Following the 2017 season, in which they were essentially one missed tackle from being champions of the NFC and posted a 13-3 record, the Vikings were thinking Super Bowl and long-term success in signing who they pegged as their franchise Quarterback; with Kurt Cousins taking over on a three-year, $80 million deal.
Well, what was a top-five offense in 2017 – according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranking – under Keenum, regressed to what was the 18th most efficient offense in 2018.
Cousins was average, posting a 62.0 QBR (16th), in leading the 16th best offense to an 8-7-1 record, while the rush offense (28th) struggled mightily behind the 23rd best rushing Offensive Line, according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric.
The defense remained elite, finishing 4th overall in efficiency (DVOA); and therefore, it’s more than safe to say the Minnesota’s drop-off could be attributed to the Offense. Losing Offensive Coordinator, Pat Shurmur, to the Giants coming into last year certainly didn’t help matters, but one has to believe that Cousins wasn’t payed the kind of money he was to come in and run the 16th most efficient Offense in the NFL.
The decision to move on from last years’ OC John DeFillipo was made, and now Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski will take over the Offense with the help of Gary Kubiak, who was brought in as Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor. The pressure is on for Cousins to show improvement in year two.
BetOnline’s futures market expects Minnesota to be a game better, in terms of record, than they were last season, and whether we can expect improvement out of this team is certainly correlated with what improvement we expect to see out of Cousins under Stephanski and Kubiak. Considering what little the Vikings did in the offseason to improve the roster, I wouldn’t expect major strides to be made anywhere else.
As we will see, the result of dedicating so much cap space to a single player is often roster attrition, and several losses on both sides of the ball may leave this 2019 edition less than that which it was last year. Can Zimmer reproduce an elite defense with what is, on paper, less talent? Will Cousins prove he was worth the hefty price tag? These questions loom for the Vikes in 2019.
Super Bowl Odds: +2500
Odds to Win the NFC: +1200
Odds to Win the NFC North: +225
Season Win Total: 9
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|2||@ Green Bay||+3.5||.36|
|5||@ NY Giants||-3||.59|
|9||@ Kansas City||+7||.25|
|13||@ Seattle (MNF)||+3||.41|
|15||@ LA Chargers||+3.5||.36|
|16||Green Bay (MNF)||-3||.59|
Total Expected Wins: 8.70
Headlines for this offseason mostly centered around the offensive line, which was one of the primary weaknesses on the roster in 2018; and with the loss of three starters, C Nick Easton, G Tom Compton, and RT Mike Remmers – it hardly improved.
Easton was one of the better pass blocking Centers in the NFL, according the Pro Football Focus, while Compton and Remmers were graded as Average, but still, completely rebuilding an Offensive line takes time. This is especially the case when you’re looking to build it around a rookie Center, which the Vikings are apparently trying to do in drafting one in the first round.
Pro Bowl G Josh Kline, coming by way of Tennessee, is a three-year starter, and was a much needed addition to fill the void on the line. He, however, along with DT Shamar Stephen were the only offseason additions to the roster, which suffered more losses than just those on the O-line.
RB Latavius Murray is gone, which isn’t really concerning considering he graded out as the 27th best RB in the NFL last season (DYAR, Football Outsiders), but key losses in the secondary will leave this top-five Pass Defense short some of its key cogs. Both Safeties, George Iloka and Andrew Sendejo, as well as CB Marcus Sherels have all moved on, and with little done in the offseason or the draft to compensate for the losses, I don’t see how this Pass D maintains its elite status.
The Vikings did look to attack their weakness in the draft in getting N.C. State C Garrett Bradbury 18th overall, who many analysts consider to be one of the better Center prospects to enter the draft in quite some time. Center is a mental position, however, and though he will likely start game one, it may take some time for him to reach his full potential on this reshuffled and retooled Offensive line.
In the second round, Minnesota grabbed Alabama TE Irv Smith, 50th overall, a 6’ 2’’ 240- pounder, who ran a 4.63 at the combine. With Kyle Rudolph still on the roster, Smith could prove a valuable weapon in allow this Offense to utilize more two Tight End sets and create mismatch nightmares with such an athletic body on linebackers.
Boise State RB Alexander Mattison was drafted in the 3rd round to replace Latavius Murray, and as a durable power back, he should be able to do just that, offering some depth behind injury-prone Dalvin Cook while also serving as a powerful compliment to Cook – between the tackles.
They went Guard in the 4th round with Oklahoma’s Dru Samia and waited until round six to draft some depth in the now depleted secondary.
Overall, the Vikings filled some holes, but also, left some gaping – particularly in that secondary.
One would hope that Cousins, and this Offense, would improve in year two; but I’m not sure there is any reason to believe that’s its positive progression is a certainty.
With the firing of DeFillipo comes a break in the continuity that these two would’ve had working together, and now Cousins will be left with a new OC, who has zero experience and an Offensive Advisor, in Gary Kubiak, who could add his own wrinkles into the system – further elongating the learning curve.
The Offensive line that struggled to generate any consistency in the run game has been dismantled; but youth and new faces means more time to create cohesion on the line. It could improve, but may take some time.
Finally, little was done in the offseason in terms of adding quality weapons to the Offense, and unless Mattison comes in and greatly surpasses expectation, it could be more of the same in Minnesota.
The Defense has been great since Zimmer took over in 2014; and while it was once again a top five unit in 2018, the losses Iloka, Sendejo, and Sherels in the secondary, as well as DT Sheldon Richardson (Above Average, PFF) up front, could sting a bit collectively.
Especially considering that little was done in the offseason to compensate for these losses, with the first defensive draft pick coming in the 5th round, and only one acquisition outside of the draft, DT Shemar Stephen joining the roster.
Notes & Nuggets
The Vikings are expected to be favored in 10 games this year, but in five of these games, they are projected to be a field goal favorite or less.
They will play in three primetime games this year, with two Monday Night Football games followed by home games on the short weeks, and the Thursday Night Game at home.
In considering what the Vikings were last year, and what transpired over the offseason, I don’t see how you bet on this being a double-digit win team. Yes, the schedule is a bit weak, but they’ll still get Chicago and Green Bay twice, and have four brutal games on the road outside of the division: @ KC, @ DAL, @ SEA on MNF and @ LAC.
I have no confidence in the notion that this Offense will improve from last year’s version, and key losses on defense may even weaken the strength of this team. Cousins and Co. still have a lot to prove, and I’m not sure letting go of DeFillipo will all of a sudden cure this offense’s ills.