The Minnesota Vikings enter one of the more important years in their history. The owner decided to replace the head coach and the general manager at the same time. They also opted to keep the quarterback and didn’t commit to a rebuild. The results of the 2022 season will determine how the organization will move forward. And the Vikings have to answer some questions in the upcoming 2022 season.
Does the New Leadership Fix Everything?
The approach of the offseason implies that the owners of the franchise blame the recent disappointments on the coaching staff. Mike Zimmer led an excellent defense in his first six years in Minnesota and one of the league’s worst in the last two. His approach also led him to have many feuds going on at the same time. A hard-nosed, at times stubborn mindset didn’t help him make friends in the building. All of that led to a toxic environment. Players didn’t like that, for example, when Eric Kendricks said after the departure that “a fear-based organization” is not the way to go.
General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell bring a different vibe to the organization. They are always smiling. They are charismatic, young, and dynamic. They embody a youth movement that is working very well for multiple teams in the NFL, like the Rams, Packers, and 49ers.
Another difference to the previous regime is that they seem to like each other. Zimmer and Spielman look worse with every report that surfaces.
All of that changed the culture in the building. But does that culture help the team perform better? An athlete that is feeling comfortable will perform at a higher level. However, O’Connell still has to be a head coach and can’t be best friends with anyone. Sometimes a Zimmer-like toughness is necessary. It will also be interesting to see how the two respond to adversity. The first loss, the next injury, a suspension, a trade request, or a contract holdout, all of that will happen at some point.
Can the Team Learn the New Scheme Fast Enough?
Implementing a new scheme is always a tricky thing to do. Some Vikings players played their whole careers in Mike Zimmer’s defensive system. Kendricks, for example, has to learn a different terminology, in addition to different plays and teammates. That can take a few weeks or months to get accustomed to.
The same happens on offense. The quarterback has to know everything on every play. He has to know protections, routes, and how every play works. He also needs to know the terminology perfectly to call the plays. Cousins is smart, and he’s a veteran. However, it could take him some games to be at his best.
It’s certainly possible to see growing pains early on in the season — especially Week 1 against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. It could be a tough matchup if players still have to think about the easy things. How fast the Vikings get used to their new systems will be one of the most important questions of the 2022 season.
Can the Defense Hold Up?
The defense was a huge problem in the last couple of years. Mike Zimmer’s once feared defense allowed 27.3 points per game in those two seasons, the sixth most in the league. The team allowed the opponent to score 30 or more points in 13 games.
The Vikings approached it with a complete overhaul of the unit. Ed Donatell, a former Vic Fangio disciple, was hired as defensive coordinator. He will lead a 3-4 defense. His scheme is much more flexible than the Zimmer scheme.
The front office also brought in a lot of new faces to the group. The former Packer Za’Darius Smith hunted the Vikings with great success. Now he’ll hunt opponents for the Vikings. His addition will force a great pass rush duo with Danielle Hunter. Harrison Phillips and Jordan Hicks are handling the defensive tackle and linebacker positions. Chandon Sullivan will be the slot cornerback, and Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, and rookie Andrew Booth Jr are battling for the outside CB jobs. At safety, the first-round pick Lewis Cine will probably start next to Harrison Smith.
A lot of new players could lead to another transition period with more growing pains. The pass rush, secondary, and running defense were the most significant issues in the last two seasons. All of these areas were addressed, but the changes have to translate to on-field success.
Is the Offensive Line Fixed?
After years of struggling offensive lines, the new GM changed the approach. Instead of adding one underwhelming free agent to the group, he added three players. The right guard battle will be a popular competition in training camp. Free agents Chris Reed and Jesse Davis will compete with second-rounder Ed Ingram for the starting right guard job. Ezra Cleveland should have the left guard spot secured.
Garrett Bradbury, the struggling center, doesn’t have competition. He’ll go into the season as a starter and tries to earn another contract. The added weight and the new offensive systems are his last hope.
At least the tackles should be fine. Brian O’Neill is one of the best right tackles in the NFL, especially in pass protection — he’s phenomenal. The left tackle, Christian Darrisaw, had a full offseason to prepare for the seasons. That was different in his rookie campaign. He should flash of greatness, and if he can take one step forward, he’ll be an excellent player. For an unleashed offense under coach O’Connell, the offensive line is important. It’s one of the biggest questions about the 2022 Vikings.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt