We’re halfway through the season.
The Vikings are 4-3-1 and sit in second place in the NFC North.
It’s not a bad place to be, really, but through eight games the team hasn’t lived up to the enormous expectations that were created when Kirk Cousins was acquired this offseason. The upgrade at quarterback was supposed to be the stabilizing force that pushed the team over the top. Instead, the Vikings have been busy working out kinks.
Be that as it may, the head coach expressed optimism in the team despite losing Sunday. Plus, there’s still eight games left to be played. With a Week 10 bye and several injured starters slated to return in the coming weeks, there’s plenty look to forward to. A lot can happen in the season’s second half.
To sum up the season’s first half, let’s take a look at how the players have performed so far. For those of you wanting to know a little more about how the grades are determined, here’s an excerpt from an article of mine that explains the process:
Pro Football Focus (PFF) has been grading NFL players since 2004. The football analytics site evaluates individual performances on a play-by-play basis. On every play of every game, a PFF analyst will grade each player on a scale of -2 to +2 according to what he did on the play.
From the Pro Football Focus website:
The grading method was designed to build a clearer picture of how players performed, rather than simply judging performances based on box-score stats since stats can be misleading.
While most statistical analysis is quantitative in nature, PFF uses qualitative measures and opinion-based grading as the basis of their rankings, so like baseball umpires, their calls could be construed by critics as “biased.” However, the grading process is overseen by at least three individuals per contest, so while the numbers may not always be perfect, the process itself is rather reliable.
What’s also unique about PFF is that season-level grades also account for the duration of good and bad play, resulting in “compounded” grades (both positive and negative) if the player’s performance continues for long periods of time. Basically, the grades factor in “streaky” play. Kinda cool, right?
Eligible position rankings are listed in parentheses.
- Kirk Cousins – 82.8 (#12 QB)
Only two times in the past six years has a Vikings quarterback started the first eight games of the season. The last was Teddy Bridgewater in 2015. Cousins is the latest.
After signing with Minnesota in the offseason, Cousins has made a strong impression. Through eight games he’s thrown for 2,521 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He’s averaging 315 yards per game and has a 102.5 passer rating.
#Vikings QB @KirkCousins8 has been pressured at the second highest rate among active starting starting QBs this season (40.9%). Yet he’s been the second most accurate passer under pressure (78.4%) and leads the #NFL in passing yards under pressure by a distance (952).
— Kevin Ringrose (@PFF_KevinR) October 29, 2018
He has weaknesses, sure, but if he gets things rolling in the second half he could be in for a monster season. If anything, Cousins has provided the Vikings with stability at the quarterback position. That alone makes him a valuable commodity in Minnesota. His reliability and growing familiarity with the offense should pay dividends in the second half of the season.
- Latavius Murray – 73.2 (#16 RB)
- C.J. Ham – 63.1
- Dalvin Cook – 59.6 (#50 RB)
- Roc Thomas – 58.5
- Mike Boone – 51.8
No one could have predicted how unproductive the Vikings rushing attack would be at the midpoint. A year after ranking 7th in the league, the team currently ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing.
Of course, it wasn’t the first half the Vikings expected from Dalvin Cook. He strained his hamstring during the Week 2 overtime tie at Green Bay and has played only once ever since. Cook, who was making his way back from a torn ACL suffered in October of 2017, is expected to return after the bye week.
Latavius Murray has played well in Cook’s absence, even collecting a career-high 155 yards on the ground in Week 6 against Arizona. The last four games he’s rushed for 322 rushing yards (80.5 yards/game) and 4 touchdowns. While the Vikings rushing attack seems to be gaining momentum, getting Cook back would add another dynamic to an offense that’s already ranked No. 9 in the NFL.
It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more of Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, each of whom has shown the ability to make big plays. Perhaps that will change throughout the next eight games.
- Adam Thielen – 91.2 (#1)
- Stefon Diggs – 77.5 (#23)
- Brandon Zylstra – 76.1
- Aldrick Robinson – 70.3
- Laquon Treadwell – 53.1 (#108)
Through the first half of the season… Adam Thielen, of all people, leads the NFL in receiving. He tied an NFL record with eight consecutive games of 100+ yards receiving and has hauled in 74 catches for 925 yards and six touchdowns. He was PFF’s highest-graded wide receiver and was the only Viking to make PFF’s Midseason All-Pro Team.
