2019: The Best Shot the Vikings have had in my Time [Part 2]
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the purpleTERRITORY Media Network, my name is Joe Johnson and I’m the owner of said network. I turned 35 last month but and officially became a REAL Vikings fan in 1998. That was, without any coincidence, the rookie year of Randy Moss and the first major heartbreak the Vikings had in my 13/14 years on earth. It was that hope and subsequent heartbreak that turned me from a casual fan to what I’ve described as a real Vikings fan. Before then I didn’t completely understand how the Vikings had such an emotional hold over my otherwise stoic and /robotic father, but when Gary Anderson’s 39-yard field goal sailed left, I got it. While many we all look back at that season as the best chance the this Vikings team have had since the early-to-mid 1980’s to win a Super Bowl (2009 notwithstanding), I strongly believe that the current iteration of the Vikings are actually the best shot the Vikings have, on paper, to finally bring a championship to Minnesota. I know. Let me explain why.
While it’s a bit early for oddsmakers to put out their first over/under for the 2019/2020 season and most pre-season odds aren’t available yet (once they are, though, you can use this TVG Promo Code for all your sports betting needs), I get the feeling that not many outside of Minnesota are giving the Vikings a shot to win it all this season. So, even though the pre-season odds aren’t available yet, I have a feeling that the Vikings are being wholly underrated both nationally and by many local naysayers. I understand that and where it comes from. But if you take a step back and let the bad taste that 2018 left in your mouth dissipate, you’ll see that this Vikings roster is perhaps the best top-to-bottom roster we’ve had in this state since the Purple People Eater days.
Part One is available on our sister-site, purplePTSD.com and focuses on the defense. You can read that part first, then check out the second part below, the offense!
Part II: The Offense
Offensively, the season will come down to if/when the offensive line gels. The good news is that neither Tom Compton nor Mike Remmers is on the roster this season. They’ve been replaced with Pat Elflein on the left side and either Josh Kline or Dru Samia on the right side. That means the line will essentially be Riley Reiff at left tackle, a name that doesn’t elicit a ton of excitement (or non-hate) from Vikings fans but considering he was battling injuries, namely Tom Compton-itis on his right side, we should give him the benefit of the doubt until we see how he performs with Elflein next to him. While that may sound like a cop-out, it’s not hard to see how playing next to a black hole on one’s right side would complicate things tremendously, and if you add in injuries, you get 2018.
While Pat Elflein has yet to play guard at the pro level he has said that he feels more comfortable at the position and that should excite Vikings fans. While 2018 was a down year for the then-sophomore center, he was also dealing with injuries and getting back into game shape as well as his own case of Tom Compton-itis to his left as well as an acute case of Mike Remmers-disease on his right. It’d be next to impossible for any center to look good when he’s surrounded by the worst guards in the NFL, so it’s sort of hard to determine just how “bad” Elflein was last season. His rookie year is a much better indicator of what a healthy Elflein can do, and if you take that play and add “comfort” and less pressure, it’s pretty exciting to think about what Elflein can do at a position that has been looking for elite play since Steve Hutchinson left.
The right guard position is the most intriguing and up in the air spot on the line this year as the team named first-round pick Garrett Bradbury the starting center weeks ago. The Vikes brought in veteran right guard Josh Kline this off-season and then drafted Oklahoma standout Dru Samia in the fourth round of the draft at the end of April.
Suddenly the Vikings had both options and depth on the line, something they clearly had none of in recent years as they had to move Mike Remmers from right tackle to right guard after Joe Berger retired, which was odd considering that Remmers had little-to-no experience playing right guard in the NFL. It was that move that showed just how F’d the Vikings were at the line and really how much hubris they’d exuded after drafting a right tackle in the second round, following the pick of yet another corner in the first round as opposed to taking one of the good interior lineman that were available at the end of the first round (that ended up being taken before the Vikings picked again in the second).
Considering the Vikings had just given the largest contract in league history to a quarterback who was known to struggle when pressured, it was as infuriating as it was confusing (like going to see a Tyler Perry movie (“Why am I here?”, “Is this supposed to be funny?”, “What’s “Hallerween?”)). Those issues, at least on paper, appear to be rectified for the upcoming season and it sounds like from what Joe Oberle tells me, things are on a so far so good trajectory in terms of the line gelling. While it’s hard to determine how well the line is doing during OTA’s/Minicamp, there were at least no false starts or glaring snafu’s during that time (when the officiating is next to non-existent), which seems like straw grabbing but at the same time these are the Vikings and so it wouldn’t be surprising if Bradbury spontaneously combusted during rookie camp.
