MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time since the medieval era, Vikings are invading England this weekend, well, kind of. After beating the Detroit Lions in a comeback victory last week, the Minnesota Vikings are making an international trip to London to take on the New Orleans Saints.
Heading into Week 4, Minnesota and first-year head coach Kevin O'Connell are looking for their first winning streak of the season, and it appears their star running back Dalvin Cook will be in the lineup.
Cook left the Vikings' game against the Lions in the third quarter due to a shoulder injury but not before racking up 96 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 17 carries.
He was held out of practice on Wednesday, but was a full participant on Thursday.
If Cook's playing time is at all limited by the injury, the Vikings have a more than competent backup in Boise State product Alexander Mattison.
"It's been a luxury now for four seasons," Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said Wednesday. "You know, Dalvin has had those moments where it gets banged up. And we've had games -- or stretches of games -- where we've had to rely on Alex, and it helps our coaches when they plan. It helps our offense to know that Alex is in there and can handle, not only the run game, but protections and can do so much for us, we don't have to skip a beat."
For Cook, he said Wednesday that Mattison embodies the next-man-up mentality whenever he has come off the field. "I think [he's a] pro all the way around," Cook said. "I'm just proud of his growth every year. And I see him coming in every day, look bigger every year I see him."
"Regardless of who's getting the ball, I think it'll be important that we're moving the football and scoring points really is what matters," Cousins added.
O'Connell recognized leading up to the game earlier this week that the offense still needs refinement and more consistency when they take on the Saints. Last week, Minnesota had to launch two rallies from double-digit deficits to come out with a win. Looking back on how he coached against the Lions, O'Connell said he "always want[s] to be aggressive."
As the offensive play caller, O'Connell said he's in close communication with Cousins throughout the game.
"There's no hesitation there, the play call can then come in, I can immediately talk to Kirk about 'Hey, we're going for this here. Here's the thought, here's the play. Here's the plan,'" he said. "And there doesn't need to be a trigger for me to an offensive coordinator of hey, we're going and then they've got to then find the play they liked the best. I'm going for it a lot of times with a play in mind."
After the Lions largely shut wide receiver Justin Jefferson down last week, limiting him to just three catches for 14 yards, it remains to be seen if the Saints will have the same such luck.
O'Connell said there were about eight to nine plays that Jefferson wasn't facing some type of double coverage against Detroit and
"I think that the most important thing for Justin is just to continue [his] evolution of understanding," he explained. "Obviously he's had a ton of success in this league. But he's gonna start year three in this system. People kind of understanding the targets are going to come his way, he's going to see different variations of defenses that he's going to have to have a plan for."
However, the Vikings' receiving corps also showed that there is plenty of talent to make up for their young star being the opposing defense's focus. With 45 seconds remaining, K.J. Osborn caught a 28-yard touchdown pass by Cousins to take a 28-24 lead late. He finished with five receptions for 73 yards, while Adam Thielen had six for 61 yards.
For Cousins, he'll be looking for another clean game after completing 24 of 41 passing attempts for 260 yards and two touchdowns. With traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, Cousins is focused on making sure to listen to trainers and coaches so the team can execute the offense well come Sunday.
On Wednesday, Cousins said his last experience in London was cool, but leaving England with a tie was also "an odd experience."
"The crowd being sort of a mixed group as opposed to one side or the other," Cousins said. "You know, the scenery and just understand that we're on a different continent, but American football is selling out and has this great atmosphere."
After dropping their last two games to division rivals, the Saints will be looking to right the ship against the Vikings, but Cousins and the Vikings aren't overlooking their NFC South foe.
"They know what it takes to win, they know how to play and so I just have a lot of respect for how they play, how hard they play, how smart they play, and just the way they compete," Cousins said. "And I think there'll be a great challenge and we have to be able to really sustain and start fast but also be able to finish strong."
The Vikings' international matchup against the Saints, which are technically the home team, kicks off at 8:30 a.m. CT Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
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