Anything Less than Elite is Unacceptable for the 2023 Vikings Offense

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Anything less than true excellence from the 2023 Vikings offense will be a disappointment.

Kevin O’Connell is the QB-turned-coach who is working his way through Year 2 at the helm of the purple ship. Moving on from Mike Zimmer in favor of the young, chatty O’Connell signalled a clear and decisive break with Minnesota teams from recent history. The most prominent change simply rests in shifting gears from a defense-first approach to one that’s obviously tilting in the offense’s direction.

The 2023 Vikings Offense Has Been Hot & Cold

To be clear, the Vikings’ offense hasn’t been disastrous after a pair of games. Putting up 17 points against the Bucs was a disappointment, to be sure, but more positive Vikings fans would have felt comfortable blaming the lack of starter preaseason reps alongside the unusually high amount of turnovers for the underwhelming effort.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Philadelphia game featured the offense soaring a fair bit higher — 28 points while at Lincoln Financial Field is no joke — some of the issues persisted. Most notably, the team continued to toss the football away faster than a Carlos Correa throw to first base. Meanwhile, the running game has been M.I.A., a troubling reality given what occurred during the offseason.

C.J. Ham stuck around, agreeing to a new deal that involves him being attached to the roster until 2025. Josh Oliver was the surprise free agency addition, a move that was meant to make Minnesota more multiple on offense. The hulking tight end has pretty soft hands but it’s safe to say that the vision for the former Raven has been to see him walloping defenders as he clears lanes for the team’s RBs.

Ham and Oliver haven’t been able to deliver on the vision of running the football more often and more effectively.

And, of course, we think of the team neglecting the offensive line. Rather than make bold additions in free agency, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah opted to keep his own by re-signing Garrett Bradbury, Austin Schlottmann, and Oli Udoh. Chris Reed was retained on a reworked deal. As of right now, three of those players are hurt and the other (Schlottmann) is being tasked with filling in as a starter. Not good.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and guard Austin Schlottmann (65) warm up before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Basically no one expected the team’s defense to suddenly shine in 2023. So far, that expectation has been accurate (more or less). Danielle Hunter, Byron Murphy, Camryn Bynum, and Ivan Pace have all been bright spots but this is a unit that needs further development.

The offense won’t benefit from the same degree of patience.

A 35-year-old QB is looking to overcome all the doubters by finally winning more than just a single postseason game. Justin Jefferson is the league’s best wideout and T.J. Hockenson returns after agreeing to a huge contract extension. Alexander Mattison is a downgrade over Dalvin Cook but 19 carries for 62 scoreless yards is no one’s idea of a good time, especially since we’re talking about a pair of games. Oh, and the fumbling needs to become a thing of the past.

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) during warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After their initial two games, the Los Angeles Chargers are allowing 31.5 points against per game (30th in the NFL). They’re the worst in the NFL in pass defense since they’ve allowed 666 yards through the air. The expectation, then, is that Cousins to Jefferson will be clicking from start to finish.

Yes, begin with the team’s bread and butter — some Justin Jefferson brilliance — before building out to the other things that need to happen. The o-line must keep Cousins upright. The running game needs to be featured more prominently and needs to be capable of putting the team in a positive scenario on 2nd and 3rd down. The other pass catchers need to produce when given the opportunity.

Correcting some of these problem areas will lead to the time of possession improving (it was nearly 40/20 in favor of Philadelphia on TNF). The defense, in turn, will play better since they aren’t being burdened with carrying two-thirds of the game.

In 2023, success will begin and end on offense. The competitive rebuild can only function if the offense keeps the team competitive while the defense rebuilds. Look for a desperate Vikings team on Sunday complete with a tight operation on offense.

Anything less than elite over these final 15 games will almost certainly result in a 2023 team that isn’t going anywhere.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.