With a mediocre 4-5 record, it seems out of place to talk about this year’s Vikings team being the best in any respect, and yet you can’t ignore the stats the Vikings’ offense are putting together after nine games. In several key areas, the Vikings are poised for franchise records this century, and may have the most talented team at the skill positions since the 1998 powerhouse.
Let’s take a look.
Offense Looking Good in Several Key Metrics
First off, the most important stat for an NFL offense is points scored. You can look good in a number of other areas, but if you can’t put the ball in the end zone, it doesn’t really matter.
After nine games, the Vikings have scored 236 points, which puts them on track for 420 for the season, which would be 2nd only to the Favre-led 2009 offense this century, which scored 470. It would take some doing, but considering four of the Vikings remaining seven opponents are near the bottom in overall PFF defensive grade, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. This Vikings offense is also now 3rd best in the league in converting in the red zone, at a 75.9% clip - easily the best rate in franchise history since 2000.
The Vikings are also the most efficient offense in the league in terms of moving the ball, with a league high average of 6.5 yards per play. That would also be a franchise record not only this century, but all-time - eclipsing even the 1998 Vikings in that regard.
The Vikings are averaging 153.6 yards a game on the ground so far this season, including 5.2 yards per carry. That’s slightly off the pace of the 2012 Vikings offense- APs MVP year- at 5.4 yards per carry, and also behind a few years with a 5.3 yard per carry average this century, but it’s certainly possible for the Vikings to make up some ground against those top years. Currently the Vikings are leading the league in yards per carry.
The Vikings also lead the league in net yards per attempt (7.9), yards per completion (12.7), and yards per attempt (8.4). Kirk Cousins also has the best PFF grade under pressure through 10 weeks. The net yards per attempt stat is higher than even the 1998 Vikings offense, at 7.8 and Favre’s 2009 offense at 7.1.
While the Vikings offensive line is still a work in progress, it does seem like it’s beginning to gel a little bit since Ezra Cleveland took over right guard, Bradbury now the fifth highest graded center according to PFF, and both Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill having solid seasons at the tackle spots. Even Dakota Dozier has been decent for the most part.
From a pass protection standpoint, even with the misadventures at right guard early in the season, the 2020 Vikings are on pace to allow the fewest sacks per game this century, at 1.9 per game. According to PFF, the Vikings offensive line is responsible for only 9 of the 17 sacks allowed so far this year. Over the past three games, the Vikings have allowed only one sack per game on average, tied for 3rd best over that stretch.
So far this season, the Vikings offense has the highest overall franchise offense grade of the PFF era, which dates back to 2006, at 84.3 overall.
Part of that grade comes from Vikings receivers, which also have the highest franchise grade in the PFF era at 88.9, which also leads the league so far this year.
The Vikings offensive run grade also leads the league this season, at 87.6. That is 2nd best for the franchise to AP’s MVP year of 2012, when the Vikings run grade was 90.6. Again, not out of the realm of possibilities to eclipse 2012, but would need to do a bit better over the last seven games to make it happen.
In terms of PFF passing grade, so far this year the Vikings stand at 82.1, sixth best in the league, and 3rd best in franchise history, trailing only Favre’s 2009 season at 91.3, and Cousins last season at 86.6. Cousins also currently leads the league in PFF grade when under pressure through ten weeks. He also leads the league in percentage of deep passes- those 20+ yards downfield, at 17.6%, and is tied for 8th with Patrick Mahomes in adjusted deep pass completion percentage at 48.8%.
Noteworthy Player Performance
In addition to all the above team offense stats, the Vikings also have a number of noteworthy individual player performance stats.
Dalvin Cook currently leads the league in rushing yards (954), and along with Derrick Henry, is a clear favorite to win the rushing yards title this season. He also leads the league in touchdowns (13), yards per carry (5.5), PFF elusive rating (92.5), and yards from scrimmage (1143). He’s a dark horse candidate for MVP as well. His new contract seems like a pretty good deal at this point.
Justin Jefferson is currently the highest graded rookie wide receiver in PFF history. He’s also the second highest graded wide receiver in the league, at 90.8. He also leads the league in the key WR metric, yards per route run (YRR), at 3.23. He has a total of 762 receiving yards, which is about 100 yards behind DeAndre Hopkins, who leads among receivers with nine games. Stefon Diggs has about 40 more yards in ten games. Considering that Jefferson didn’t really play the first couple games, if he continues his per game receiving yard average since he started, he could end up with the receiving yard title by the end of the season.
Jefferson should be a primary contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year. As the highest graded rookie at any offensive position, and the #2 graded wide receiver according to PFF, with the highest YRR in the league, it’s hard to overlook him. He also ranks third among WRs with at least 30 targets in yards per reception, at 18.1 - tied with D.K. Metcalf. Randy Moss averaged 19.0 yards per reception his rookie year - 1998. Moss ended his historic rookie campaign with 1313 receiving yards. Jefferson is on pace to surpass that total. He’s already surpassed Stefon Diggs’ rookie season total.
While Justin Jefferson is taking the league by storm in his rookie campaign, Pro-Bowler Adam Thielen is quietly the 7th highest graded WR in the league overall, according to PFF. He also leads the league in receiving touchdowns. His receiving metrics, while outside of the top ten and pacing a bit lower than his peak years, are still top tier and he remains one of the best receivers in the league. His role looks to be transitioning to that of Cris Carter when he was paired with Randy Moss.
Cousins is having a different year so far. Interceptions clearly had a big impact on the loss to the Falcons, and the Colts - along with a 15.9 passer rating. He’s also had a lower completion percentage (66.1%), and adjusted completion percentage (75.8%) than in previous years. But his yards per attempt and per completion have jumped 15-20% this year as well, and he now leads the league in those metrics at 8.8 and 13.3 yards respectively. Cousins is also the highest graded QB under pressure so far this year, according to PFF, and also has the highest percentage of deep passes (17.6%) of any starting QB in the league.
