Brian Murphy: 'As good a start as you could have' for Vikings

MPR News sports commentator reflects on the first game, and looks ahead

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Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook celebrates after scoring on a 7-yard touchdown run during the second half of a game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Minneapolis.
Bruce Kluckhohn | AP

In the win against the Atlanta Falcons, Dalvin Cook ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Anthony Harris intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble to help the Vikings secure the win.

Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer talked with MPR News commentator Brian Murphy about the Sunday victory and what it might mean for the Vikings season this year.

Use the audio player to listen to the full interview.

Wurzer: What did you think of the Vikings?

Murphy: I think that anyone following the Vikings probably thought that this is as good of a start that you could have. To come out to a 28-0 lead on a pretty good team, and doing it the way they did, dominating in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams. That’s got to make Vikings fans feel pretty good.

Wurzer: Is Anthony Harris a budding star?

Murphy: He is a budding star, and he was a nobody a few years ago! He was just buried on the practice squad, but he just kind of emerged. He’s knitted himself into kind of a pretty good tandem with pro-bowler Harrison Smith on the back end. With two interceptions, including one in the end zone to snuff an Atlanta potential touchdown drive, and a key fumble recovery.

It should be noted that the Vikings also blocked a punt early in the first quarter, and converted all four turnovers into touchdowns. That’s how you win in the National Football League.

Wurzer: The defense looks pretty strong again this year. They've been kind of the backbone of the team in a sense.

Murphy: They were the fourth best defense in the league last year and they were the number one defense in the league in 2017. They brought back nine of 11 starters. It's a priority to keep that unit together. They’re a veteran unit, they're a proven unit.

The way the Vikings and coach Mike Zimmer want to play and be successful this year is obviously to play good defense and to run the football. They didn't run the football very well last year, and it ended up getting Kirk Cousins in trouble and it made him pass too much. Put him in precarious situations, he ended up getting sacked 40-some times.

They revamped the offensive line this offseason and have made it a priority to run the football. Dalvin Cook had 111 yards on 21 carries, including a seven yard touchdown run. They rushed for 172 yards on the game which is the most they have in about two years. If you're going to average 4.5 yards per carry and play dominant defense like that, and even come up with four turnovers including a block punt, you're very likely going to be successful in the league.

Wurzer: But keep it on the ground don't go to the air, evidently?

Murphy: Well, they’re going to have to put it in the air at some point but what they don’t want to do is make Kirk Cousins have to throw the ball 40 times and be susceptible not only to a pass rush, but you know, he did put the ball in the hands of defenders last year as well. He was under duress for most of the season. But if you can establish a running game, it keeps defenses honest, and it makes them guess. You can’t just pin your ears back and go after the quarterback.

It also makes them have to compensate to find a way to stop Dalvin Cook. When he’s been on the field, he’s shown himself to be a game-breaker. It’s just that he’s got to stay healthy. Two years ago, as a rookie, he tore his ACL and missed 12 games. Last year, he missed five games with a hamstring injury. So if you get the ball into Delvin Cook's hands and he can stay healthy, the Vikings are going to have a pretty potent running attack.

Wurzer: I presume that if the Vikings don't make it to the Super Bowl that's the end of Mike Zimmer.

Murphy: It could very well be. It should be noted this is his sixth season with the Vikings. His record is 49-33-1 and that's almost a 600 winning percentage. Among NFC coaches today, he's got the best record in that span.

But again, you have a couple of crushing playoff defeats a couple of mediocre seasons in there. I don't know how much more patience owners Mark and Ziggy Wolf are going to have for both coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, who should be noted has been at the helm with full control of the roster now for most of this decade. It's a prove-it season for so many people in that building over in Eagan.