On The Other Hand...

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Like all of you, I have found watching the Vikings the past two seasons to be incredibly frustrating and sad. In 2020 the team was just downright not competitive and were all but out of the playoff chase by Week 15 before finishing 7-9 and in 3rd place in the NFC North. The Vikings were in the playoff mix a little longer this season, but they are looking at a similar finish once again at 7-10 or 8-9, depending on how things go Sunday against Chicago. But regardless, they will finish with a 2nd losing season in a row and miss the playoffs once again. Where does the blame belong? What exactly is the problem with the Vikings these past few seasons? I've been vocal on social media about my desire to "blow it all up", but I'll also admit that the answer isn't cut and dry. For every criticism we can level against Spielman, Zimmer, or Cousins, there are always excuses and other points of view to explain those criticisms away. That is what makes any potential decision to fire the current brain-trust so difficult.

Rick Spielman -€” NFL Draft Guru or General Manager with Major Blindspots?

Rick Spielman has an impressive resume as an NFL personnel executive. He's been with the team heading up personnel department since 2006 and he and his staff has had a direct hand in drafting the following elite players: Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Everson Griffen, Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Brian O'Neil, and Justin Jefferson. He's acquired some high profile players via free agency or via trades like: Jared Allen, Brett Favre, Linval Joseph, and Kirk Cousins. So, he clearly has an ability to identify talented players and acquire them in a multitude of ways. He's had the opportunity to hire one head coach: Mike Zimmer, but rightly pulled the plug on the Leslie Frazier experiment.

On the other hand...

He's also had some pretty major whiffs in the 1st round of the draft like: Christian Ponder, Matt Kalil, Sharrif Floyd, Laquon Treadwell, and Jeff Gladney. And some abject failures in multiple complete drafts like 2008 where he only drafted 5 players and of those, only 6th rounder John Sullivan went on to have a notable career in the NFL (the other players that year were: Tyrell Johnson, John David Booty, Letroy Guion and Jaymar Johnson). His worst draft is debatable, but 2010 might be it as it netted basically only Everson Griffen in the 4th round and despite trading out of the 1st to acquire more picks, he missed on Chris Cook, Toby Gerhardt, Chris DeGeare, Nate Triplett, Joe Webb, Mickey Shuler, and Ryan D'Imperio. Spielman has been able to find a starter or two out of almost every draft, but there have been a lot of misses. Additionally, he acquired many high-profile players through free agency and through trades that have simply not panned out: Randy Moss, Donovan McNabb, John Carlson, Josh Freeman, Alex Boone, and Sam Bradford to highlight a few.

Any final assessment on Spielman has to be mixed over his 15-year career with the Vikings after reviewing his entire body of work both as Director of Player Personnel and as General Manager. Since 2006, the Vikings have a regular season record of 131-123-2 or a 52% winning percentage with only 7 out of 15 winning seasons. They have won the division only 4 times in 15 seasons and made the playoffs only 6 times in 15 seasons. Those 6 playoff appearances have resulted in a 3-6 record with no appearances in the Super Bowl. In my opinion he's been a good, not great NFL executive that has fielded a mostly competitive team, but has had more losing teams than winning teams. The Vikings could do a lot worse than Spielman, but is it possible they could find someone better?

Mike Zimmer -€” NFL Defensive Guru or An Incomplete Head Coach?

When Mike Zimmer was hired in 2014 the Vikings had a lot of problems. While the team had made the playoffs as a wildcard team two years prior in 2012, 3 of the previous 4 seasons were not only losing seasons, but terrible 3-6 win seasons under mostly Leslie Frazier. The defense in particular was a dumpster fire and the team needed a culture change. Zimmer delivered as he turned around the defense into the NFL's best by 2017. He's taken the team to the playoffs 3 times in his 8 seasons with a 2-3 record. In terms of regular season winning percentage, he's the 3rd winningest head coach in Vikings history behind Bud Grant and Denny Green. He's a well-respected coach in the NFL with players regularly talking about how much they love playing for him and how much they hate playing against him. He has dealt with an unusual amount of adversity as a head coach from Adrian Peterson's suspension in 2014, to losing Teddy Bridgewater weeks before the season opener in 2016, to Norv Turner resigning mid-season, and almost losing his eye to a torn retina also in 2016, to the death of his good friend and offensive line coach Tony Sparano during training camp in 2018, to Everson Griffen's multiple mental health episodes in 2018 and 2021, and to multiple seasons in the COVID era, just to name a few.

