Other than the Kansas City Chiefs, the madness that was this offseason provided the other 31 teams in the NFL with massive unknowns about what to expect from the now underway 2020 regular season. The notion that any of these teams really know what they have has to be viewed from the continuity within the structure of the organization. While the Vikings have a lot of that, from coach, to GM, to quarterback, there are still 3 things that all Vikings fans and all those surrounding the club should keep their collective eyes on for the duration of the season:
1) Can the Vikings effectively DROP BACK to pass?
I want to clarify here: I’m writing specifically about straight drop-back passes, NOT play-action. This has been an area of struggle for the Vikings, really since the beginning of the Mike Zimmer tenure. It’s also well documented how Kirk Cousins in empty-set shotgun formations does not play nearly as well here, but that’s not the biggest issue here. Rather, it’s the offensive line. Frankly, they haven’t been up to par for perhaps more than a decade now. Their inability to provide the necessary pass-protection has cost the Vikings more times than the organization will ever care to admit. If the team is to take a step forward, it has to start here.
2) Interior defensive-line play
When on defense, this should be the area watched most. Run defense was an area that really hurt this team last season, most notably in the playoffs in San Francisco. Michael Pierce’s decision to opt-out left this team with a number of unproven players that have yet to make a consistent impact in this league. What’s more, opposing coaches have figured out that a Zimmer defense is difficult to beat with ‘finesse-football’ (Saints), but even with a healthy front last season, the regressions from years prior was dramatic. A further drop-off would immediately put playoff hopes in jeopardy. Watching the tape, I easily believe Armon Watts has the most upside of the group for this role against the run, but Ifeadi Odenigbo needs interior-rush snaps on passing downs as well.
I’ve said this on DN many times, and I’ll say it again: ‘Corners under Mike Zimmer constantly struggle to remember to look back for the ball when it’s in the air.’ My biggest hope for any one player on the defense this year, is for Cameron Dantzler to emerge as a top flight NFL cornerback. If this were to come to fruition, it would change the whole defense. We were all witnesses from 2015 to 2017 when Xavier Rhodes owned one side of the field, it makes the rest of the team’s assignments much easier, and truth be told, this kind of defense is designed for it. The addition of defensive assistant Dom Capers could see a cornerback group that snatches a few more interceptions, as he has a history of coaching excellent players at the position (Charles Woodson comes to mind here). Mike Zimmer is supposed to be a cornerback whisperer, however, and it’s time now that to show that he truly is.