The Chicago Bears beat the Vikings 24-10 on Sunday to eliminate them from playoff contention. With the Minnesota Vikings 2018 season over, there are plenty of questions as to how they ended up where they are today. The crew from Full Press Coverage give their take on the disappointment that was 2018:
What were the root causes of another failed season after so much success the previous year and the expectations that followed?
Clayton Brooks: Horrific offensive line play was the number one factor as it affected everything else on that side of the ball. Whether it was ill-timed penalties, missed blocks, or just poor play, this group time and again proved a liability. In the end, their play eventually cost the Vikings their season.
The defense regressing from 2017’s performance factored in as well. However, their play may have been s affected by having to make up for an offense stuck in neutral.
Special teams play was also poor for much of the year as they missed field goals in big spots, none bigger than the Week Two tie versus the Green Bay Packers. Former Vikings’ kicker, Daniel Carlson missed two kicks in overtime, the last costing them the win as time expired.
Madison Parkhill: A combination of awful interior offensive line play and bad decision-making at the quarterback position. The offensive line struggled all year, allowing Kirk Cousins to be pressured on 38.9% of dropbacks and finishing as a bottom tier run-blocking unit. However, Cousins deserves much of the blame as well. He consistently misread coverages, struggled with his pocket presence, and checked the ball down too quickly despite Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs being open further down the field. The two are go hand-in-hand, and if one improves, so will the other
Sam Smith: In the following order: Poor line play, hit-or-miss quarterbacking, bad play-calling. The offensive line did no one any favors, both in the run and pass game. Minnesota was near the bottom in the league in percentage of runs at least four yards, while also allowing Cousins to face pressure on almost 40 percent of his drops. It hamstrung the offense, especially down the home stretch. Cousins was able to mitigate it early in the season, but not so much later on as his play dipped.
And then the play-calling. The failure to run in appropriate situations led to John DeFilippo’s firing, as did his inability to play to Cousins’ strengths. Too much shotgun passing with no deception, no creativity and little variation in the second half of the season led to a string of miserable offensive performances. Kevin Stefanski was better for two weeks, but he too fell into the same trap in week 17.
How would you rate Kirk Cousins’ first year in a Vikings’ uniform?
Clayton: B- to a C average. He started out the year strong but faded down the stretch. He was the engine to the offense most of the season as an early injury to Dalvin Cook and the season-long ineptitude of the offensive line hindered the run game.
Though he put up career highs in completion percentage and touchdowns, he was still plagued by many of the same problems he had in Washington. He was unable to lead the Vikings to a victory in primetime games. Overall, they had just one victory against teams in this season’s playoff field. If he’s going to justify the $84 million contract, he’s going to have to figure out how to win in big games. He’s also going to need better performances from the team supporting him.
Madison: B. He’s exactly what the Vikings paid for. Cousins offered the Vikings a slight upgrade in talent to Case Keenum. He offered more stability and less injury risk, though less talent, than Teddy Bridgewater. In short, Cousins has never been a quarterback that elevates his supporting cast. He is an average starting quarterback who relies on the players around him to succeed. With the offensive line in a state of disarray, Cousins was unable to elevate their sub-par play despite having two elite wide receivers around him. Rebuilding the offensive line is the Vikings best hope at Cousins justifying his $84 million price tag.
Sam: B-. In the first half of the season, his play against pressure and in the Packers and Rams games was excellent. However, in the last seven games or so, pressure seemed to affect him significantly more. His pocket sense only became worse and he took far fewer chances with throws. After playing like arguably a top-10 quarterback for the opening stretch, he regressed to a net average guy. The optimism was that the Vikings’ weapons would elevate Cousins above what he was in Washington, but truthfully, he was the exact same player.
Where do the Vikings go from here?
Clayton: As badly as things ended in 2018, this team is truly not that far away. However, 2019 may be Rick Spielman’s and Mike Zimmer’s last stand as they each enter the final year of their contracts.
The Vikings have a roster that can win it all but must address the one fatal flaw that derailed them. Spielman needs to finally do with the offensive line that he’s done with every other position group (minus special teams) on the roster: find a talented player (or multiple players) capable of raising the level of play for the entire group.
For Mike Zimmer, it may be high time he adjusts his mindset and philosophy in how the Vikings compete to win games, particularly on offense. He’ll need to get a coordinator who has little fear of making this group far more aggressive.
The Vikings clearly need to adjust their tactics if they’re going to make a run at the Super Bowl. If they intend to make serious improvements on offense, it may involve some sacrifices to the defense. It will be critical to get this balance right if they hope to compete next season.
Madison: As frustrating as this year was, I agree with Clayton; the Vikings aren’t far away from being a contender.
The defense followed up its historic 2017 campaign with a great 2018 campaign. They regressed from the best defense in the league all the way down to third-best in 2018, despite missing key players such as Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Andrew Sendejo, and first round pick Mike Hughes throughout the season. Finding a way to keep Barr and/or Sheldon Richardson will be crucial. That said, their depth in the secondary and defensive line should allow the Vikings to remain as a top-five defense regardless.
On offense, the Vikings have no realistic option to upgrade at quarterback, though some, myself included, would love to see Bridgewater in an offense with two star wide receivers. Therefore, the Vikings must address the interior offensive line. Pat Elflein struggled this year, but his 2017 campaign showed some promise. He deserves another chance to start in 2019. Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill were up-and-down in 2018, but both remain serviceable options going forward.
It is the two guard positions in which the Vikings must find new starters. The 2019 offensive class is supposed to be a deep one, which is promising. Drafting two guards in the first three or four rounds is a necessity. I would also like to see the Vikings add a pass-catching running back who can turn a checkdown into an explosive play. While not directly fixing the offensive line issues, this would help mitigate the problem if it were to reoccur in 2019.
Overall, the Vikings still have one of the best rosters in the league. Plus, they should certainly find motivation after a disappointing 2018. With a few strategic offseason moves, they can compete for a Super Bowl in 2019.
Sam: We are all in agreement. Minnesota is more in a position to tweak rather than overhaul. The defense is still elite and was one of the three best in football by season’s end. Their weapons are solid, as well, though I think they could do with another consistent pass catcher who can make plays between the 20s. Their quarterback, with the right situation, can handle bulk usage and rack up yardage and points. Really, this comes down to strengthening one major area.
I like where the Vikings are at offensive tackle. O’Neill had a good season in pass pro, and showed enough flashes as a run blocker that I think he can be a cornerstone. Reiff was also solid, albeit with a couple miserable games thrown in. The problem is up the middle. All three interior starters had bad seasons. Mike Remmers is most likely gone, given his play and his $4.6 million cap hit. Tom Compton is a free agent, but he can be serviceable as a sixth or seventh lineman and may stick around. Elflein is theoretically the center of the future, though his was a season to forget in virtually every regard.
The Vikings should look to the Colts for a blueprint in rebuilding a line. It took them two drafts to overhaul much of their line: Ryan Kelly in 2016, Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith in 2018. They had Anthony Castonzo, a solid left tackle, and they filled in the gaps with capable veterans. Minnesota does not have cap space to break the bank. But they have options in a deep draft to find multiple guys who can play day one. That is a start.
As for the defense, I believe they will be fine. Some guys will leave, but depth pieces have proven they can start, namely Anthony Harris. I expect them to remain a top-shelf unit.
With the overall talent on this team, they should be in position to compete again next year. All they need are a few good moves and the right mind leading the offense. Should that happen, they will be back in contention for the division title.
– Clayton Brooks writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @ClaytonRBrooks2.
– Madison Parkhill writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @MadPark44.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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