The Minnesota Vikings won again in Week 8, making it five in a row with a 34-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Now at 6-1, the Vikings hold a powerful position in the division. They will look to strengthen their hold on the north even further with a win on the road as they head to Washington to take on the newly-named Commanders.
Here are my 3 Vikings players to watch this week.
I couldn’t possibly start anywhere else other than the Vikings quarterback. Kirk Cousins makes the trip back to Washington for the first time after making a move to Minnesota.
Cousins spent six seasons in Washington (three as a starter) after the Commanders drafted the man in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. He made the big-money move to the Vikings, where he’s been under center for five seasons. The Vikings quarterback has consistently put up impressive stats while the team has struggled. This season the stats are down, and the Vikings keep winning. That’s football.
Don’t expect Patrick Peterson’s levels of emotion from Cousins on Sunday. The game may be billed as a Cousins revenge game by some, but he doesn’t see it that way. Speaking to NBC Sports, he has nothing but good things to say about his former employers. “I just think very highly of a lot of the people I worked with there, coaches, players, and teammates. It’ll bring back a lot of those memories when I go back.”
“I just have the best of memories of my time there and feel really [positive] about every experience,” Cousins added.
You would expect nothing else from Cousins; that’s his personality. You can be confident that he will be hungry to prove a point on the field and drive his team to another victory. Maybe we will even see a post-game “you like that” if all goes well.
Amongst Christian Darrisaw turning into a stud at left tackle and the expectation of Brian O’Neill performing to a high level — as well as the significant improvement by Garrett Bradbury and the close eye being kept on rookie Ed Ingram — the forgotten man on the Vikings offensive line is Ezra Cleveland.
A second-round pick in the 2020 draft who played as a left tackle, Cleveland was quickly moved inside to guard. A position the Vikings were having problems with. I wasn’t sure of the move at the time, but it has proved to be worthwhile. Cleveland came into the team in his rookie season at right guard and was immediately a solid player. He moved to left guard for the 2021 season and has cemented his place on the offensive line.
Cleveland excels in the run game, where Pro Football Focus gives him a run-blocking grade of 77.9, while his pass-blocking grade is a serviceable 57.0. There has been a slow but steady improvement in his pass blocking. If that can continue, Cleveland will become a very good guard. PFF gives him an overall grade this season of 74.0, which seemed fanciful for a Vikings interior lineman in recent years.
I’m going all out on offense for this week’s Vikings players to watch. The man that most Vikings fans will be eager to see is T.J. Hockenson. Acquired this week via trade from the Detroit Lions, the number eight overall pick from the 2019 draft was the cause of much excitement on trade deadline day.
Fans hoped for an exciting move on deadline day with numerous names in the mix. Nobody saw the Hockenson trade coming, and it showed a willingness to be aggressive after a good start by the new Vikings regime.
The Vikings offense already had an abundance of weapons; it got even better with this trade. I wouldn’t expect Hockenson to have a significant role against Washington.
However, with the injuries to Irv Smith and Ben Ellefson, the Vikings are short-handed at tight end. So Hockenson probably does have some involvement on Sunday, even if it is mainly in a blocking role or as a decoy. It would be nice if they had a play or two drawn up for him to get him going early in his Vikings career.