The past two NFL seasons have undoubtedly been unkind to the Minnesota Vikings. After a quasi-successful 2019 season in which they made a playoff appearance and won a wild card on the road in New Orleans. Since that game on January 5th, 2020, the Vikings are 15-19 (including playoffs), a winning percentage of 44.1%.
Obviously, the 2020 and 2021 seasons were not the follow-up performances that fans were hoping for. Why is that, though? Some may point to Kirk Cousins as just being a glorified version of Jared Goff. Others will look to Mike Zimmer’s outdated and drill sergeant-esque coaching style as the reason that the Vikings underperformed. Still others will just defeatedly hang their heads and say the Vikings simply have horrifically bad luck.
While all of these things could be factors, Minnesota has undoubtedly had their chances to win games. Sometimes, they just simply get in their own way with supremely inconsistent play. I heard once that it is better to be consistently good than to occasionally be great, and this is my hope for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings as well. Here are three areas or players that need to take this motto to heart this season.
Kirk Cousins is the poster child for being “occasionally great”, and then at other times just being downright awful. In each of the last two seasons, the Vikings have been one win away from making the postseason. During both 2020 and 2021, there were two games that I point to where even an average Cousins game could have changed the outcomes of these games:
- 2020 Week 2 @ IND
- 2020 Week 3 vs. TEN
- 2021 Week 4 vs. CLE
- 2021 Week 8 vs. DAL
In these four games, Cousins completed 70/126 passes (55.6%) and threw for 751 yards (187.8 yards/game), 5 TDs, (1.25 TDs/game) and 6 INTs (1.5 INTs/game). Here are Cousins career averages in these areas:
- 66.9% pass completion
- 260.7 passing yards/game
- 1.78 passing TDs/game
- 0.73 INTs/game
Clearly, Captain Kirk was not at his best for the majority of these games, Even still, the Vikings average margin of defeat in these games was a mere 6.5 points per game. Essentially, if Cousins had thrown one more touchdown and one fewer interception per game (roughly equating to his career average), and the Vikings would have won at least three of these games.
The 28-11 loss to Indianapolis certainly needed a little bit more work, but the 128 passing yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs may have been the absolute worst game of Cousins’ career. If he can simply raise his floor in 2022, the Vikings will be better.
Reportedly, Garrett Bradbury showed up to minicamp this year with an additional 10 pounds of muscle. Over the course of his young NFL career, the center has been a very good run-blocker, but his pass protection has been sub-par. Getting bigger may help with that a little, but at the end of the day, it comes down to technique.
Bradbury has shown flashes of pass protecting greatness. but it has come with so many woes that the positives get overlooked. Last December against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that led the NFL in sacks, Bradbury recorded a pass blocking PFF of 84.0. That’s a very good showing, especially against such an elite unit.
However, just a week later, he posted a grade of 53.9 against the Los Angeles Rams, a game in which Kirk Cousins was pressured 8 times, and the Vikings lost 30-23. Of course, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to hold up against Aaron Donald, but Donald wasn’t even the player causing the most problems in this game. Fellow DT Greg Gaines had just as many pressures and sacks against the Vikings.
Minnesota Vikings fans have been pounding the table for an offensive line that can protect Kirk Cousins rather than collapsing from the inside-out. After not having his fifth-year option picked up this offseason, it is clear that Bradbury is coming into the year with a chip on his shoulder. If he can be consistently good in 2022, that bodes extremely well for the Vikings offense.
Enough on the offense, it’s time to talk about some defense. Admittedly, the talent and depth on this side of the ball has been lacking in recent years, so it’s hard to say they were “inconsistent” as opposed to just a poorly put together unit.
After a massive focus on this side of the ball in both free agency and the draft, depth is no longer a problem. Ed Donatell has players that can line up all over the field, so filling in holes will not be a problem.
However, the defense can still fix consistency issues in one way: availability. Stars like Danielle Hunter, Patrick Peterson, and Eric Kendricks missed time in 2021 because of injury. The Vikings pass-rushing group was one of the very best in the league when Danielle Hunter was on the field, and if he did not suffer his second season-ending injury in as many years, the Vikings could have very well snuck into the playoffs. If the stars can remain on the field, the Vikings will be better in 2022. If all three of the listed things happen in 2022, the Vikings have a chance to be an elite team.