MINNEAPOLIS — A week off didn’t provide enough time for Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce to be back at practice Wednesday.
Pierce, who missed the past two games with an elbow injury, did not take part in the Vikings’ first practice since their bye week. Before the practice, head coach Mike Zimmer provided little insight as to whether Pierce could be back for Sunday night’s game against Dallas at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I don’t know,” Zimmer said. “We’ll see at practice today.”
If Pierce can’t play on Sunday, he would be replaced by Armon Watts for a third straight game.
The Vikings also listed as not practicing wide receiver Dede Westbrook (ankle). Listed as limited were linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and tight end Ben Ellefson (knee, foot).
Ellefson sat out Minnesota’s last game, on Oct. 17 at Carolina, with a knee injury. He suffered an injury early in practice Wednesday and left the field seemingly frustrated. He hit a blocking bag with his hand as he departed.
The Vikings began the practice with ball-security drills. After the Vikings fumbled four times against the Panthers, losing one, Zimmer said that would be a point of emphasis entering the Dallas game.
Before the practice, Zimmer said he had to work to get players focused again following the bye week.
“When they came back on Monday, you know, it was like school had been out for the summer a little bit,’’ Zimmer said. “I had to kind of rein them back in and tell them I wasn’t pleased with where they’re at. Hopefully they’ll be more focused and energetic.”
Fewer sacks for Cousins
In his first three seasons with the Vikings, quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked an average of 2.3 times per game. This season, he’s only been sacked nine times, an average of 1.5 per outing.
So what’s the difference been so far?
“No. 1, I think the offensive line has done a nice job,’’ Zimmer said. “No. 2, I think he’s done a good job of getting the ball out when he needs to. And No. 3, I think changing up some of the protections.’’
Cousins wasn’t sacked against the Panthers. That ended a streak of 22 straight starts in which he had been sacked at least once.
“I think from a play-calling standpoint, we’re not trying to put ourselves in a position where we’re taking sacks,’’ Cousins said.
The Carolina game marked the debut of rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw as a starter. Cousins appreciated his play but said he barely noticed him during the game due to his low-key nature.
“He’s quiet, he’s not saying much, he’s just doing his job and not making it about him,’’ Cousins said.
Cousins is well aware what a menace Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs has been this season to opposing quarterbacks.
Diggs, the brother of Bills and former Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, has had at least one interception in all six games this season, and leads the NFL with seven picks. Trevon has tied the NFL record for interceptions in consecutive games to start a season, and has returned two for touchdowns.
“You can’t deny what he’s accomplished,” said Cousins, who was Stefon’s teammate on the Vikings from 2018-19. “He’s a great player. I remember going back to his (college) days at Alabama with Stefon being here, I talked with Stefon about his brother and knew he was a great player, going to be a player in the league, so there’s respect for him.”
With the game against Dallas on Sunday Night Football, NBC will have a live set outside U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since the network televised Super Bowl LII from the venue in February 2018. The pregame show, hosted by Jac Collinsworth and Rodney Harrison, starts at 6 p.m.
Also, NBC Sports is inviting fans to a “Paint a Path to Super Bowl LVI” event, which runs from noon to 6 p.m. Friday at the TCF Rotunda in the Mall of America. Each week, near the site of the Sunday Night Football game, local artists are creating a five-yard long mural related to fan passion for the home team. At the end of the season, 20 five-yard murals will come together to create a 100-yard piece that NBC Sports said will capture “the devotion and passion of fans.”
With the Vikings trading defensive end Stephen Weatherly last Saturday to Denver, co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said that doesn’t necessarily mean rookie Patrick Jones II will be active Sunday for the first time this season. Patterson will evaluate how Jones and Kenny Willekes look in practice this week, with the possibility that the latter could be elevated from the practice squad. … Former Vikings star guard Steve Hutchinson will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence at halftime Sunday. He was elected to the hall of fame in 2020 but not enshrined until last August due to the coronavirus pandemic.