The Vikings Lost Offensive Identity Against Giants
When the Minnesota Vikings played the New York Giants a few weeks ago, it was for too close of a contest. Minnesota should have been a substantially better team, and yet they failed to show that again on Sunday. Offensively, it wasn’t enough, and that is where they lost themselves.
After winning a Super Bowl last season with the Los Angeles Rams, Kevin O’Connell was brought in to be a difference maker of a head coach. A more progressive style of play was the desire, and an ability to use Minnesota’s vast offensive weapons had to be the goal. In many of their 13 wins this season we saw that play out. On Sunday, the theme was a lost offensive identity.
Dalvin Cook carried the ball 15 times for 60 yards. Over the course of the season, he has looked little like the game-changing back he once was, and simply someone to break up the passes being thrown around the field. It wasn’t as though he contributed nothing against the Giants, but it was evident this game wouldn’t be won on his shoulders.
The Vikings had Kirk Cousins attempt 39 passes behind an offensive line missing its starting right tackle. He avoided pressure for the most part and was never taken down in the backfield. Cousins was also careful with the ball and did not allow New York to pick him off. In that mindset however, Cousins and O’Connell took few chances and ended up burned for it.
As has been the case since he was acquired, T.J. Hockenson was a favorite target of Cousins. He was the lone Vikings pass-catcher to go over 100 yards in the game, and he reeled in 10 of his 11 targets. In and of itself, there is little fault to be found in that usage. The problem is that superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson was virtually an afterthought.
Struggling against Jaire Alexander and the Green Bay Packers during Week 17, Jefferson was doing little more than grabbing reps in Week 18. The hope was that he could truly ball out during his first playoff game, and there is no one that shines brighter when the stage is biggest. Unfortunately, Jefferson was only targeted nine times, and his seven receptions turned into just 47 yards.
The Vikings have seen Jefferson flop during games at times throughout the season, but this one seemed almost entirely self-inflicted. The Giants secondary is not one to write home about, and Jefferson was all but schemed out of the offense in the final quarter. Needing a first down with the game on the line late, Cousins avoided looking at Jefferson and instead checked a pass down to a blanketed Hockenson well short of the line.
When O’Connell, Cousins, and Jefferson ultimately dissect this film there should be plenty of disgust. Cousins had ample opportunity to push the rock all day and largely didn’t. O’Connell was extremely conservative in his play calling against a team that should have been capable of beating. Jefferson went underutilized in the most important game of the year, and everyone involved will have an offseason to think about it.
The Vikings were an attractive sleeper this year due to their weapons. When they needed them the most, it seemed they were used the least.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.