The Vikings’ offense looked explosive at times during the 2021 season. However, in rankings at the end of the season, the numbers of the unit are average. The Vikings scored 25 points per game, the 14th best in the NFL, and ranked 13th in scrimmage yards. During the Mike Zimmer era since 2014, the Vikings ranked 15th with 23.2 points per game scored. The head coach was a “defensive mastermind” and preferred low-scoring games.
The offense should be more explosive than average since the Vikings employ a good quarterback, have at least two dynamic receivers, and a great running back. The problems in 2021 were nothing new. Struggling offensive lines is one of the themes that will be remembered when looking back at the Zimmer era.
Another issue was the play calling. Zimmer never seemed to form a bond with any offensive coordinator, and they changed regularly, some because of disagreements with the former head coach. Klint Kubiak was supposed to step in the footsteps of his retired father, Gary. However, the performance of the first-time play caller was shaky at best. Every game saw big stretches of inefficient offenses and predictable play calling. While some blame should be targeted at the offensive coordinator, the players’ execution also deserves some responsibility.
A new offensive mastermind could unleash the offense, and the Vikings might have just found one when they hired Kevin O’Connell to be the new head coach of the purple football team. He was the offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champions Rams and designed gameplans and plays for the team.
PFF’s Sam Monson released his bold predictions for all NFC North teams, including the Vikings. Two of them addressed the offensive side of the ball.
Justin Jefferson Leads League in Targets and Yards
The phenomenal talent Justin Jefferson isn’t that bold of choice for the yardage mark. He leads the league in receiving yards since he came into the league two years ago with 3,016. The most of any player in his first two seasons in NFL history. He ranked fourth in 2020 and second in 2021. The impressive thing: His 292 targets rank him only 7th in the same span. The efficiency of the wideout is impressive, leading the league in targets might be a bigger stretch than the yards. However, both are certainly possible, and Monson explains why:
With the new offense under Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings expect to be more pass-happy on early downs, and O’Connell just led an offense with a versatile receiver (Cooper Kupp) to a receiving triple crown of catches, yards, and touchdowns. Jefferson has as much talent as anybody in the league and has been flirting with these numbers for two years. He now gets to work in an offense way better suited to feature him than the previous one.
O’Connell helped Kupp to the triple crown – most receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the league. If he can have a similar effect on Jefferson, the sky is the limit for the young superstar, as he´s arguably even more talented as a receiver. The expectation for the offense is a more pass-happy offense with more dynamic plays. So far in training camp, both Cousins and Jefferson are looking sharp. Jefferson is impossible to cover, and no record is safe from the dynamic duo.
Kirk Cousins’ PFF Grade Regresses
A more dynamic offense and still a lower grade is an interesting take from Monson, but it makes sense. If O’Connell can fully unleash Cousins and get him to throw more risky passes, the turnovers are likely to increase, which decreases the grade. Cousins had an impressive grade of 88.2, which ranked him 6th leaguewide. Monson started his explanation by looking at the approach of Cousins’ coaches. “Expectations are that head coach Kevin O’Connell and a new-look offense can come in and take this group to a new level, potentially tapping into Kirk Cousins in a way Mike Zimmer never appeared particularly interested in even attempting.”
Indeed, Zimmer appeared to prefer winning games 17-14 instead of 30-25. While that approach might be outdated in today’s NFL with explosive offenses all over the league, the approach was perfectly built for most seasons of Zimmer’s tenure. However, once the defense lost talent in the 2020 offseason, he should’ve transformed his team into a high-flying offense-first team instead of still trying to win games with his defense.
At the end of the day, what ultimately cost him his job was mostly the off-the-field issues, especially losing players’ trust and having feuds all over the place. O’Connell brings a new approach to the team in terms of playing style and leadership style. Despite Monson’s claim to see a regression of Cousins’ grade, he still foresees an improved offense:
The offense as a whole may improve, but Cousins may have already hit his ceiling. It would take something impressive to build upon a season with an 88.2 PFF grade that saw him pass for 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions at 7.5 yards per attempt and a 77.6% adjusted completion rate. Cousins is already playing at a level that should foster an elite offense. Minnesota may get better in that regard this year, but my money would be on Cousins seeing a regression in his grade, not an improvement.
A regression in Cousins’ grade but a borderline elite offense is a tradeoff Vikings fans gladly take.
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