In addition, the past couple of seasons he's dealt with a lot of injuries to star players on his defense. While the Vikings defense has finished near the bottom of the league in most major defensive statistical categories the past two seasons, Zimmer is probably not entirely to blame. One might argue that this is largely due to injuries to key players like Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, and Anthony Barr who have collectively played in only 27 out of a possible 96 games between the three of them the past two seasons. There has also been a lot of instability at the cornerback position as Zimmer lost all three of his starting cornerbacks following the 2019 season, and then lost presumed starter Holton Hill in 2020 after Week 4 to injury. The Vikings were forced to roll with inexperienced players Dantzler, Gladney and Boyd in 2020, and the results were as expected. They brought in Peterson, Breeland, and Alexander in free agency to bolster the cornerback roster in 2021, but Gladney was cut during training camp, and Breeland was terrible and cut mid-season. Still, it just points to a lot of inconsistency in personnel in the secondary in addition to the aforementioned injuries. During the 2021 season 5 defensive starters all missed at least one game at various points on the COVID list, and in Week 12 against the 49ers literally all four defensive line starters were out during the same game for various reasons, and the team had to field entirely backups on the D-line. Amazingly, the Vikings were competitive in nearly every game this season and were a handful of end-of-game plays away from finishing with at least 10-11 wins, but due to dumb luck (a fumble here, a missed field goal there, a bad call from the refs there) they finished with a losing season which isn't entirely on Mike Zimmer.

His tenure as head coach has been anything but smooth, and yet in 8 seasons he's still delivered a top defense, an overall winning team, and multiple playoff appearances. We shouldn't forget that fans were mostly excited about his hiring back in 2014 for a reason.

On The Other Hand...

There have been some pretty questionable coaching decisions in games that have led to consistently poor clock management, especially at the end of halves. He has a propensity for wanting to play "old school" football where you run the ball a lot to run the clock down, keep the opposing offense off the field, and play solid defense, which doesn't necessarily fit in today's NFL with rules favoring the passing game. He's also had difficulty getting on the same page with his offensive coordinators and since Norv Turner quit mid-season in his third year with the team in 2016 due to a "difference of philosophy", Zimmer has not been able to keep an offensive coordinator for more than one season at a time. After Norv, the Vikings have had the following offensive coordinators: Pat Shurmur, John DeFilippo, Gary Kubiak, Kevin Stefanski, and Clint Kubiak. Granted, Shurmur and Stefanski left those positions to pursue head coaching vacancies, but the fact still remains, Zimmer has literally had 6 different offensive coordinators in the past 6 seasons. He's also constantly making headlines year after year calling out his offensive coordinators to "run the ball more."

Any final assessment of Mike Zimmer has to be a mixed bag. At the end of the day, he has made plenty of mistakes as a head coach, but he is still the 3rd most winningest coach in Vikings history and has previously led the #1 defense in the NFL and that should count for something. He ends up with a similar evaluation as Rick Spielman in that the Vikings could do a lot worse than Mike Zimmer as a head coach (and have with the likes of Mike Tice, Brad Childress, and Leslie Frazier to name some recent head coaches), but is it possible they could find someone better?

Kirk Cousins -€” Efficient Precision Passer or Paper Tiger?

Kirk Cousins has an impressive stat sheet, especially the past two seasons. In 2020, his QB Rating was 8th best, his Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt ranked 10th best, he threw for the 8th most yards, 6th most TDs, and had the 9th best completion percentage. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 9th best quarterback and taking all of that together suggests he performed as a Top 10 quarterback in 2020. So far in 2021, he's performing a little better with the 5th highest QB rating and 6th highest ANY/A. Despite missing last week's game he has the 10th most passing yards and 9th most passing TDs, although his completion percentage has dropped a bit down to only 18th best. The Vikings offense in the four seasons under Cousins has ranked between 8th and 19th in Points and between 4th and 20th in yards, while averaging 13th best in both categories over 4 seasons. The Vikings best offensive season under Cousins was in 2020 when the offense ranked 11th in points and 4th in yards. From a pure statistical perspective Kirk Cousins has shown himself to be an efficient quarterback who can generate yards and points and has been leading a top half of the league offense on average over the past 4 seasons. Most fans would agree that Cousins has done all of that with a less than stellar offensive line that has ranked in the bottom half of the league in pass blocking efficiency in each of his four seasons. And he's also done it during the past two seasons with a defense that has been near the bottom in points and yards allowed that put the team in the hole more often than not.

