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Football NFL

NFL Team Previews: Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings season rests on the arm and head of Kirk Cousins.

2018 Review: 8-7-1 (2nd in NFC North)

Maybe the biggest signing of the 2018 off season was Kirk Cousins to the Vikings. The Vikings were coming off a remarkable 2017 season where they made the NFC Championship behind Case Keenum of all people, a great defense, and the emergence of Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen at WR. Coming into 2018, the Vikings were a favorite to make another playoff run because they didn’t really lose anybody and they seemingly upgraded at QB with Cousins.

Well, things aren’t always what they seem. The Vikings up and down all year and Cousins failed in the biggest moments. The Vikings managed 8 wins on the season but they only beat one team with a winning record – the Philadelphia Eagles. Every other winning team the Vikings played, they lost. Although they were competitive looking at the scores, some of the games were never really in doubt. They lost by 14 to the Patriots, Seahawks, and Bears in Week 17 in must win games for them. Those games are what everyone is looking at when criticizing Kirk Cousins. Even in Washington, Cousins couldn’t beat winning teams and that came with him to Minnesota with a much better team.

The Vikings gave Cousins a fully guaranteed 3 year, $84 million deal. After year one, not worth it.

The Vikings offense was still good enough to make the playoffs, or should have been because they are littered with talent. The Vikings only averaged 22.5 PPG which was 19th in the league, and only put up 345.6 yards per game which was 20th in the league. Part of the problems you could attribute to the OL struggles, according the Football Outsiders the Vikings had the 24th ranked run blocking OL. The Vikings as a team only ran for 93.3 yards per game which was the 3rd worst in the league. Some of that was due to the fact their starting RB Dalvin Cook only played in 11 total games. They also had multiple OL miss games during the year, including Nick Easton who was on IR all year.

Cook managed only 615 yards and 2 TDs, but he did have 40 catches for 305 yards and 2 more TDs. Latavius Murray meanwhile had 578 yards rushing and 6 TDs in 16 total games. The RB group just didn’t produce like the Vikings wanted which led to Cousins having to lead this team with his arm.

Statistically, Cousins played good enough. He finished with 4,298 passing yards with 30 TDs and just 10 INTs. He had two receivers with over 1,000 yards. Stefon Diggs had 102 catches, 1,021 yards receiving, and 9 TDS. Adam Thielen had 113 catches, 1,373 yards receiving, and 9 TDs. Kyle Rudolph also put up some respectable stats, he had 64 catches with 634 yards receiving and 4 TDs. A disappointment for the Vikings was Laquon Treadwell, a former first round pick who barley eclipsed 300 yards in five games.

All in all on offense, the Vikings had what it takes to make the playoffs and in all honesty they should have. Kirk Cousins just couldn’t make it happen. In those last three big loses against the Patriots, Seahawks, and Bears, Cousins threw for only 555 yards, 3 TDS, and 2 INTs. That just isn’t going to cut it against teams you need to beat to make the playoffs. Not only that, but the Vikings in Week 17 played a Bears team that wasn’t playing for anything, and they got them at home. Cousins just straight up failed the Vikings in 2018.

On defense, the Vikings were much better. They gave up only 21.3 PPG which was 9th in the league, they were tied for third in the league with 50 sacks, but only forced 20 turnovers which is something they need to improve on in 2019. The 20 turnovers were tied for 16th in the league, and with the offense also giving the ball up 20 times, the Vikings ended up with a dead even turnover differential.

Individually Danielle Hunter was a beast with 14.5 sacks, 72 total tackles, 21 TFL, and 19 QB hits. All of those stats, minus the tackles led the Vikings by ALOT. The next best sacker on the team? Everson Griffen with 5.5. Harrison Smith had the second most TFL with 9. And Sheldon Richardson had the second most QB Hits with 16. Hunter, was a one man wrecking crew on the Vikings DL.

Hunter made the Pro Bowl along with Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr. All three guys will back but I feel like the Vikings would like more production from Barr after giving him a 5 year, $76 million deal this offseason.

The Vikings also stayed very healthy on defense for the most part. The only main player who missed significant time was Mike Hughes who got put on IR after their October 14th game against the Cardinals. Hughes was the Vikings first round pick in 2018, they were looking for him to add depth behind Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes.

The defense played good enough to make the playoffs. The offense had the individual players who put up good enough stats to make the playoffs, yet the Vikings still finished only one game above .500. Again, it all falls on Kirk Cousins shoulders who just couldn’t get it done when he needed to.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski & Associate Head Coach/Offensive Adviser Gary Kubiak

Stefanski (center) and Kubiak (right) need to fix Kirk Cousins performances in the big games.

