Entering this season, the Vikings were a hot commodity despite getting blown out 38-7 in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion, Philadelphia Eagles. There was certainly plenty to build on and even when Minnesota said, “Thanks but not thanks,” to Case Keenum, most fans were genuinely appreciative that the Vikings’ brass dug deeper into their pockets to corral a legitimate NFL starting quarterback in Kirk Cousins as opposed to crossing their fingers and hoping that a quasi-journeyman like Keenum would capture lightning in a bottle two years running. Minnesota wanted to get better and believed they did just that with an upgrade at the most important position in football. So, what happened?
The season is hardly finished so let’s not assume that the ship has sunk, it’s simply taking on water at an alarming rate. Furthermore, if you check out one of the best online sportsbooks like 5Dimes you will see that the oddsmakers are still bullish on the Vikings, installing the good guys as five-point favorites over the Packers this weekend. The primary reason why Minnesota’s offense is so pedestrian this season is due to an offensive line that gets pushed around by really good defenses, as evidenced by last week’s 25-20 loss to the Bears.
Of course, head coach Mike Zimmer is giving his big boys in the trenches some quarter after saying, “I think it’s easy to throw blame on one group when there was a lot of things that happened in the course of that ball game. Our offensive line is fighting their rear ends off so I’m not going to place blame on them.”
Well Mike, it’s not only easy to throw the blame on them, it’s perfectly accurate. Kirk Cousins was a man under siege last week, pressured 16 times when he dropped back to pass which was the second most this season. It’s tough to hit a target when, in fact, you are the target. Cousins was sacked only twice but that was due to his ability to escape and toss the ball away. Unfortunately, two of those hastily thrown passes were picked off, one of which was a pick-six, returned by Chicago’s Eddie Jackson to widen the margin to 22-6 with the successful two-point conversion. Minnesota would mount a 17-point rally in the fourth quarter but it was too little, too late.
If Minnesota had Nathan Peterman under center and a pair of no-name wide receivers, it would be easy to understand why the offense has struggled. But this is not a team bereft of talent. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs could quite possibly be the best wide receiving tandem in the league while Dalvin Cook can be a force of nature in the backfield. However, if a running back can’t see daylight then pretty soon all he will see is darkness. Case in point, yet again, was last week against Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defense. The Vikings mustered a grand total of 22 rushing yards which means that both Cook and Latavius Murray had nowhere to go because the men in front who are supposed to be blowing holes for them were getting blown back by a more muscular and physical Chicago defensive line.
This week’s upcoming game against the Packers will be a litmus test for the Vikings’ rushing attack. Unlike Chicago, Green Bay is not a lockdown defense and ranks 20th in yards allowed per carry (4.6), and 26th in both rushing yards allowed per game (126.1) as well as rushing touchdowns allowed. If Cook and Murray can’t get well against this run-stop unit then perhaps whatever it is that ails them has no cure. The Vikings defense is better than good but not elite while the offense has the potential to be explosive but is shackled by an offensive line that has failed to live up to expectations.
Let’s hope that the oddsmakers at 5Dimes have the right favorite on Sunday and the Vikings destroy the Packers’ chances for postseason glory with a nail-in-the-coffin win. If that does occur then maybe it’s not too late to give the Bears a run for their money as kings of the NFC North. But let’s take it one game at a time and find out.