In a similar vein to how fans felt when Mike Zimmer took over for Leslie Frazier, the excitement is palpable for the beginning of the Kevin O’Connell era.
While the team prepares for the season, we are doing the same at the Vikings Wire. We will be producing previews breaking down both each position and the team as a whole.
Today, we continue with our preview series by talking about the overall outlook for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings.
Running Back Preview
Wide Receiver preview
Tight End Preview
Offensive Tackle Preview
Defensive Line Preview
Outside Linebacker/Edge Preview
Middle Linebacker Preview
Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a pass against Arizona Cardinals in the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports
The new look Minnesota Vikings offense is going to be an evolved form of what we have seen under Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak.
Running out of mainly 11 personnel, the idea is that starting quarterback Kirk Cousins will be more aggressive because the offense will be asking him to do so.
I am very skeptical that anything will change.
It’s not secret that Cousins can throw the ball down the field. He finished 10th in big time throw percentage but only 29th in throws past the sticks.
The issue with Cousins has never been about ability but rather his willingness to make the throws. Far too often, Cousins will take the check down. His heat map has shows that the only areas on the field where he was truly above-average were in the flats.
Cousins wants things to be perfect so badly down the field that he won’t throw down the field when there isn’t a wide-open receiver. He plays a risk-averse style of football which can be a good thing. However, that translates too often during times where the Vikings need something to happen.
The addition of Kevin O’Connell was made to help Cousins become more aggressive. He was able to elevate Matthew Stafford to a Super Bowl winning quarterback. The biggest difference between the two is that Stafford is a gunslinger and Cousins is careful.
Can O’Connell get some aggressiveness out of Cousins? I doubt it. After playing this style for the majority of the last 20 seasons, it’s not going to be as simple as flipping a switch. Cousins isn’t all of the sudden going to wait that extra second to hit the dig over the middle of the field instead of hitting C.J Ham in the flat for the umpteenth time.
The success of the offense will rely on Cousins willingness to wait for that extra second and trust his top-tier weapons to make a play. If he is willing to evolve, the Vikings offense can take a meaningful jump.
Jan 11, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) in defense against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half in the NFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-423526 ORIG FILE ID: 20200111_gav_al2_040.jpg
The Vikings will be playing in a 3-4 this season for the first time in decades.
Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will bring the Vic Fangio-style defense to the Vikings. they will be aggressive and focus on eliminating big plays. The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen wrote an article on the Fangio defense back in May and gave a nice, concise overview.
“What makes Fangio’s defense the best response to modern offenses? Its two-high (two deep safeties) structure limits explosive plays and forces offenses to stay patient and throw short. The front mechanics allow the defense to slow down the run with light boxes and commit more resources to coverage.”
Some of what Zimmer tried to do will remain the same. There will be a focus in trying to limit big plays and play both cover two and four regularly. The ideal scenario is to replicate what the Bears did in 2018 with Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd. The Vikings have two players in Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith who can fill those roles well.
On the defensive line, there will be a lot of stunts and calculated blitzes from the linebackers. The corners will be helped by the scheme and will still be able to make plays on the ball.
Overall, this should be an improved unit overall. Will they be able to match last seasons total of 51 sacks? Doubtful, but they should improve to be a top half of the league scoring defense.
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on prior to the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
There are numerous analysts and pundits who have the Vikings winning 11-12 games and claiming the NFC North crown. The Vikings have that ceiling but there I don’t have a ton of confidence in that.
The Vikings just had career years from Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and K.J Osborn. Plus, former head coach Mike Zimmer did some things well. You can’t expect O’Connell and Donatell to automatically improve everything off the jump while keeping everything that was good at the same level or higher. There will be natural regression and progression across the board. Expecting O’Connell to be some magic cure-all is just not a fair expectation.
The reality for this team is that they are still a .500 football team until proven otherwise. The Vikings are having to implement a (somewhat) new offensive scheme and a completely new defensive one. The injury luck on offense will likely not be the same as it was last season and your two best defenders have had massive injury issues the last two seasons. Sure they can improve and it’s likely that you will see some improvement but asking for that much is a stretch.
Record prediction: 9-8 7th seed in the playoffs