On The Other Hand...

While Cousins has generated some impressive overall season statistics, that has not translated to team wins. The Vikings record with Cousins at QB is 22-21-1 so far and he has led the team to a single wildcard appearance in the playoffs over 4 years (where they went 1-1). And there are some more specific statistics and game situations where he has not been particularly good. As a Viking, Cousins has never ranked higher than 13th in ESPN's QBR rating, which factors in rushing statistics and "clutch rating," and has ranked either 15th or 18th his other seasons. Cousins had a great 4th quarter passer rating that improved in each his first three seasons as a Viking rated at 100.4, 107.1, and 117.3, but it dropped significantly in 2021 down to 98.1. Similarly, his overall 2nd half QB rating dropped significantly in 2021 down to 92.1 from 97.4, 107.6, and 114.1 respectively. His QB rating in the last 2 minutes of a half has been abysmal the past three years clocking in at 76.5, 63.7, and 73.7. He has always been somewhat average when it comes to 3rd downs, with a QB rating of 92.6, 108, 99.1, and 97.8 in each of his four seasons with the Vikings. So, when we look at some of the more important situational statistics like 3rd downs, 4th quarter, final 2 minutes of the half and so forth, his stats don't look nearly as good as his overall season stats. And one could make the argument that those kinds of high-pressure situations are what separate out good quarterbacks from the great ones, and that also lead NFL teams to more wins. When you also consider that Cousins had the 2nd highest cap hit among QBs in 2021 and will have the 3rd highest cap hit among QBs in 2022, the Vikings really need him to perform like a Top 5 QB, since that is what they are paying for. Despite performing well, he has fallen short of that mark for sure. The team could restructure the last year of his deal to reduce his cap hit or extend him to spread out the cap hit into future years going forward, but part of the problem with paying top dollar for a quarterback is that it leaves less resources for other positions on the team. One stat that I'll always remember is that Tom Brady never won a Super Bowl when his cap hit was in the top 10.

Any final assessment of Kirk Cousins so far with the Vikings is also somewhat mixed. He's shown the ability and talent to put up some impressive overall statistics and lead a top half of the NFL offense, but for some reason it hasn't been translating to wins for the Vikings. And when you dial down a little bit more specifically to situational things, his performance doesn't look nearly as good. One might say that Cousins "doesn't pass the eye test", which is to say that we remember those missed throws and interceptions at the crucial moments in games (3rd downs, 4th quarters, 2-minute drills, etc) more than we remember the less consequential positive stats. It's fair to wonder if all of that is Kirk Cousins fault as there has been some questionable coaching during 2-minute drills, and play-calling recently, and he has never had a particularly strong offensive line to work behind. But overall, his performance and results have been mixed in a Vikings uniform.

Who Is To Blame?

This is the problem with trying to assess Spielman, Zimmer, and Cousins collectively. All three have shown great things at times, and awful things at times. They have had some success and also made some mistakes and have ultimately failed to get the Vikings far into the playoffs. Is it time to blow it all up and start over, or are they just a few missing pieces away from greatness? As a die-hard fan I don't have all the answers, but I keep falling back to the old idiom, "Good is the enemy of great." The Vikings have been a pretty good team under Spielman, then Zimmer, then Cousins. But they haven't been a consistently great team in a long time. Whose fault is that? If you had to fire somebody, who would it be? It's a tough call, and an argument could be made that the Vikings really shouldn't fire anybody. They got hit with the injury bug pretty hard on defense the past two years, and some of their free agent reinforcements didn't pan out either. Perhaps with another good draft, getting key players on defense back healthy, and hitting gold in free agency that would be enough to get them over the top. Or maybe they're destined for mediocrity, and they would be better off blowing it all up and starting over. It's easy for fans to sit back and scream in frustration "Blow it all up!" I've certainly done that myself. But when you take a step back and think about it, maybe our blame and frustrations are misplaced. Ultimately it will be up to the team owner Wilfs to decide their fates, and I'll be curious to see what direction they choose.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.