The Minnesota Vikings ended their season in uninspiring fashion, leaving fans with plenty of questions. In my humble opinion, these three are among the most pressing: 1) Who will replace Kub? 2) Are the Vikings doomed to a mediocre player at 14 in the draft? 3) How will the Vikings improve at defensive tackle? Let’s jump in.
The word on the street is that Gary Kubiak is going to retire. I’ve been critical of some of his play calling, but he has done a nice job overall. Indeed, Minnesota’s offense was easily the strongest part of the team. Unfortunately, the Vikings won’t have the benefit of continuity.
For the sixth time in his seven years, Zimmer will be tasked with hiring a new offensive coordinator. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, will have yet another OC talking to him on game day. Before the season began, Cousins spoke about how much he was looking forward to working with Kubiak, largely because of the desire for continuity with a coach who has had so much success. It’s looking like Cousins won’t get that benefit anymore.
If there is an early front runner to fill Minnesota’s OC position, it’s Klint Kubiak. Lil’Kub has been coaching the quarterbacks for a couple seasons now, and Cousins has largely played well. Perhaps this can be a Mike/Kyle Shanahan thing where the son ends up being an offensive genius. One can dream.
Another thing to keep in mind. When Zim has chosen OCs from outside the organization — Norv Turner and John DeFillipo — things have gone really poorly. When Zim has chosen OCs from within the organization — Pat Shurmur, Kevin Stefanski, and Gary Kubiak — things have gone well. I’d be lying if I said I had an airtight theory for why this has occurred. Perhaps the internal employees have a better understanding of working with Zim, and therefore find more success. Perhaps it’s just a random fluke. In any case, it will be fascinating to see who Zim picks. It may end up being the most important decision of the offseason.
Drafting 14th Overall
Vikings fans often waffle somewhere between doom & gloom and inexplicable elation. Collectively, we get far too high and far too low. Vikings fandom lends itself to extremes.
If you hang around the doom & gloom crowd long enough, one thing you’ll inevitably hear is that the Vikings have entered draft purgatory, an in-between position that precludes the possibility of getting the elite, impact talent that comes from top-5 picks. This perspective is, for the most part, nonsense.
One wonders if these fans simply didn’t watch Justin Jefferson‘s magnificent rookie season. He broke records, including Randy Moss’ (who was chosen 21st) record for most receiving yards. When did we draft Jefferson? 22nd overall. An elite player late in the draft; it can happen, people. There’s some guy named Harrison Smith (29th) who has done alright, and let’s not forget Eric Kendricks (45th). Danielle Hunter — chosen 88th overall — came into the 2020 season with back-to-back 14.5 sack seasons. Elite.
Would the Vikings have a better chance of getting an elite player if they picked higher? Of course. Does picking in the mid-first round eliminate any chance of getting an elite player? By no means. The Vikings don’t exactly have a great track-record with the 14th overall pick, but that doesn’t really matter when it comes to finding success in 2021. What matters is that they pick a player who marries need and value, one who can be a great Viking for years to come. It’s a virtual guarantee that someone will be available who can fulfill that call. It’s on Spielman and his staff to find out who that is and make the pick.
Moving Forward at DT
It goes without saying that the play along the defensive line was ugly. By the end of the season, Yannick Ngakoue was still our sack leader. While this mostly serves as an indictment of the talent (or, rather, lack thereof) along the edge, it also bespeaks another, larger issue: the ineffectiveness of Minnesota’s defensive tackles.
Cole Smith, a writer here at TVG, wrote an article a little while ago to argue that improving the defensive line is Minnesota’s priority #1. It’s hard to disagree. While they do need a talent infusion, the Vikings also have a lot of room to grow internally.
The mere presence of Michael Pierce ought to do wonders for the run defense. It isn’t just Pierce’s individual play, important as that may be. Indeed, perhaps even more important is the domino effect that takes place.
Everything on defense is interconnected. When Pierce absorbs a double-team, everything else becomes easier for the defense. All of the sudden, Minnesota’s other DTs are more competent because they’re in more favorable matchups. Ditto for the defensive ends.
Football is a matchup game. Eleven matchups taking place all over the field. When one player does a disproportionate amount of work — as we all hope Pierce can do — then other players benefit. Vikings fans should think back to Linval Joseph. How much easier did he make it for the edge rushers? Absorbing blocks and helping to collapse the pocket makes life significantly easier for the defensive ends.
It’s entirely plausible that the d-line is actually only one or two players away. The defensive line doesn’t have bad players, it has bad roles. Re-adding Danielle Hunter and Pierce – a #1 DE and #1 DT – should make a massive difference since backups can be backups. Adding another difference-maker would likely push this group over the top.
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