At this time a year ago, fans of the Minnesota Vikings were feeling pretty confident. . .well, as confident as Vikings fans will generally allow themselves to be, anyway. The team was coming off of a 13-3 season, they had signed a couple of big-time free agents in Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson, and had retained a lot of the pieces from the previous year’s run to the NFC Championship Game.
This year, coming off of an 8-7-1 year where they quite decidedly failed to live up to expectations, the attitude seems to be a little more mixed. The talent is still there, but it remains to be seen how things will come together once the games start to matter.
You can count Bucky Brooks of the NFL Network among the believers, as he’s placed the Vikings on his recent list of five sleeper teams for the 2019 season.
Here’s what he had to say about the purple:
Don’t let a disappointing 2018 campaign overshadow the potential of the sleeping giant residing in the Twin Cities. While there was plenty of hate spewed in Kirk Cousins’ direction for the way things turned out in his first season after signing a blockbuster deal, the Vikings should feel good about his chances of performing like a top-10 quarterback in an offense being overseen by coordinator Kevin Stefanski and advisor Gary Kubiak. The system places a premium on the running game -- something Minnesota didn’t do enough of last season, much to Mike Zimmer’s dismay -- and complementary aerial attack. With Dalvin Cook healthy and ready to add sizzle to the running game as a stretch (outside zone) runner, Cousins could terrorize opponents with timely dimes to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Defensively, the Vikings have more than enough playmakers (Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Xavier Rhodes) to win nip-and-tuck battles that are traditionally won with the defense on the field. If the Vikings can learn how to play complementary ball in each of the game’s three phases, Zimmer’s team could be standing in the winner’s circle at the end of the season.
You’ll note that Brooks didn’t mention the real key to the Vikings’ success this season, that being whether or not the moves they’ve made on the offensive line this offseason will amount to an improvement. For the past couple of years, we’ve said that it really can’t get any worse along the offensive line for the Vikings. . .and yet, every year for the past few years it’s managed to do just that.
While I have faith that the new Kevin Stefanski/Gary Kubiak/Rick Dennison offense will be better than what we saw in 2019, the key is going to be how quickly the big guys up from can catch on to the scheme. There are other questions as well, like whether or not Garrett Bradbury will step in and be an immediate impact player at center, how will Pat Elflein’s transition to guard to, and will Brian O’Neill continue on the upward trajectory that we saw him take towards the end of last season?
Much like last season, if that answer can be answered in a positive manner, the sky is the limit for this team. It’s good that Brooks recognized the potential, but he did miss that one piece of the puzzle.