Adam Thielen has been the best receiver in the NFL through the first eight weeks of the season. pic.twitter.com/T0Zef9YYSo
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 30, 2018
Thielen has played so well that nobody has even talked about Stefon Diggs’ production. His 58 catches (4th in the NFL) with 587 yards (18th) and 4 touchdowns (T-15th) are all second on the team.
The hope was for Laquon Treadwell to have a breakout season — and so far he has. Through eight games he already has career-highs in receptions (25), yards (216) and touchdowns (1). The problem with the 23 year-old is his five dropped passes, which helps explains his low PFF grade.
Like with the team, expectations were high for Treadwell heading into the season. He played extremely well in training camp and developed a rapport with Cousins. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to reach those expectations. He’ll need to either improve down the stretch or make a few big plays in order to keep Brandon Zylstra and TD-machine Aldrick Robinson off his heels.
- David Morgan – 63.0 (#31)
- Kyle Rudolph – 59.8 (#35)
- Tyler Conklin – 52.9
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has quietly had a productive first half of the season. He has 32 catches for 321 yards with 2 touchdowns, putting him on pace for 64 catches, 642 yards and 4 TD’s. Those numbers (aside from the TD’s) would better his stats from last year’s Pro Bowl season.
- Riley Reiff – 69.0 (#29T)
- Tom Compton – 67.8 (#24)
- Brian O’Neill – 62.7 (#50)
- Danny Isidora – 60.3
- Rashod Hill – 58.2 (#59T)
- Mike Remmers – 54.8 (#55G)
- Brett Jones – 53.7 (#29C)
- Pat Elflein – 50.3 (#33C)
The Vikings achilles heel heading into the season has been just that through the team’s first eight games. As you can see by the grades above, the offensive line has struggled. Cousins has constantly been under pressure and the running game, discussed above, hasn’t been reliable.
Even though the Vikings have battled some of the NFL’s better defensive fronts in the first half as well as dealt with injuries to Pat Elflein, Tom Compton and Riley Reiff, it’s clear that this is still an area in need of personnel upgrades. The Vikings need to do more in order to protect their $84 million quarterback.
Rookie tackle Brian O’Neill has been a bright spot for the Vikings offensive line. He’s started the last three games at right tackle with Reiff out due to injury. His grades during those games were 73.0, 60.1 and 48.1. During the same games, Rashod Hill earned the following grades at left tackle; 57.7, 70.4 and 67.1. Danny Isidora, who filled in for Compton last Sunday, earned a decent grade of 63.0.
Getting Reiff back will certainly provide a boost to the group, but there must be a way for the Vikings to get better play from the front five. Let’s hope for Cousins sake they’re is able to turn things around in the second half.
- Linval Joseph – 78.6 (#19 DI)
- Danielle Hunter – 75.1 (#26 ED)
- Sheldon Richardson – 71.8 (#38 DI)
- Tashawn Bower – 67.4
- Stephen Weatherly – 66.9 (#54 ED)
- Everson Griffen – 65.2 (#58 ED)
- Jalyn Holmes – 65.1
- Jaleel Johnson – 58.3
- Tom Johnson – 57.2 (#93 DI)
Arguably the best defensive line in football (aside from maybe the Rams), the Vikings’ front four had a pretty solid first half. Stephen Weatherly did a fine job filling in for Everson Griffen while he was away from the team, Linval Joseph was the usual dominant force when healthy, and Danielle Hunter has shown that he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling.
Hunter’s sack streak of 7 games was ended Sunday, but he still has 8 sacks on the season which is tied for the 2nd in the NFL. He’s in line to have a big second half.
Danielle Hunter is generating pressure at the fastest rate of his career so far in 2018. pic.twitter.com/sPSJ5KaLiV
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 19, 2018
Sheldon Richardson has been a great addition to the defense. His presence is one reason why Hunter has been able to reach the quarterback so often. Richardson may only have one sack but he’s tied with Hunter for most QB hits on the team. It’s just a matter of time before those hits turn into sacks.
