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State of the Vikings: Offensive Position Grades

By: Tanishka Mhaskar

The Minnesota Vikings (8-3) sit in a prime playoff position into their bye week. After three straight spine tingling games, the Vikings (and the fans) look to get a breather this weekend with stress free football. 

After starting the season 2-2 with two abysmal losses in Green Bay and Chicago, Vikings HC Mike Zimmer said, “this team will not be judged in September. In the NFC the leading team has three wins, so we’ll just keep fighting and keep going.”

Fight they did. The Vikings proceeded to win six of their next seven and now control their own destiny the rest of the season as the six seed in the NFC and one game and a half behind Green Bay for the division title and a likely first round bye. 

I’ll be breaking down a progress report for the team to evaluate where things currently stand.

Quarterback: A-

After a rough start to the season, Kirk Cousins apologized to Adam Thielen on his podcast and has turned things around in a brilliant way. Since the disaster in Chicago, Cousins has thrown for the most yards, the most touchdowns and is first in quarterback rating. In addition, he has quickly shot down every narrative about him, leaving the haters with laryngitis.

“Cousins can’t win in primetime.”
2-0 in primetime this year.

“Cousins can’t beat teams over .500.”
He’s beat three teams over .500 in a fashionable way.

“Cousins can’t stage a comeback against a good defense.”
The Vikings QB led his team back from a shocking 20-0 deficit to the fourth best defense in the NFL in the Denver Broncos. This was all him as the dominant run game had a meager 37 yards and the offensive line gave up five sacks.

Where do we go from here? Cousins still has a lot more to prove, including in three more primetime games in the remaining five games, however, things look to be on the right track. 

Running Backs: A

When Dalvin Cook was drafted to replace Adrian Peterson, the Vikings hadn’t anticipated two straight injury plagued seasons before they would get to see their young rusher blossom into one of the best in the business. 

The wait has been worthwhile. He has tallied over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns on the year. 

Dalvin Cook and the revamped Vikings run game has been just about unstoppable. From the 30th ranked rushing attack to the 4th best, the Vikings have transformed themselves offensively in one year.

After hiring offensive genius Gary Kubiak to be offensive advisor prior to the 2019 season, Minnesota drafted Alexander Mattison in the third round in order to have a solid backup to Dalvin Cook and fit the new outside zone scheme employed by the team.

According to Next Gen Stats, The Vikings use multiple backs in 35.7% of their offensive plays, the most in the NFL by far. Out of the eight teams that use 2+ backs a minimum of 20.0%, only the Vikings have a 1,000 yard rusher.

Enter C.J. Ham. 

Minnesota’s fullback, nicknamed “the Hammer,” has played a key role in paving paths for Cook and Mattison this entire season as well as making the most of every opportunity he has had, like scoring his first touchdown this season. 

Ham does the dirty work and he does it well. 

The RB room in Minnesota might be the best in a long time and it provides Cousins with the most support he has had in his career.

Wide Receivers: A
Remember when Adam Thielen voiced his frustrations and Stefon Diggs skipped practice, making everyone say he wanted a trade? Remember when the Vikings fined Diggs $200,000 for  missing practice? 

I think it’s safe to assume that Stefon Diggs’ statement (and $200,000) are the reason the Vikings are 8-3 right now. Last year, especially toward the end of the season, Thielen and Diggs voiced their frustrations on the lack of offensive production but nothing really happened.

This time around, I don’t think the star studded WR duo wanted to wait so long that the season was lost. Whether it was the coaching or the quarterback play or both,  necessary changes were made.  

After Thielen got injured in Detroit on his crazy 25 yard touchdown grab, Diggs has had to shoulder the load. This season, Stefon Diggs has caught 46 passes for 880 yards with an impressive 19.3 YPR, which is third best in the NFL. 

Depth behind Diggs has been shallow in the past, however, the Vikings got a nice surprise from 7th round rookie WR Olabisi Johnson who has done a nice job filling in for Thielen. Bisi has two touchdowns on the season. He has shown nice development in crisp route running and looks to be the surefire WR3 for years to come.

Interestingly, The Vikings activated Josh Doctson from IR last week, but he was limited to minimal snaps vs Denver. Doctson played almost his entire career with Kirk Cousins, so hopefully we see more out of him going forward.

The Vikings WR group certainly has more depth behind Thielen and Diggs than it has in years past, all thanks to a great draft and a nice FA pickup.

Tight Ends: B+

When Adam Thielen got injured, Kirk Cousins said that the Vikings had to”reinvent themselves.” For offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski this meant utilizing TEs more in the passing game. 

Minnesota has one of the deepest TE rooms in the league after they drafted Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. in the second round last spring and extended old-reliable Kyle Rudolph. 

Throughout the first half of the season, tight end production was low because of the run focused offense with focus on the outside with Diggs and Thielen. In the last six weeks, however, Smith and Rudolph have combined for six touchdowns and 347 yards. 

Rudolph the red zone reindeer has been the much needed red zone target and Smith just creates mismatches across the field. 

Lots were confused when the Vikings drafted Smith and then proceeded to extended Rudolph, but the reason is clear: they are complementary tight ends. Having them both on the field at the same time, in addition with the rest of the star power on this offense can put defenses into some dilemma. 

Offensive Line: B

The story surrounding the Minnesota Vikings all offseason was in regards to the offensive line. This was the most clear downfall of the team last season and all eyes were on the front office to right their wrongs.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman did a fantastic job trying to improve the starting five. He went out and drafted Garrett Bradbury with the 18th overall pick in the draft. Bradbury was said to be the best center coming out since Alex Mack and Jason Kelce. 

After a rough start and a “welcome to the NFL” moment, the rookie has started to settle in and play like the center the Vikings drafted him to be.

With the choice of Bradbury, Pat Elflein was slated to be the LG, the position he played in college and he’s been the weakest link the OL and possibly the entire offense. Elflein himself has already allowed five sacks and six penalties that have killed drives.

When Rick Spielman used the minimal cap space Minnesota had to sign Josh Kline to a deal, most people laughed off the signing thinking of the 2018 Kline who played for the Tennessee Titans and was an absolute disaster. However, the Vikings seem to have gotten the 2015 version of Josh Kline who was with the New England Patriots when they won the Super Bowl.

Kline has been a massive upgrade over Mike Remmers and his presence has paid dividends to this team. The only issue is that Kline has missed time this season due to two concussions. In his absence, Dakota Dozier has been serviceable.

The strength of this offensive line comes in the tackles. Riley Reiff had a down year last year but has bounced back and done a nice job protecting Cousins’ blind side.

Brian O’Neill, the second round pick in 2018 out of Pittsburgh has been nothing short of awesome. The young tackle, predicted to be a project, has turned some heads as he still has yet to give up a sack his entire career. 

The mobility of this OL helps the Vikings establish their zone scheme and move players to get to the second level with ease. A lot of the RB success can be attributed to this. All in all, the offensive line has been a big plus from last year. Spielman quietly made big changes without signing big names to big contracts.

Coaching: A-

When the Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak, people worried there might be a power struggle between Kubiak, Stefanski and Zimmer if things went haywire, however, it has been the complete opposite. 

After the team stated 2-2, there has been nothing but unity between the coaches. Kubiak’s outside zone scheme has helped this team revamp its run game and provide support that Kirk Cousins has never had in his career.

Somehow, the Vikings offense has molded into the strength of this team, especially with the defense playing some of its worst football under Mike Zimmer. As long as the Vikings are winning games, however, there's no problem with the new identity of your favorite team. We just keep watching.