Analysis

One Thing is Holding Back the 6-2 Vikings

Over the past four weeks, one could argue that the Minnesota Vikings have been the hottest team in pro football. Kirk Cousins and the offense has been having a heck of a year, while the Vikings defense has had plenty of highs. The turnaround has been great, but there is one thing holding back both units.

Right now, the Minnesota Vikings are the most penalized team in football, as they’ve given up 604 yards to the yellow flag. Considering Mike Zimmer’s usual attention to detail, it is quite surprising that the issue has yet to be resolved in 2019. What’s even more surprising is how far the pendulum has swung from last year. In 2018, the Vikings were the third-least penalized team in the NFL.

The sheer volume of penalties being called across the league, however, is no surprise and continues to rise. Penalties have probably been the biggest knock on the NFL over the past decade, as they delay the game and are often controversial. Barring a few rare instances (i.e. Saints no-call in the 2018 playoffs), fans would prefer referees to hold their flags and let the players play. That said, there’s no reason to believe we’ll see a decline in penalties, and the only thing Zim can control is his own team.

To this point, the Vikings have gotten away with some errors against less successful teams like the Redskins. In that game, they were penalized seven times but still managed to win. Giving up so many yards isn’t going to fly against teams like the Cowboys and Chiefs. It hasn’t been talked about much, but it is absolutely critical that the Vikings break this bad habit as they fight to make the playoffs. 

So, where are these penalties coming from? Is it one player, one unit on the team, or maybe just bad reffing? Well, talking about that last one is a moot point. Whether or not refs favor NFL stars like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady will always be debated, and I’d like to avoid that mess. Let’s stay focused and take a look at Minnesota’s infractions:

Lead Vikings Penalty Categories – 2019

Offensive Holding – 15

Defensive Holding – 7

Defensive Pass Interference – 6

False Starts – 6

Generally, you can put these penalties into two categories – offensive line, and defensive backs. In my opinion, the sheer volume of Vikings penalties is surprising, but their causes are not. 

Minnesota has been aggressive in running the ball this year behind a zone-blocking scheme, and when they opt to pass, the line is aggressive in trying to protect Kirk Cousins. With these two goals, the front five are susceptible to getting flagged more often while they improve their technique. They’ve come a long way since last season, but clearly there’s a lot that has to be cleaned up. 

As for the pass interference and defensive holding penalties, most of them fall on the defensive backs. Corner Xavier Rhodes leads the league in penalties by a DB, as he’s been flagged seven times in 2019. He has definitely struggled this year, and it’s hard to say whether that’s due to his age or the scheme Zimmer is attempting to put him in. I have always loved watching Rhodes and the rest of the secondary succeed, but I hope Zimmer has a plan for cutting back on penalties.

No one likes seeing the Vikings penalized, especially with how great they’ve played as of late. With an experienced coaching staff and extremely talented players, I’m confident the team can clean things up on both sides of the ball.

Follow Reid Johnson on Twitter, Instagram, or subscribe for free to his Vikings blog, Purple Reign News for more of his Minnesota Vikings content.

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