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Kirk Cousins, run defense, Kevin O’Connell: A look at the Vikings from Daily Norseman

It has been four years since the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings last met. It is time to get a closer look at the Vikings with help from Daily Norseman.

The Miami Dolphins return home on Sunday, playing in Hard Rock Stadium after two losses on the road. At 3-2 on the season, Miami is looking to get back to their winning ways, but they are going to have to do it against the Minnesota Vikings who are 4-1 on the year and lead the NFC North. It will not be an easy game for the Dolphins, who are coming into this game with seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson expected to start at quarterback due to injuries to both Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater.

The Dolphins and Vikings last faced off in 2018 and last played in Miami in 2014. An AFC versus NFC matchup, these are two teams that are not very familiar with each other. To get Dolphins fans more familiar with the Vikings, I turned to Christopher Gates from SB Nation’s Daily Norseman for a closer look at the team.

From the outside looking in, Kirk Cousins feels like Kirk Cousins. He’s a good quarterback who has times when he looks dominant, and he has times when he is just sort of there. He is ninth in passing yards this season, 13th in passing touchdowns, has the third most interceptions, and is just 17th in passer rating. Who is Cousins? What should the Dolphins expect from him this weekend? And, how do Vikings fans feel about him?

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

How the fan base feels about Kirk Cousins basically depends on who you ask and when you ask them. There have been a vocal number of folks that have been against the Cousins signing from the beginning and they’ll likely never be happy with his performance, but overall I think he’s done a pretty good job. He’s learning to be a bit more aggressive in Kevin O’Connell’s offense than he has been in the past, which has led in part to the higher number of interceptions this season. Cousins isn’t an elite quarterback, and I don’t think that there are a lot of people that believe he is, but he’s what I call “Top Ten-ish.” As far as this weekend, I think that Cousins will have a solid game against a Dolphins’ defense that has had its struggles this season. Obviously, he’s going to look for Justin Jefferson a lot (as he should), but if the Dolphins take extra steps to try to take #18 away he’s gotten other targets more involved in the offense.

The Vikings’ defense has not been dominant, but they have not been bad either. What is working for the defense and where can the Dolphins find success?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The Vikings’ biggest weakness so far this season, by a wide margin, has been stopping the run. Pretty much every team the Vikings have played this year has been able to pick up solid chunks of yardage on the ground. The team has added guys like Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson to try to correct those issues, but when they’ve been given a breather other teams have taken advantage. I know the Dolphins have two dynamic play-making receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but their best bet, particularly with a rookie making his first start at quarterback, will likely be to establish the run first in an effort to set those receivers up for success.

Given this is an AFC versus NFC matchup, the Dolphins and Vikings do not exactly see each other often. The last contest was in 2018 as the Vikings beat the Dolphins 41-17, but these are both different teams now. Who will have an impact on this game that Dolphins fans may not know?

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

One player that Dolphins fans might not know is a guy that played his college ball in the Miami area, wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Osborn is in his third year with the Vikings and really made a significant jump in his second season. With Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen being the face of the Vikings’ wide receiver group, Osborn really isn’t a household name yet. However, he had seven touchdowns last season and had a game-winner against Detroit back in Week 3, so he can definitely be an effective threat for the Vikings. With the team now using more three-wide receiver sets, Osborn is getting more opportunities to make an impact, and he’s capable of making one if teams try to devote too much attention to the Vikings’ two primary receivers.

Like Miami with Mike McDaniel, Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell is in his first year in that position. How is he doing?

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

I think O’Connell is doing a pretty fine job, all things considered. The culture around the team seems to be completely different from what it was towards the end of the Mike Zimmer era, and that culture change seems to have gotten the Vikings moving in the right direction. He’s brought a more modern, more dynamic offense to Minnesota and seems to have connected with Kirk Cousins, which has given Cousins the impetus to try to be more aggressive with some of his throws than he has been in the past. A change was needed in Minnesota, not necessarily because Mike Zimmer is a bad football coach (because I don’t think he is), but because he sort of hit that time that almost every coach hits where the message just stops getting through and players stop responding. O’Connell seems to be more of a “player’s coach” than Zimmer was, and as long as the team continues to respond to him I think that he’s only going to improve.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Vikings come into this game as 3.5-point favorites. With the Dolphins starting Skylar Thompson, a seventh-round rookie at quarterback, I am actually a little surprised this line is not a little larger. What do you think of the line and how do you think this game finishes?

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings

Over the past couple of seasons, the Vikings have shown themselves to be incapable of blowing anyone out. They played in 14 one-score games last season (including one that saw them ahead 29-0 in the third quarter that wound up being a one-score game) and have already had to pull out three come-from-behind victories this season. Given that, I think the number is just about right. I think the Vikings are capable of winning this one, but even with a first-time starter at quarterback for the Dolphins, I don’t think the Vikings are going to blow the Dolphins out or anything. If I had to try to call a final score, I’d probably have to go with something along the lines of 23-20, which means the Vikings wouldn’t cover that number.

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