Studwell: Next Games Telling for Vikings
From 1977-1990 Scott Studwell made himself one of the great linebackers in Minnesota Vikings history and he has twice been named to all-time franchise teams. He spent 20-plus years in the front office evaluating players for the Vikings before retiring a few months ago. He talked to Sports Headliners this week about his old team including the upcoming schedule with Minnesota playing away from home the next two weeks against division leading clubs, the Chiefs and Cowboys.
“It’s not going to make or break the season, but it’s going to show us who we are and where we need to go,” Studwell said. “You know what, I’ve got a lot of faith in them (the Vikings) being able to go in and beat both Kansas City and Dallas on the road—because we’re going to be really hard to beat at home. And we gotta keep pace with Green Bay because they’re playing pretty well, too.”
The 5-3 Chiefs lead the AFC West Division, while the 4-3 Cowboys are in first place in the NFC East. The 6-2 Vikings are in second place in the NFC North behind the 7-1 Green Bay Packers. Minnesota is 4-0 and at home, 2-2 away from friendly U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings have also won four consecutive games.
If there is a word best describing the Vikings so far this season it’s probably balance. The Purple are the only NFL team in the top five in both most yards offensively per game and fewest allowed on defense. Minnesota is third in the league with its 396.5 yards per game offense. The defense, led by the wisdom and schemes of head coach Mike Zimmer, is fourth in the NFL giving up an average of 313.9 yards.
Balance is also the right label for an improved offense that has effectively mixed the pass and run with a new zone blocking scheme directed by a reorganized coaching staff since last season. Studwell likes the work of offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and line coach Rick Dennison.
“The coaching staff that Mike (Zimmer) has assembled has been a very pleasant surprise,” Studwell said. “I think that Kevin has done a great job and with the help of Gary and Rick and all those guys they’ve basically kind of changed up what we were doing offensively. They’re committed to running the football and Dalvin (Cook) is having a hell of a year. …”
The Vikings rank third among the 32 NFL teams in rushing per game at 160.1 yards per game. Cook, the third year running back from Florida State, is avoiding injuries unlike his two previous seasons. He leads league rushers with both 823 yards and nine touchdowns. Studwell has been anticipating what the 5-10, 210-pound Cook could do before he even arrived in Minneapolis.
“We were ecstatic when we got him in the second round,” Studwell said. “For a back his size, he’s got tremendous speed and power. He’s got great balance. He’s got great run after contact balance. He can run away from people, (and) he can run through people. He’s got very good eyes.
“The only drawback maybe with Dalvin is he still has to continue to improve as a receiver. But he’s got better. He’s worked his rear end off doing it. But he’s good in (pass) protection. He understands it. He’s the total package. Knock on wood, he’s had that injury bug but hopefully he’s turned the corner that way too.”
Studwell was an aggressive, physical linebacker during his career that ended with him holding the franchise record for tackles, 1,981. He is all in on the 2019 emphasis to run the football. “I think it brings an air of toughness to the offense and I am sure we’re going to continue to trend that way,” he said.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown just three interceptions. His quarterback rating of 115.2 is second only to Seattle’s Russell Wilson’s 115.5. Only five other quarterbacks who are regulars have a completion percentage better than his 72.1. His 1,997 passing yards ranks 13th in the league. He was named today as the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for his successful October that included 10 touchdown passes and a QB rating of 137.1.
Those are impressive numbers, particularly for someone who didn’t start the season effectively. “He certainly looks a lot more comfortable than he did earlier in the year,” Studwell said. “Now maybe that’s just growing in the scheme and getting more comfortable in what we’re doing offensively. You know I think he is throwing the ball exceptionally well. He’s making good decisions with the football.
“But once again, it’s going to help him as long as we continue to flourish in the running game because it takes a lot of pressure off him so he doesn’t feel like he’s the one that has gotta win the football game week in and week out.”
Going into the season the offense caused a lot of concern among fans but now the unit is a club strength, along with a veteran defense that has earned a lot of praise in recent years. That defense has a challenge Sunday against the Chiefs who rank fourth in league scoring offense at 28.3 points per game. The Vikings are allowing the third-fewest points per game, at 16.5.
Worrywarts fussed back in early September about whether the franchise’s off and on field goal kicking would match the inconsistency of the recent past. Dan Bailey, though, has been productive and is the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the Redskins October 24. Bailey was 4-for-4 on field goals and 1-for-1 on extra points in that game.
The ninth-year pro is 12-for-14 (85.7%) on field goals in this season and leads the Vikings in scoring with 59 points. He has won two NFC Player of the Week awards under first-year special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf.
The Vikings performance this fall obviously pleases the 65-year-old Studwell, who now follows the team in retirement. He talked to Sports Headliners while splitting wood at his lake home in Wisconsin.
“I miss the people obviously more than I miss the grind, but I don’t really pine for the NFL,” he said. “I don’t pine for football. I don’t miss the road. I don’t miss being gone (from home) 200 nights a year, so it was the right choice.”