Here’s a less-than-funny statistic: Since Mike Zimmer became head coach in 2014, the Vikings have flipped between qualifying for the playoffs and having a season record around .500 every two years. This time was the last, as the Vikes finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
As disappointing as it may be, it’s worth remembering that this team started the season losing five of their first six games and looked poised for a high draft pick. Things turned around a bit and the Vikings had a decent run, but it wasn’t enough to clinch a playoff berth.
Fans are quick to blame QB Kirk Cousins - and when you make that much money for throwing a soccer ball, I get it. That said, after the 1-5 start, where he was admittedly terrible, he had a reasonably strong season.
After throwing 10 interceptions in those first six games, he only threw three in the next 10 games, and one of them bounced off the receiver, so it’s hard to blame him. He was eighth in the league in passing yards and yards per game, ninth in completion percentage and sixth in passing touchdowns. His passer rating throughout the season was also the eighth best in the league.
Yes, some of his stats came in during lost games, especially early in games, but I think it’s pretty damn difficult to pin the issues of the season on Cousins.
Receiver Adam Thielen has had a decent year, unsurprisingly, but rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson wasted no time in becoming a league star.
The No.22 pick in the 2020 Draft finished the year with 88 catches, 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns, and is easily on the shortlist for Rookie of the Year honors. He will likely finish second in this vote, which is disappointing.
Most notably, he now holds the NFL record for yards received in a season by a rookie (during the Super Bowl era). He also broke many rookie records for Randy Moss’ team in the process. When you consider that he barely played the first two games, his season is incredibly impressive.
The other bona fide star dressed in purple and gold is running back Dalvin Cook, who has been solid for years (when in good health) but has taken him to a new level in 2020.
He was second in the league in rushing yards, rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns.
He was also the second-highest voter in the NFC Pro Bowl, behind Russell Wilson.
There were a few other offensive strengths within the squad – Irv Smith Jr. taking off, Ezra Cleveland and Riley Reiff were semi-solid on the offensive line, Chad Beebe’s winning play was fun to watch.
The team is averaging just under 27 points per game (430 out of 16 games), which is in the first half of the league.
By statistics, the Vikings had the fourth best offense in the league, so what’s the problem?
The problem with this team – and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a team led by Mike Zimmer – is defense.
When you’ve got the fourth-ranked offense in the league and you’re not making the playoffs, the problem is pretty clear.
We knew things would be different when the team parted ways with several defensive stalwarts – Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Trae Waynes and a few others – but I didn’t think their departures were a bad thing in and of itself. I still don’t, actually.
But then the team lost Danielle Hunter for the season before the start of the season. Then, newly signed defensive lineman Michael Pierce has stepped down this season due to COVID-19 issues. Then the Vikings lost linebacker Anthony Barr for the year in Game 2. Eric Kendricks missed last month. Cornerbacks have fallen like flies this year.
I don’t really want to apologize for the team – no group of professional athletes should ever give up 52 points in a game like the Vikes versus the Saints – but when Safeties are the only group to avoid big injuries, this puts the team at an understandable disadvantage.
The offense was ranked fourth overall this year. The defense ranked 27th. This is the problem.
Maybe I shouldn’t blame the defense so much. After all, special teams were also quite difficult to watch in 2020.
It was really every aspect of special teams, but of course the main focus of the special teams woes was kicker Dan Bailey.
When the Vikings signed him in 2018, he was the second most accurate kicker in NFL history. In fact, in the first 11 games of the season, he made 12 of 14 field goal attempts and 26 of 27 extra points. Those numbers have come down a bit since then, and they certainly weren’t helped by the fact that he missed three field goals and one more point against Tampa Bay.
Thanks to the last month, I really have no idea how I’m supposed to feel about Bailey continuing to play for the team, but I think he’s more capable of a change than someone like Blair Walsh. things.
Speaking of Blair Walsh, what about the Vikings and kickers? I’m not the type to believe in curses or otherworldly things, but it’s just weird.
So, with such a tough 2020 officially on the books, what are the prospects for 2021? In my opinion, this is rather positive.
I have to assume that all of the defensive players I mentioned will be back and healthy in 2021, with the possible exception of Barr, who has a opt-out option in his contract.
The offense has made serious progress this year, and defensive anchors who have run out of time this season and provided a major defensive presence in previous seasons should theoretically be healthy and ready to go in the fall.
Yes, the Packers will probably still be good next year, and the Bears are generally just competitive enough to keep things interesting, but I think the Vikings are just shy to be complete enough for a decent playoff run.
Draft a few linemen, fix the special teams issues, and get everyone healthy, and they’re a pretty good team.
Despite a difficult 2020, I have a pretty good feeling about the Vikings in 2021.
Yet I have the impression that I have already said it.
You can reach Dan Determan at 218-855-5879 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.