The Minnesota Vikings, like most years, are a hard team to figure out. They may be under new leadership this year, but the first two weeks of the season couldn’t have been more emblematic of this franchise: they open with a huge win over a division rival, and follow it up by looking completely overmatched during a primetime game.
Though they’re only in Year 1 of a new regime, there are high hopes in Minnesota, with some believing that new head coach Kevin O’Connell could lead the team to a surprise division title in 2022. It sure looked like that was within the realm of possibilities after taking down the reigning NFC North Champions in Week 1, but that confidence has to be shot after Monday.
So who are the real Minnesota Vikings? It’s impossible to know this early in the season, but let’s take a look in our Week 3 Detroit Lions scouting report.
8-9 record (2nd in NFC North)
14th in points scored, 24th in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 16th (16th on offense, 16th on defense)
Last year was undoubtedly a disappointment for the Vikings. Coming in with divisional and championship expectations, Minnesota hovered around .500 for the entire year and mostly beat up on bad teams. Their defense under head coach Mike Zimmer continued to disappoint, while their offense fell short of expectations, too, despite weapons like Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook.
For the second straight season, they just missed out on the playoffs, and that meant it was time for some whole-scale changes to the franchise, opting to fire both Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman—a major shift in the organization, as both had been with the team for at least the last eight seasons.
Key free agent additions: DT Harrison Phillips, EDGE Za’Darius Smith, LB Jordan Hicks,
Key losses: DT Michael Pierce, DT Sheldon Richardson EDGE Everson Griffen, LB Anthony Barr
2022 NFL draft picks:
Round 1: S Lewis Cine
Round 2: CB Andrew Booth
Round 2: G Ed Ingram
Round 3: LB Brian Asamoah
Round 4: CB Akayleb Evans
Round 5: DT Esezi Otomewo
Round 5: RB Ty Chandler
Round 6: OL Vederian Lowe
Round 6: WR Jalen Nailor
Round 7: TE Nick Muse
There was a tremendous amount of focus on the defense this offseason for the Vikings. They lost some pieces who were key players in Zimmer’s defense over the years and replaced them with both youth and experience, hoping not to take a step back in what has been the identity of this team for years.
Shockingly, the offense is almost completely untouched from last season. The only difference in the starting lineup is rookie Ed Ingram is now plugged in at right guard. Everything else is the same.... well, except...
Notable coaching changes
Head coach: Kevin O’Connell
Assistant head coach: Mike Pettine
Offensive coordinator: Wes Phillips
Defensive coordinator: Ed Donatell
In essence, the Vikings overturned their entire coaching staff, moving on from Zimmer and company. The only holdovers from the previous regime include assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson, wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, assistant linebackers coach Sam Siefkes and their strength and conditioning staff.
O’Connell notably comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree, with a specialty in offense. Here’s what he had to say about his offensive philosophy:
“We’re doing a lot of things that are simple for us, but maybe a little bit more difficult for a defense to defend. That illusion of complexity where teams think that there’s a lot of offense that they’re defending, but really we’re only doing small details here and there just to change the picture, change angles, give ourselves an advantage wherever we see fit, both in the run game and in the pass game, using tempo as a weapon. Things that people have seen our offense do in L.A. that they will absolutely see our offense do here in Minnesota.”
In short, expect a lot of play action, a lot of tempo, and the same concepts run out of Los Angeles for the last few years.
How has that worked thus far?
2022 season thus far (1-1)
Week 1: Beat Packers, 23-7
Week 2: Lost to Eagles, 7-24
- 25th in points scored, 6th in points allowed
- 23rd in overall DVOA
- 16th in offensive DVOA (24th in pass DVOA, 6th in run DVOA )
- 30th in defensive DVOA (23rd in pass DVOA, 32nd in run DVOA)
It’s been a tale of two weeks for the Vikings thus far. After opening the season with a statement win over the Packers, they were thoroughly squashed by the Eagles on Monday night. It’s interesting to see their defensive DVOA numbers so low despite holding the Packers to just seven points last week, but when you look at the rushing defense in both games, it becomes a little more understandable:
Week 1: 18 rushes, 111 yards (6.2 YPC), 1 TD
Week 2: 34 rushes, 163 yards (4.8 YPC), 2 TDs
To be fair, the Packers and Eagles have two very effective run games, but so do the Lions. That could be a big mismatch for Detroit if Minnesota can’t clean things up.
Offensively speaking, I suppose there should be some expectation of inconsistency under a new system. Cousins and Justin Jefferson were lethal in Week 1, connecting for 184 yards and two touchdowns. But Darius Slay erased Jefferson from Monday night’s game, and Cousins didn’t have an answer. Minnesota also struggled to protect Cousins, as he took seven quarterback hits, two sacks and threw three interceptions—all of them under duress. The Vikings currently rank 24th in PFF pass blocking grade but fourth in ESPN pass block win rate.
Key injuries: CB Andrew Booth (quad), S Harrison Smith (concussion)
The Vikings appear to be relatively healthy entering Week 3. But late in Monday’s loss to the Eagles, captain Harrison Smith suffered a concussion. O’Connell seemed to suggest the concussion was relatively minor after the game, but with a short week and a strict protocol to get through, his status is certainly in doubt this week.
“It’s very, very important that that gets handled through the medical protocol,” O’Connell said. “It is a short week, so we’ll just kind of have to see where he’s at, but he was all over the field tonight and had to make a lot of plays down the field in the run and pass game.
Biggest strength: Justin Jefferson
Normally, I like to put an entire unit here, but we saw on Monday just how important this individual player is to the Vikings’ overall success. If you’re somehow able to shut him down like Slay did—which is much, much, much easier said than done—the whole operation shuts down.
That said, the Vikings’ pass rush is also pretty darn good. Za’DArius Smith and Danielle Hunter have combined for 11 pressures and three sacks already, and don’t forget the interior heat brought by Dalvin Tomlinson (four pressures thus far).
Biggest weakness: Run defense
With so many changes to both the interior defensive line and the linebacking corps this offseason, it should come as little surprise that the Vikings have been a bit soft there to start the season. As previously stated, though, they went up against two of the most efficient run games from last year, so it’s hard to get a full grasp on how bad they really are. Remember, DVOA numbers are not yet adjusted for strength of opponent.
Vegas line for Sunday: Vikings by 6