The Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings appear to be headed in opposite directions. Though they’re both coming off of disappointing Week 8 losses, the Lions just sold one of their key offensive pieces, while the Vikings are continuing to play better and are getting healthier. That being said, Minnesota came into the season with much higher expectations, and have yet to come close to those lofty goals.
So what’s going on in Minnesota, and will they be able to turn it around in time to grab their second-consecutive NFC North crown? Let’s take a look in our Week 9 scouting report.
13-3 record (1st in the NFC North)
10th in points scored, 1st in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 4th (5th on offense, 2nd on defense)
Key free agent additions: QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, OL Tom Compton
Key losses: QB Case Keenum, QB Teddy Bridgewater, QB Sam Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, G Joe Berger, DT Tom Johnson, CB Tramaine Brock, CB Marcus Sherels,
2018 NFL draft picks:
Round 1, 30 overall - CB Mike Hughes
Round 2, Pick 62 - T Brian O’Neill
Round 4, Pick 102 - DE Jalyn Holmes
Round 5, Pick 157 - TE Tyler Conklin
Round 5, Pick 167 - K Daniel Carlson
Round 6, Pick 213 - G Colby Gossett
Round 6, Pick 218 - DE Ade Aruna
Round 7, Pick 225 - LB Devante Downs
Last year, the Vikings were truly one of the best teams in the NFL. Defensively, they were the same terror that they’ve been over the past few years, and offensively, everything clicked. Despite the early loss of rookie running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Sam Bradford, the Vikings offense managed to be incredibly productive on the arm of Case Keenum, the legs of Latavius Murray and a mediocre-at-best offensive line.
It was truly puzzling to see, and it’s likely why offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur got a head coaching job with the New York Giants in 2018.
However, the Vikings came into the 2018 season with even more optimism. Their defense returned just about everyone, and added former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson in free agency. Their offense appeared to upgrade with a healthy Dalvin Cook and one Kirk Cousins. It was odd to see Minnesota blow up their quarterback room after such a successful season, but almost everyone agreed that Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins was an upgrade. Minnesota was not only considered a contender going into the 2018 season, but some believed only they would be able to contend with the Rams for the NFC.
2018 season thus far (4-3-1)
Week 1: Win over 49ers, 24-16
Week 2: Tie with Packers, 29-29
Week 3: Loss to Bills, 6-27
Week 4: Loss to Rams, 31-38
Week 5: Win over Eagles, 23-21
Week 6: Win over Cardinals, 27-17
Week 7: Win over Jets, 37-17
Week 8: Loss to Saints, 20-30
- 14th in points scored, 15th in points allowed
- 18th in DVOA (20th on offense, 13th on defense, 26th on special teams)
It has obviously not worked out that way thus far. Statistically speaking, the 2018 Vikings look almost unrecognizable from last year’s team. Offensive line issues have crippled their efficiency, while their defense, too, has struggled much more than expected.
Offensively, the Vikings are really struggling to run the ball, averaging just 4.0 yards per carry (25th) and 87.1 yards per game (29th). Last year, they ran for over 30 yards per game more (122.3).
As for Cousins, he’s far from the offense’s biggest problem. Though he’s 21st in the league in yards per attempt (7.4), he’s ninth in passer rating (102.5), fourth in completion percentage, and his 16:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio is more than adequate. However, due to the aforementioned offensive line issues, Cousins has seven fumbles on the year (five lost)—both NFL highs.
Defensively, it’s hard to exactly put your finger on what’s going wrong. Part of the problem is injuries. Key players like Andrew Sendejo, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, and Xavier Rhodes have all missed some time. As a result, the Vikings are allowing a passer rating 18 points higher than last year (73.0 vs. 91.2) and nearly nine points more per game (15.8 vs. 24.4).
All that being said, the Vikings are far from entering panic mode. They’ve won three out of their last four games, and of those three losses, two came against arguably the best teams in the NFC (Saints, Rams). They seem to be improving every week, and now they’re getting healthier too. After missing a few games due to mental health, defensive terror Everson Griffen is back. Xavier Rhodes could play this week after missing the Saints game, and it appears Dalvin Cook could make his first appearance since Week 4.
The Vikings aren’t the team they were last year, but they appear to be hitting their stride now, and that could spell trouble for a Lions team still flailing in mediocrity.
Vegas line for Sunday: Vikings by 5