can almost never block the first player who attacks him, he takes on a crashing Kentrell Brothers. The left guard, in this case, tight end Jaeden Graham, helps out the lineman next to his left instead of the long snapper, meaning there’s two running free. The long snapper can pick up one of them by reshifting, but can’t pick up both. In this case, it was Wilson who got free.”

Maalouf’s play design and scheming was reassuring, given the whole Kaare Vedvik debacle.

After wasting a fifth-round pick, the Vikings cut Vedvik for obvious performance reasons. You can complain, as I have, on the wasted pick but at least give Rick Spielman for not falling for the sunk cost fallacy.

Vedvik was signed by the Jets, won the kicking job, and proceded to cost them a game by missing two kicks in a one-point loss to the Bills. Not surprisingly, Vedvik is again available after being cut by the Jets this week.

There are a lot of people who clearly believe the kid has talent but it is just as obvious that that talent needs to be developed on a practice squad and not a 53-man roster.

Adding to the uncertainty over special teams was the fact that the Vikings parted ways with Marcus Sherels, who signed with the Saints.

The punt return game now consists of Chad Beebe calling fair catches. Better safe than sorry, I guess, but that’s a far cry from what we’ve been accustomed to as Vikings fans.

After being injured for the entire pre-season, Sherels was cut by the Saints. He’s currently available.

Just sayin.

Dalvin Cook & The Run Game

The most exciting aspect of the Vikings victory over the Falcons was the effectiveness of the run game.

There was certainly an expectation of improvement going into the regular season, with the addition of Gary Kubiak‘s zone blocking scheme and offensive line coach Rick Dennison. There was an expectation of improvement with a healthy Dalvin Cook and a retooled offensive line.

It all worked to such perfection last Sunday that the run game looked at times like a beautifully choreographed dance.

Dalvin Cook trucks Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal

Cook would go on to gain 111 yards on 21 carries, score two touchdowns, and reel in two catches for another nine yards.

Dalvin Cook’s first score of the 2019 season from 19 yards out against the Falcons

The question with Cook, of course, is whether or not he can stay healthy for an entire season.

Though I certainly hope it doesn’t happen, I’m not as worried about a Cook injury with Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, and even Ameer Abdullah waiting in the wings.

All three are the same type of back as Cook and should excel in the outside zone attack the Vikings are employing this year.

We even saw a glimpse of what that would look like with Mattison’s nine carries for 49 yards. Both Cook and Mattison averaged a nearly identical average yards per carry, with 5.3 and 5.4, respectively.

Play-Action Game

The reason Mike Zimmer fired John DeFilippo last year was because the former offensive coordinator was so quick to abandon the running game.

And the reason Zimmer wanted to run the ball more was to establish the play-action pass.

And the reason Zimmer wanted to set up the play-action pass was because the stats show that is when Cousins is at his best.

Cousins only touchdown pass did not include a play-action but put that down to the shock and awe of a Falcons’ three-and-out followed by a blocked punt and superb Vikings field position.

Kirk Cousins hits Adam Thielen for the Vikings first touchdown of the 2019 season

More typical of what the Vikings will get out of an offense that built around maximizing both Dalvin Cook’s and Kirk Cousins‘ skills is this play-action screen pass to Kyle Rudolph.

Kyle Rudolph catches a screen pass for Kirk Cousins against the Atlanta Falcons

Yes, throwing only 10 passes is definitely an abberation (last time the Vikings threw for fewer than that was 1977) but you can’t argue with the result: 80% completion percentage, one touchdown, and a 140.8 quarterback rating.

The complete team effort added up to a Vikings Victory Formation.

Photo: Vikings Victory Formation

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