Overall, Cousins is still the 6th highest PFF graded passer, behind Rodgers, Wilson, Brady, Mahomes, and Watson. During training camp this year he said his focus was trying to become more of a play-maker, whether trying to make some plays with his feet or with his arm. It may be that his league-leading yards per attempt/completion and deep passing percentage reflect that play-making mind-set to some extent. He’s also made a few plays on the ground earlier in the season, but haven’t seen so much of that lately, except a nice would-be 15 yard first-down run against the Bears that was called back on a holding penalty.
While his PFF pass blocking grade doesn’t quite reflect it, Riley Reiff is tied with Andrew Whitworth for 3rd fewest pressures allowed by a tackle with at least 200 pass blocking snaps this season. He hasn’t allowed a sack all season, and his pass blocking efficiency is also tied for third in that group at 98.9%. Reiff is down the list as a run blocker, but Kirk Cousins and the Vikings will take that as long as Reiff can continue to pass protect at that level.
Garrett Bradbury has improved significantly from his rookie season and is now the 5th highest graded center in the league so far this season with at least 350 snaps, according to PFF. He has the second highest run blocking grade among that group as well (77.9). His pass blocking grade is lower, but he’s only given up 8 pressures in 9 games, no sacks, and has a 98.5% pass blocking efficiency. Kirk Cousins can live with that.
Brian O’Neill continues to improve, year over year. This year that improvement has come as a run blocker. His pass blocking efficiency is currently at 96.4%, having given up 2 sacks and a total of 17 pressures so far this season. He gave up a total of 19 pressures all of last season, including one sack, leading to a 97.9% pass blocking efficiency.
But as a run blocker, O’Neill’s PFF grade has improved from 70.2 last season, to 79.8 this season- 12th among tackles with at least 350 snaps. His overall PFF grade has also improved to 76.9, from 70.8 last season. That’s good for 22nd in that group.
The top-notch efficiency and balance of the Vikings offense is a hallmark of Gary Kubiak’s offenses in the past, and he certainly deserves credit for what the Vikings have achieved on offense so far this year. I’m not sure when the last time one team finished the season as the league leader in both yards per attempt and yards per carry, but I suspect it hasn’t happened all that often.
Moreover, the Vikings two first-round picks since Kubiak joined the team - Garrett Bradbury and Justin Jefferson - were both ‘Kubiak-picks’ - guys he scouted and advocated drafting. Both look to be good first-round picks at this point, although Bradbury has been slower to develop.
Play-calling is something you often don’t notice so much unless it’s bad, and so far this season there haven’t been a lot of play-calling miscues by Kubiak. More than that, he’s done a good job varying his calls, maintaining run-pass balance, and staying committed to the run while also setting up shots downfield. He’s got Justin Jefferson involved, elevating him to a starter after a couple games, and also has helped work Irv Smith Jr. into the mix a little more when he’s been healthy.
Even though the Vikings have had some slow-starts to a few games, there’s never been a feeling this season of the Vikings being out-coached when they have the ball. More than anything, it’s been a feeling that the game-plan and play-calling have been good, but at times execution errors - turnovers and penalties - have undercut effectiveness. But overall, having the highest yards per play, including the highest yards per pass and run, along with being 3rd best in the league in the red zone, suggest a very efficient and effective offense.
OFFENSIVE LINE COACHING
Credit also the Vikings offensive line coaches for the improvement of the offense up-front. Riley Reiff may be having his best season pass blocking in his career. Over the past seven years, he’s given up an average of 43 pressures a season. Over half-way through this season, he’s given up only 6. Garrett Bradbury’s improvement has also been significant. Even getting the most out of Dakota Dozier is noteworthy. Ezra Cleveland looks promising at right guard, and given more time to develop should be a good addition. Rick Dennison is offensive line coordinator, but it may be new assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher that deserves credit for player development this year. We’ve certainly seen more improvement this year than last, and Rauscher could be a part of that.
Absent a real off-season and pre-season, it’s tough to develop offensive linemen without padded practices. But since the regular season has begun and Erza Cleveland installed at right guard, the offensive line has begun to gel. Consider this: over the first seven weeks of the season, the Vikings offensive line pass blocking efficiency was 29th in the league at 82.2%. Since then, over the last three weeks it’s up to 89.7% - 9th best in the league.
The Viking may be 4-5, but the Vikings offense is having one of it’s best seasons in 20 years. Currently sporting the highest yards per play in the league, including both the highest yards per run and pass, is impressive. It’s also the highest graded Vikings offense in PFF history, dating back to 2006. Most of the credit goes to the high-end talent the Vikings offense has at the skill positions. It’s not out of the question that the Vikings could end the season with the league leader in rushing and receiving yards, in Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson. Coaching also deserves credit. Gary Kubiak has done well calling plays this year, and getting the most from the talent he has on the field. Improvement along the offensive line has also been promising, particularly in recent games, including a tough test against one of the better defensive fronts at Chicago.
Comparing this Vikings offense against others this century, so far this one looks the most efficient, and tops in both running and passing the football. It has a ways to go to best the 2009 Vikings in points scored, but against a few weak defensive units in the coming weeks, it could make up some ground and make a run at it. In the meantime, this year’s unit is poised to compete with both the 2012 rushing records, and the 1998 passing records, at least in terms of yards per play. And it’s also on-track to post the highest yards per play in franchise history.
Is this years Vikings offense, if it maintains it’s current pace the rest of the season, the best this century?
This poll is closed