An Optimist’s Guide to the Minnesota Vikings 0-2 Start
There’s no doubt about it, the 2023 Minnesota Vikings can be hard to watch. Mistakes have piled on top of mistakes. The running game has been non-existent. Decision-making has been questionable.
The run defense vanished in week 2. The energy has been waning, particularly early in contests where they are scoreless in first quarters through two games. So what’s there to be optimistic about?
Well, that depends. Are you the kind of person who wants to wallow in misery for the next 15 games? If so, then….not too much. 0-2 is a tough hole to dig out from under. The betting line shows them to be underdogs at home against both the Chargers and Chiefs, and a slight 1-point favorite on the road against the Panthers. 0-5 is a very real possibility, especially with the turnovers hanging over their heads and the utter inability to run the ball staring them in the face. So go ahead and wallow.
But for those of us who prefer to experience the warm glow of happiness that comes with a positive outlook, let’s consider a few rays of light escaping from the black hole of the last two games:
Those 7 Turnovers? Flukes!
Well, some of them, anyway. A Justin Jefferson near-touchdown that somehow resulted in a turnover and a touchback. A Kirk Cousins fumble caused by a teammate’s left arm inadvertently swinging directly into the football mid-snap. A pass caught and then pickpocketed by an alert defender. These are not particularly repeatable turnovers, they’re bizarre flukes. OK, there have also been two blown blocks leaving Cousins blindsided for strip sacks, and sure, the Brandon Powell and Alexander Mattison fumbles in the open field were inexcusable. But if the flukey ones hadn’t happened we could probably live with the clear flop plays, right? Maybe?
Well, let’s look at it another way: the 7 turnovers through two games are more than any NFL team since 2019. That’s not a sustainable run of non-excellence. There’s truly nowhere to go from here but up—and the Purple most definitely will play games this year where they turn the ball over with far less frequency than we’ve seen through the first two games. Trust me, it’s gonna get better.
The Line Will Get Healthy – Someday
Watching the Eagles defense stuff the run game completely, strip-sack the quarterback with an unblocked blitzer, and place continued pressure on Cousins throughout the game, it was easy at times to feel like the offensive line is pretty much hopeless. But considering two key linemen, Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland, were unavailable due to injury, it made a lot more sense.
Get those guys healthy, and put them on the line with Brian O’Neill who has played incredible football early in this campaign (currently rated #1 among all NFL offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus) and suddenly things look much more positive going forward. Certainly, getting ten days for the big guys to heal, and ten days for Kevin O’Connell and company to tweak some of their schemes, gives us reason to look forward to better things in Game 3 against the Chargers.
The Passing Game Looks Electric
In their two losses, Cousins outpassed his counterparts by a 2:1 margin: 344 total yards with 2 TDs vs. 273 and 2 TDs for Baker Mayfield and the Bucs; 364-193 with 4 TDs to 1 against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. Justin Jefferson has rolled up over 300 receiving yards in two games. Jordan Addison has caught a deep ball for a touchdown in each of the two games thusfar. The tight end tandem of T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver have pulled in 20 catches on 23 targets thusfar.
In the pass-happy NFL, the Vikings can win many games on their pass attack alone—provided they clean up those turnovers, something that has already begun to happen, as Cousins threw zero interceptions in week 2. The air game right now is something that even a pessimist should like.
Minnesota Vikings Still in One-Score Territory
It may not have felt like it, but both games have been close and competitive. There’s really no shame in losing to the Bucs by 3 and the Eagles by 6, with both clubs being NFC Super Bowl Representatives from two of the past three seasons, and Philadelphia being a current Top Five pick by most of the scribes out there in the various Power Rankings.
In these games, one score’s worth of difference is only a matter of cleaning up some turnover issues, getting back some health on the O-line, in giving Kirk Cousins just a little more time on certain pass plays. After last year’s 11-0 performance in 1-score games, we knew some regression was coming, and we have gotten it. But last year showed that the Vikings can handle those 1-score games, and it’s a smart bet that this team will win more than its share of them during a 17-game season, if they continue to stay close each week.
So maybe, just maybe, there’s some reason for optimism despite the 0-2 start. There, now doesn’t that feel better?