This is a unit that’s capable of controlling games when its firing on all cylinders. The scary part for the Vikings’ second-half opponents is that the line can, and should, get better — especially with Griffen back.
- Ben Gedeon – 74.1
- Anthony Barr – 68.1 (#26)
- Kentrell Brothers – 62.5
- Eric Wilson – 61.1
- Eric Kendricks – 53.8 (#61)
The season started off very poorly for Vikings linebackers. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were uncharacteristically bad the first few games. Whether it was the defensive scheme, opposing offenses taking advantage of matchups, lackluster play or a combination of all the above, it was unusual to see the pair struggle.
Despite a recent injury to Barr which forced him to miss last week’s game against the Saints, there’s been noticeable improvement from the group as of late. Barr had his best game of the season in Week 6 before getting injured and Kendricks has been much more consistent over the past three weeks. Eric Wilson, who filled in for Barr on Sunday, earned a 68.4 grade. With Barr slated to return from his hamstring injury as soon as this week, the Vikings hope the development continues into the second half.
- Holton Hill – 70.3
- Trae Waynes – 68.9 (#35)
- Marcus Sherels – 65.6
- Xavier Rhodes – 62.3 (#60)
Mike Hughes (IR) – 60.5 (#65)
- Mackensie Alexander – 58.3 (#85)
There’s not much to like about the PFF grades of the Vikings cornerbacks. The group experienced their fair share of injuries through the first half of the season, with the most substantial being a season-ending ACL injury suffered by rookie Mike Hughes. Despite the injuries and loss of Hughes, the group’s overall performance was disappointing.
Mackensie Alexander is like the Laquon Treadwell of the defense. He’s an early-round draft pick that has the ability and talent to be great, but can he put it all together and consistently play well over a long period of time? The good news is that Alexander has improved as the season has progressed. The bad news is he’s still a little raw and will likely have to learn from his mistakes.
Xavier Rhodes hasn’t seemed like himself this season. His coverage grade is down almost ten points from his career average and he was absolutely torched, like the rest of the defense, during the Vikings loss to the Rams in Los Angeles. He currently has more penalties (4) than pass break-ups (3). Once he returns from an ankle injury expect Rhodes to play better than he did in the first half of the season.
A bright spot from the first half was 26 year-old Trae Waynes who, per usual, excelled in run support and tackling. But he also showed improvement in pass coverage. He had the team’s highest defensive grade in Week 7, mainly due to allowing a 0.0 passer rating in coverage. The 2015 first-round pick could be a player worth watching down the stretch.
Trae Waynes allowed an NFL passer rating of 0.0 on throws into his coverage in Week 7! pic.twitter.com/hDG2bhRrlH
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 23, 2018
One positive to come from the loss of Hughes is the opportunity for rookie cornerback Holton Hill to earn some snaps. He’s handled the situation in stride and as you can see from his PFF grade, he’s played well when given the chance to play. In his first career start last Sunday against Drew Brees, “Hollywood” earned a grade of 82.0. Hill clearly has the ability to be a starter in this league.
- Anthony Harris – 92.4
- Harrison Smith – 74.7 (#20)
- George Iloka – 70.3
- Andrew Sendejo – 69.7 (#39)
- Jayron Kearse – 61.1
Despite the incredible depth, the expectations of the Vikings safeties wasn’t reached in the first half of the season. Harrison Smith was (by far) the highest-ranked safety in the NFL last year. While he made quite a few plays during the first eight games (3 sacks, 3 INT’s, 1 TD), he also had a couple “What the?…” plays — mainly in coverage.
That could change once Andrew Sendejo returns from a groin injury that has kept him out for three straight games. Since Sendejo went out, George Iloka played quite well in his place. The issue is he only played five snaps last game after getting the start. Maybe there’s too many cooks in the kitchen? Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse also played well in the first half, muddying up the roles for all four healthy safeties. Perhaps providing some clarity to the situation would result in better production from the Vikings’ secondary.