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Ben Leber Goes Off on Vikings

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September 21, 2020

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The Minnesota Vikings have been dominated in their first two games, losing 43-34 to the Green Bay Packers and 28-11 to the Indianapolis Colts. Beyond the 0-2 start to the 2020 season, few numbers are more telling than the team’s time of possession average: Vikings 20 minutes: 10 seconds, opponents 39:51.

Since 1990 NFL teams that begin the season 0-2 have about a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs. With the league expanding the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14 in 2020, it might be premature to write the Vikings’ “obituary” before the first official day of fall, but this team has issues.

The front office willingly parted with personnel in the offseason, most specifically on the defensive line, cornerback and trading star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Injuries to defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Pat Elflein have compounded performance. Still, there are a couple of issues that have been troubling for years—inconsistency at quarterback and in the offensive line. Management has not put high caliber personnel in place to elevate these areas to rank among the best in the league.

Vikings fans are frustrated and so is ex-Viking linebacker Ben Leber. Since Leber’s career ended he has emerged as a candid and knowledgeable analyst on Vikings radio broadcasts and college football telecasts. Unlike many ex-players turned analysts, he is credible and serves his audience.

After yesterday’s game he went off on how the Vikings are playing. Speaking on the KFAN post-game show, Leber was rightfully critical of both the offense and defense.

Kirk Cousins

Leber started with quarterback Kirk Cousins who had a miserable 15.9 passer rating yesterday. Cousins, who has a contract worth almost $100 million, completed 11 of 26 passes for 113 yards and threw three interceptions. But Leber thought Cousins was worse than his stats.

“To me Kirk Cousins has to be able to trust other people outside of (favorite wide receiver) Adam Thielen,” Leber said on KFAN. “He’s way too predictable on passes thrown to him. (In) critical situations everybody knows it’s going to go to Thielen. He (also) has to do a better job in the course of the first half of ball distribution, finding other guys. …”

The Vikings started yesterday’s game with Cousins throwing the ball in a series of plays featuring play-action passes. Leber didn’t like the scripted plays not utilizing Dalvin Cook who management just rewarded with a big contract that includes a $23 million guarantee. He regards Cooks as one of the NFL’s best running backs.

Leber understands offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak wants to have a balanced attack of running and throwing but Cook isn’t receiving enough opportunities (14 carries, two receptions yesterday). “He has this ability to make plays,” Leber said. “Let him be your playmaker. Let the offense run through him. Let the play action pass get developed and get down the field through the run game. We’re just not doing that.”

The Vikings’ woes with time of possession are caused by more than an ineffective offense that leaves the defense on the field for long stretches. “It’s extremely agonizing (to watch),” Leber said. “I love that word because it encapsulates how you feel watching the defense as well (as the offense).”

The defense isn’t playing like a typical Mike Zimmer defense. The line has been pushed around on running plays and unable to sack quarterbacks and create pressure. “The running backs are getting two, three, four yards down the field before there is any initial contact,” Leber said.

An inexperienced group of cornerbacks 24 years old and younger has struggled. Leber said they have played “dumb football.” He is also critical of linebacker Eric Wilson’s pass coverage. ”There are big time issues on this defense that cannot be ignored,” Leber said.

Worth Noting

Leber lives in Edina, a community of choice for players from the Minnesota Wild, Gophers coaches P.J. Fleck and Richard Pitino, Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, and Twins club executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

The AL Central division leading Chicago White Sox rank No. 2 behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in SI.com’s MLB power rankings of last Friday. The New York Yankees, the team Twins fans fear meeting in the playoffs, rank No. 8 while Minnesota is No. 6.

In MLB.com’s power rankings out today the Yankees rank No. 4, White Sox No. 6 and Twins No. 7.

The Twins win over the Chicago Cubs last night was the club’s first appearance since 2010 on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Ron Gardenhire, who has had health issues for years, retired from the Detroit Tigers a couple of days ago but will best be remembered as the Twins manager. He was the first skipper in MLB history to have his team in the playoffs during the first six of his nine years.

Nice guy Gardy could get fired up on the field. He was ejected from games 84 times, the seventh highest in MLB history.

Former Gophers head coach Jerry Kill, now a special assistant at TCU, will see an interesting prospect coming to Fort Worth next year. Alexander Honig, who lives in Germany, has verbally committed to TCU and prompted an Associated Press story awhile ago that detailed his 6-6 height, skills and potential.

Murray’s, the longtime Sports Headliners advertiser, has an impressive new website telling visitors the success story of the iconic downtown restaurant that dates back to 1946. Open most days for lunch and dinner, Murray’s is also offering curbside pickup.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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