3 Riddles the Post-Bye Vikings Need to Solve

Jul 29, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (99) and Za'Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The post-bye Vikings can’t convince themselves that they have nowhere to improve. Adopting that perspective would almost certainly lead to their strong record descending into just an average record. Thankfully, Kevin O’Connell addressed this precise idea in his recent press conference, noting, “The urgency is as high as it’s ever been, and we’ll continue to grow as our team continues to solidify what we are. Like I said, we’ve got to prove it every single week.”

Recently, I’ve done a bit of statistical digging in an attempt to see how this team has been performing. Below, you’ll find 3 riddles that need solving as Minnesota continues with its season.

Riddle #1: Fix the Humdrum Play-Action Passing

So far during the 2022 season, Kirk Cousins is second in the NFL when it comes to how many times he has used play action. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert sits at 75 play-action passes whereas the Vikings’ QB sits at 72 play-action passes. Keep in mind that LA has played one more game than Minnesota, so it’s safe to say that O’Connell’s squad is using play action quite a bit.

Cousins has done a nice job throughout his career with play action. Unfortunately, the 2022 season has been a bit more of a struggle.

The QB has generated 482 passing yards off of play action. In other words, Cousins is averaging 6.7 yards per attempt on his play-action passes in 2022. Given that his career average for all passing attempts is 7.7 yards, the modest total is somewhat concerning. The post-bye Vikings need to find a way of generating more explosive plays off of play action in the final 2/3 of the season.

Riddle #2: Create a Ferocious Pass Rush

As present, the Vikings are near the bottom of the NFL when it comes to ESPN’s pass rush win rate. Their 38% win rate is 26th overall.

I predicted good things for Minnesota’s pass rush in 2022. One of my bold predictions was that Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith would combine for 30 sacks. Currently, the pair is trailing behind the pace they’d need to be at to accomplish that lofty feat.

Smith has 5.5 sacks and Hunter has 3. Those stats rank as 1st and 2nd on the team. Seeing them at 1st and 2nd is a good thing, and yet it’d be fair to say that both could play better (especially Hunter). For whatever it’s worth, Hunter is the one who is going through the bigger adjustment given that he’s switching to 3-4 OLB for the first time in his career.

If Ed Donatell can get his two best pass rushers winning their reps early and often, the Vikings defense is going to be considerably more challenging to overcome.

Riddle #3: Get More Meaningful Contributions from the Rookies

It has been a slow start to the year for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft class. In fact, only one drafted player has found his way into the starting lineup: Ed Ingram. We should note, though, that UDFA Ryan Wright won the starting punter job.

Otherwise, the contributions have been pretty modest. One way for the team to improve without adding any new players is to start getting more from their young fellas.

Adofo-Mensah made 10 picks and his team has played 6 games in 2022. His rookies could thus have played in 60 games. The rookies have only gotten in on 31 games. Now, there is quite a bit of nuance that needs to be included in that general fact. Ingram playing every snap is different from someone playing exclusively on special teams.

The post-bye Vikings would be foolish to play their rookies simply to play them. Nevertheless, it would be wise for the coaching staff to keep making the effort to put their rookies in a position to succeed. Allowing Brian Asamoah to spy a QB, Akaleb Evans to get his chances along the outside, and Jalen Nailor to contribute on special teams may give this team just a small boost.

The next game takes place on Sunday at 12 CT when the Cardinals visit U.S. Bank Stadium.

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