One reason many blamed for the Vikings struggles on offense, and Kirk Cousins poor performance was OC John DeFlippio who had clashes with HC Mike Zimmer. DeFlippio was throwing the ball much more than what Zimmer wanted, Zimmer wanted the Vikings to be a run first team and ultamitley Zimmer fired DeFlippio with just three games left in the season.

Kevin Stefanaski took over for the final three games and was officially hired as the Vikings new OC in the off season. The Vikings also brought in a huge name in Gary Kubiak to be an assistant head coach/offensive advisor. Basically, Kubiak is going to be heavily involved in the offense but not call plays – for the most part.

Kubiak was supposed to stay in Denver but difernce with new HC Vic Fangio led to him coming to Minnesota. Minnesota got a very sought after Super Bowl winning coach that is going to have a lot to say in how the offense is run.

Stefanski on the other hand probably has a short leash here with a coach like Kubiak looming over him. If the Vikings struggle early on, do not be surprised to see Stefanski get the boot and Kubiak brought in to fix the offense. And lets be honest here, the Vikings are going to score points and put up stats. If Dalvin Cook stays healthy for a full year the Vikings should have two 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000 yard rusher. This all falls on Kirk Cousins and winning games against good teams. That will be the main job for Stefanski and Kubiak. Run the ball first, and put Cousins in positions to win the big games. If neither can do that, then the Vikings wasted $84 million on Kirk Cousins.

DT Shamar Stephen (3 years, $12.45 million)

Stephen comes back to Minnesota after a one year stint in Seattle. The Vikings could use the DT as Sheldon Richardson decided to move on. Stephen is known as a guy who can stuff the run and he’s familiar with Vikings system. This isn’t a flash pickup at all, but a solid one for the Vikings.

G Josh Kline (3 years, $15.5 million)

Kline comes over from Tennessee where he started the past 32 games for the Titans. Kline is a very solid guard that fits what Minnesota wants to run with Kubiak basically in charge of the offense. He should improve a Minnesota offensive line that was ranked 23rd in run blocking in 2018 according to Football Outsiders.

K Kaare Vedvik (via trade with the Baltimore Ravens)

To say the Vikings have had kicking issues is an understatement. Remember Blair Walsh a few years ago? Don’t worry if you don’t, I have a video below. The Vikings traded for Vedvik who looked very good in the Ravens first pre-season game. Multiple other teams were in the running for Vedvik and the Vikings won with a 5th round pick.

2019 Draft

Round 1 Pick #18: OL Garrett Bradbury

The Vikings lost Nick Easton in free agency and they needed a guy to replace that C position. Bradbury by the looks of it is going to be the starting C for this team from day one. Bradbury won the Rimington Trophy for the nations top center and was First-Team All ACC and an AP All-American.

Round 2 Pick #50: TE Irv Smith Jr.

At the time of the draft, Kyle Rudolph wasn’t resigned. Irv Smith was not replacement for Rudolph by any means. Irv Smith is receiving coming out of college that really needs to work on his pass blocking. The Vikings will probably try to utilize him like an OJ Howard or Evan Engram. It might take a few weeks before things click for him however.

Key Off Season Departures

DT Sheldon Richardson (via free agency to the Cleveland Browns)

This is a loss that hurts. Richardson is a great player and a great run stuffer. He helped a Vikings defense be top 10 in scoring and the Vikings would have loved to have kept him. Vikings will need to replace his production with depth rather than one player.

C/LG Nick Easton (via free agency to the New Orleans Saints)

Easton was supposed to be the LG for the Vikings in 2018 but was put on IR for the whole year. So this isn’t a huge loss for the Vikings because they already went a year without him, but he provided good depth if anything. Easton got signed to a decent sized contract in New Orleans but he’ll have to earn a starting spot there.

RB Latavius Murray (via free agency to the New Orleans Saints)

Murray was a great backup to Cook who turned into basically a half time starter for the Vikings. He moves on to the Saints where he’ll split the backfield with Alvin Kamara. The Vikings drafted a RB that will most likely take Murray’s spot in the offense.

2019 Season Preview

The Vikings season rests on the arm and head of Kirk Cousins. This team is talented everywhere, they have a defense that will end up in the top half of the league, they arguably the best WR duo in the league, they have one of the better full package TEs in the league, and they have a very talented RB that just needs to stay healthy.

