There’s going to be a lot of analysis and HAWT TAEKS about the 2018 Minnesota Vikings season over the upcoming days and weeks, but we’ve managed to find one that goes beyond simply placing everything on the shoulders of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Steve Palazzolo and Sam Monson from Pro Football Focus have their look back at the 2018 Vikings’ season, and while they put some of the blame on Cousins’ shoulders. . .as they should. . .it would appear that they’ve correctly identified the primary reasons for the Vikings’ failure to make the 2018 postseason.
The video is 18 minutes long, and it’s worth your time to watch the whole thing, but I’ll throw in my tree fiddy on their three main points.
Reason #1 - The offensive line, particularly the interior offensive line, was awful
This isn’t anything different from what we’ve been hammering on all season, but the trio of Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers were all pretty awful for the entirety of the 2018 season. As I said in my offensive line post earlier today, I certainly think that Elflein is salvageable, particularly if he doesn’t have to spend his entire offseason rehabbing from injuries. Remmers and Compton, though, I don’t think you can do anything with. . .particularly if the Vikings continue to insist on playing Remmers at guard, where he’s awful.
Only one team in the NFL gave up more quarterback pressures than the Vikings did this season, and that was the Houston Texans. Their quarterback, Deshaun Watson, set the record this season for most times sacked for a quarterback that led their team to the playoffs. The Vikings, as we’ve stated, didn’t do nearly enough to shore up their offensive line during the offseason, and it came back to bite them when the games counted.
Reason #2 - The defense regressed from the incredibly high level they played at in 2017
The 2017 Vikings’ defense was great at pretty much everything. . .they stopped the run, they stopped the pass, and they were historically great on third downs. In all of those categories this season, they were merely “good.” They dropped off considerably against the run for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, but they were still solid against the pass. However, there were times when they just couldn’t get a stop when they needed one, and even their third down defense failed at the most inopportune times.
Out of 16 games this season, only three times did the Vikings allow opponents to convert more than 50% of their third down opportunities. Two of those games were against the Bears. On Sunday, after getting a touchdown to close the score gap to 13-10, the Vikings gave the ball back to the Bears at their own 25-yard line with their season hanging in the balance. The Bears faced six third downs on that drive, and here’s how they went:
- 3-5-CHI 30 (:57) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky scrambles left end to CHI 42 for 12 yards (H.Smith).
- 3-6-CHI 46 (14:54) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass short right to J.Wims to MIN 38 for 16 yards (T.Waynes).
- 3-10-MIN 38 (13:31) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky sacked at MIN 45 for -7 yards (A.Barr). PENALTY on MIN-J.Kearse, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at MIN 38 - No Play
- 3-6-MIN 29 (11:32) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass short left to T.Burton ran ob at MIN 20 for 9 yards.
- 3-2-MIN 12 (9:31) (Shotgun) B.Sowell reported in as eligible. Direct snap to J.Howard. J.Howard left tackle to MIN 9 for 3 yards (J.Johnson; T.Johnson). PENALTY on CHI-M.Trubisky, Illegal Motion, 5 yards, enforced at MIN 12 - No Play.
- 3-7-MIN 17 (9:07) (Shotgun) M.Trubisky pass short left to J.Wims pushed ob at MIN 8 for 9 yards (H.Hill)
The Bears scored a touchdown, and essentially ended the Vikings’ season. They went 5-for-5 on third down (they converted one third down twice thanks to a penalty) against the best third-down defense in the NFL facing their biggest test of the season. That seemed to happen a lot throughout the season, but this one was the most egregious case of it.
Reason #3 - And now we finally get to Kirk Cousins
I am, by no means, suggesting that we absolve Kirk Cousins of all of the blame for the way this season went. But the “everything bad is because of Kirk Cousins” takes that have overrun social media today are so lazy and so utterly devoid of anything resembling a basis in reality that they don’t even rise to the level of “bad analysis.” They’re just “bad.” And lazy, if I didn’t already mention that, which is why they come largely from people that probably didn’t even watch a single Minnesota Vikings game this season.
Cousins’ contract is going to magnify everything he does on the field, for better or for worse, and that’s fine. But I’m going to ask the same question that I’m pretty sure I’ve asked before. . .what were the other options?
- Case Keenum - Went to Denver and was. . .well. . .not great. Despite having a better run game and a better offensive line (because everyone has a better offensive line than Minnesota), Keenum took a pretty significant step back from his magical 2017 season. He also fell apart in games late in the year, and will be the starter next year in Denver only to caddy for his replacement that will be selected by Denver’s next head coach.
- Sam Bradford - Out of football. Don’t need to say much more than that.
- Teddy Bridgewater - Look, I know that everyone loves Teddy Bridgewater. Hell, I love Teddy Bridgewater, and who knows how much different things would have been if not for that one drop back in August of 2016? But there’s still no guarantee that he’s going to be even what he was. If you’re convinced that the Vikings were in a “short window” to win a championship, they weren’t going to take a chance on that without being completely sure about it.
- Others (like, I don’t know, A.J. McCarron or something) - You serious, Clark?
The Vikings were too low in the draft to take a younger guy, and the only one that was available at the point that the Vikings drafted at was Lamar Jackson. Seriously. . .does John DeFilippo strike you as the kind of guy that would have had a decent plan in place for Lamar Jackson if it became necessary the way that Baltimore did? Hell, he didn’t even have a decent plan for Cousins, and he picked Cousins.
The Vikings paid what they needed to for a quarterback that, quite frankly, was still the best available option. Unless you’re able to draft and develop a quarterback, that’s going to happen sometimes. Does Kirk Cousins need to be better? He most certainly does, particularly in big situations. But if you’re doing an autopsy of everything that went wrong with the Vikings’ 2018 season, he’s not at the top of the list. Or second, for that matter.
So, I’ve wound up going on for much longer than I had anticipated, but that’s how I see it. Again, you should watch the entire video, because the PFF folks do a much better job of explaining all of it than I do.