Minnesota Vikings 2020 Season Preview
Following the first, and experimental, season with Kirk Cousins under the helm of the offense, the Minnesota Vikings had one of their most productive seasons since the days of Brett Favre. Early in the season, however, one could have easily missed it; September brought two humiliating defeats at the hands of their rival, the Packers and Bears. There was scepticism surrounding Cousins’ talent, and even his most reliable receiver, Stefon Diggs, seemed to share the common notion that his quarterback couldn’t deliver. From then on, Cousins took flight, accommodating himself in the heavy play action scheme of OC Kevin Stefanski, winning 8 of his next 10 games, with the two losses being close contested games against the Chiefs and Seahawks.
Despite their injuries and lacklustre performance from the offensive line, the Vikings finished 8th and 16th in points and yards for, ranks they hadn’t reached since the 2009 season. The defense kept its title as one of the most productive in the NFC, allowing the fifth lowest points in the league and ranking fifth in sacks.
In the long lasting saga of playoff games against the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings emerged victorious again, scoring the game sealing touchdown in overtime. Their season met its end at the hands of the ferocious San Francisco 49ers, positioning them in an off season that would witness a change on both sides of the ball.
For the first time in many seasons, the Vikings have placed their faith in the early production of their draft picks, instead of signing big free agent names. With fifteen new players added, the highest tally in this year’s Draft, Minnesota will try to bolster positions that saw a lot of losses in the off season.
Many will cite Stefon Diggs’ departure to Buffalo as the most noteworthy loss, but the real depletion lies in the defensive side of the field. EDGE Everson Griffen, CB Mackenzie Alexander, CB Xavier Rhodes and DL Linval Joseph, veteran and experienced names, have all gone to different teams. All those departures signal that the Vikings have placed their hopes on the young, drafted players, specifically on WR Justin Jefferson and CB Jeff Gladney.
Attention must also be paid to the departure of OC Kevin Stefanski, who went on to coach the Cleveland Browns, even though his replacement is a name that should excite most Vikings fans. Gary Kubiak was an offensive consultant last year who will, as of this season, take control of the offensive side of the ball. Kubiak’s game plan is ideal for Minnesota, as he likes to support the passing game with an equal amount of running plays, but don’t count him out on changing some of his old ways, either; if anything, Kubiak knows best that you’ll have to adapt in order to survive.
One thing that remains a constant in the offense is the prowess of the running back corps. Dalvin Cook is an explosive, dual threat option that can run through defenders and prove lethal with short passes. In the times that he’s not reliable, whether because of drops or his health, the Vikings can turn to Alexander Mattison, who made the most of his rookie year, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. They should prove to be the backbone of Kubiak’s system.
As mentioned before, a lot of excitement surrounds Minnesota’s first pick of the Draft, wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who will play alongside veterans in the names of Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Jefferson has been scouted as a well versed slot receiver, who possesses artful route running skills, and has the potential to become a big threat down the field. He is, in every sense, the man who came to replace Diggs in the offense. If Thielen remains healthy and Rudolph is used more extensively, expect Cousins to have a welcoming plethora of targets to pass at.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Vikings last year lied within their offensive line, especially when it came to protecting Cousins’ passing game against formidable defensive lines. The fact that most of the line will return is both a blessing and a curse, as the interior line consisting of Garrett Bradbury and Pat Elflein failed to show significant improvement last year. The outer line is more promising, as Brian O’Neill and Riley Reiff, both solid blockers, will return to their designated positions. Add in OT Ezra Cleveland, Minnesota’s second pick of the Draft, and the tackle position will be one that won’t bother Cousins throughout the year.
There is no way the absence of Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph won’t be immediately felt within the defensive line, as they were the pillars of a unit that was perennially considered one of the best in the NFL. Danielle Hunter shined brightly in 2019, tallying 14.5 sacks last and 52 tackles last year, but newcomer Michael Pierce’s absence, due to his decision to sit out, is a major loss in an already overhauled unit.
The secondary has even bigger questions to answer, as it lost all of its top cornerbacks in a span of a few months. Similarly with Jefferson in the receiving corps, the Vikings have already applied pressure on the backs of rookie cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler to perform right out of the gate, in order to make up for the departures. Dantzler is definitely a gamble, but Gladney should be ready for any stage; his 232 targeted passes in college surpassed the next highest by far.
Fortuitously, both the safety and linebacking corps will see their best players return. The safety duo of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris was one of the best in the NFL last year, tallying 9 interceptions and covering most of their designated receivers with great success. All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks was a star of his own in last year’s defense, managing to finish in the top 10 in QB pressures, while having excellent run stuffing abilities as well. Add in Anthony Barr, the ferocious veteran, and you have a duo that should ease the pain of its struggling defensive line.
Minnesota placed its hopes on experienced free agents over the last decade, but has failed to progress past the conference round into the Super Bowl. They have elected to take their chances with new, young playmakers as well as new coordinators, who will perhaps bring a fresh air into a team that has been just good enough to enter the playoffs.
One thing that is proven is that the Vikings can’t hope for Cousins to take a struggling offense by the hand and guide it, alone, to victory. As such, the offensive line’s woes must be addressed and fixed, if Minnesota hopes to get the best out of their experienced playmakers.
With such a massive exodus of star players in the off season, especially on defense, the entire season of Minnesota, and its success thereof, will lie solely on how well they have met their needs through their drafted players; and how quickly they can measure up to the expectations. Given that in the first six weeks, the Vikings will face four of last year’s 12 playoff teams, they can only hope the stars align sooner rather than later.
Minnesota Vikings 2020 Season Prediction
9-7 (2nd in the NFC North)
A LEAD WRITER AT NFL GREECE, STEPHANIE IS A LOVER OF BOTH THE NFL AND GLOBAL FOOTBALL. A FAN OF BOTH UNDERDOGS AND CLOSELY CONTESTED GAMES, SHE FOUND HAVEN IN BALTIMORE AND IT’S RAVENS.