Can Kirk Cousins win the big game? That is what 2019 is all about for the Vikings. We will look at the schedule shortly, but it’s not an easy one. They have a lot of playoff teams on the schedule, and two teams in the Packers and Lions who should be better next year – especially on defense. Cousins needs to prove he is worth the $84 million deal he got last off season, if not he’s pulled off the ultimate con in Washington and now in Minnesota.

The Vikings didn’t need to add much to become a playoff contender. Expect Diggs and Thielen to pick up right where they left 2018 off. At RB it’s important to note third round pick Alexander Mattison from Boise State. With Murray gone, Mattison is going to be the main guy behind Cook and you don’t spend a third round pick on a back you don’t plan to play. Mattison could become much more important to this team than anyone envisioned when he was drafted in April if Dalvin Cook has more injury issues.

The biggest question for this team going into 2019 outside of Cousins is the offensive line. They have to be better in their run blocking. The interior of the line should be as solid as can be with Bradbury at C, and Elflein and Kline at the G positions. The problems could come out at the tackles with Riley Reiff at LT and Brian O’Neil at RT. The Vikings run blocking was bad, but their pass blocking was top 10 according to Football Outsiders and that shouldn’t change in 2019.

On defense there isn’t much to go over. The Vikings return basically everyone important minus Sheldon Richardson. This defense will be around the Top 10 in scoring but where they’d like to improve is in getting turnovers. If the Vikings can get up around that 30 turnover mark, this defense is going to be nasty.

Schedule

The NFC North plays the AFC West and the NFC East this year. The Vikings finished second in the division so they also draw the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons.

The Vikings get FIVE prime time games this year. They start out Week 8 on Thursday Night Football at home against the Washington Redskins, Week 10 on Sunday Night Football at the Dallas Cowboys, Week 13 on Monday Night Football at the Seattle Seahawks, Week 15 on SNF at the Los Angeles Chargers, and Week 16 on the final MNF game of the year at home against the Green Bay Packers. They also have a Week 4 game at the Chicago Bears which is a 4:30 CST kickoff which means, that will be the main afternoon game that week, also interesting is that game is on CBS not on FOX.

The Vikings have a pretty spread outs schedule, no major home and away splits, and the division games are spread out early on on the road, and then to end the season they get the Lions (WK 14), Packers (WK 16), and Bears (WK 17) all at home to end the season. So if the division is up for grabs at the end of the year, the Vikings have an advantage with all those division games at home.

The Vikings do have a ton of tough road games though. This could be a team that goes 8-0, 7-1 at home but struggles on the road. They obviously have the Bears, Packers, and Lions on the road. But they also have to go to the Giants, Chiefs, Cowboys, Seahawks, and Chargers. They play five playoff teams on the road this year, and play two at home. The second playoff team being the Eagles. The Vikings are going to need to go at least .500 on the road to make the playoffs in my opinion. The NFL gave them a gift in their division with the last three division games at home, but their away schedule is pretty brutal minus the Giants.

The Vikings get a late bye week in Week 12.

Fantasy Player You Want

Stefon Diggs. Diggs is going after Adam Thielen so I’ll take him. Both guys are going to have similar stats, Theilen only had 5 more targets than Diggs last year but he managed to grab 11 more balls. They both had the same amount of TDs, but Thielen had basically 350 more yards receiving. Also maybe an important note, but Diggs played one less game than Theilen on the year. I think Diggs is going to close that gap this season, even get have more yards than Theilen in 2019. So give the me guy I can get later, and the better value.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

Kyle Rudolph. They drafted Irv Smith Jr. and for some reason the Vikings still gave him a big contract. My guess is that Irv Smith is going to become the main receiving TE in this offense as the season rolls on and Rudolph’s receiving role outside the Red Zone is going to slowly decrease. I wouldn’t spend a draft pick on Rudolph unless its the last few rounds.

Ceiling

Just like very other team in the NFC North, they have a chance at winning this division. I think their ceiling is just under the Packers because of the away schedule, and can Kirk Cousins beat a winning team. I’ll say this team can win up to 11 games.

Floor

Again, the away schedule and Kirk Cousins could derail this team. I don’t think they fall to far off though, the Vikings win at least 6 games in 2019.

via Travis Ellison/Minnesota Vikings
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1 comment on “NFL Team Previews: Minnesota Vikings

  1. Pingback: NFL Team Previews: Philadelphia Eagles » Moxie Sports

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