So while it’s still early, I can say with confidence that there’s little chance that the interior roster of Elflein-Bradbury-Kline/Samia will be anywhere near as bad as the Compton-Elflein-Remmers, as it just can’t (both logically and emotionally). Kline is a proven commodity and while mediocre at best, has a decent track record of staying healthy (which might not be a positive as Samia has a much higher ceiling while Kline has the higher floor) while as we know, Elflein can perform at the pro level and if what he’s said is true about his comfort level, he could develop into one of the better guards in the league.
Both Elflein and Bradbury are Rimington Award winners (meaning that they were both the best centers in the NCAA), and while I’ve spent no time looking up how many of those have become busts in the NFL, Bradbury especially seems to have All-Pro written all over him. So while it may take some time for the line to gel, the team should be in much better shape this season.
Speaking of gelling, though, the Vikings will also have some fresh faces on the offense in their RB2 Alexander Mattison taking over for the turncoat that is Latavius Murray (who claimed to want a starting role then left to play second fiddle to Alvin Kamara in New Orleans) and their TE2 in Irv Smith Jr. Both Irv Smith Jr. and Mattison should be heavily utilized and loved by Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, who love two tight end sets and the run game, especially when it comes to depth at those positions.
I couldn’t be any more excited than I am right now about the addition of Kubiak, especially, as he’s shown a King Midas-esque ability to turn mediocre-to-bad offenses into top ten units/pure, pure gold. The 2015 Ravens had essentially the same personnel as the 2014 team but jumped from a bottom three offense to the 12th best unit and a running game that was in the 30’s to one that was EIGHTH in the league.
While the fresh blood added this off-season should elevate the entire offense/team, it’s the Kubiak/Dennison combo that could potentially be what we look back at when the Vikings are polishing their Super Bowl trophy as the key component that got the team over that hump. The fact that they were available in the first place is pretty amazing (as Kubiak had retired to focus on his “health”) and the fact that Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was ego-less enough to suggest that the team add Kubiak was also amazing especially in this day and age of social media and self-interest.
Cousins should benefit more than anyone from those changes as he’ll have much more time to get rid of the ball, and also actually have a run game, which will take the pressure off of his shoulders (at least solely). He came into a rough spot, as anything short of winning a championship the Super Bowl was going to be deemed a failure by the fans and most writers in the community a year after the Vikings were a game from the Super Bowl with fan/writer favorite Case Keenum at the helm. I still hear a lot of people talking about Keenum and the “mistake” that was Cousins, despite the fact that Keenum is already on his second team in as many years and was basically a disaster in Denver and had a much better offensive line in 2017 than Cousins had in 2018 (and let’s face it, got pretty lucky from time to time and luck isn’t really synonymous with the Vikings, at least two seasons in a row).
The fact is that Cousins can be an elite system quarterback and showed his promise during the first half of the 2018 season (as he and Adam Thielen broke team records together). However, he’s not very mobile and as the most pressured quarterback in the NFL last season was basically put into an impossible situation (for most if not all quarterbacks) and was blamed for the lack of protection by the percentage of fans who never wanted him here in the first place. That blame leaked over to more moderate fans and because of how the season ended most people forgot how great Cousins looked to start the season (while the defense struggled to get back to form).
That having been said, Cousin won’t have the same issues this season (assuming the line steps up) and thus will have nowhere to hide should he not come through. Granted, the improvements to the line are assumed or presumed at this point, but it’ll be hard to say that things will be better in 2020-21 than 2019-20 considering that it’ll be very hard for the Vikings brass to maintain this roster beyond this season, financially (especially on defense).
Give Cousins some time and the ability to run convincing play-action plays and the sky very well could be the limit for this Vikings squad. With Diggs and Thielen both being in their prime and Kubiak calling plays that include Kyle Rudolph (who caught nearly 80% of the balls thrown his way last year) and Irv Smith Jr. as the de facto third receiver, as well as some actual options at the third receiver spot including Jordan Taylor who is near 6’6″ and has the body control and ups of Randy Moss, and it’s hard not to get excited about this Vikings team on the offensive side of the ball. Throw in a healthy Dalvin Cook and a young, tough RB2 in Mattison, with Dennison proving that he’s been able to get a lot more from a lot less talent, and the sky doesn’t even seem high enough to explain the limit for this team. This team is stacked basically everywhere.
It’s because of that that this season feels like both the best chance the Vikings will have to win the Super Bowl in the near future as well as the best chance they’ve had in my lifetime. From the coaches down to the players, from ownership to management, this is the best run, best housed, best roster and best coached Vikings team at its peak. Sure, they could be better next season but with some of the decisions coming at the cornerback and safety spots, it’s hard to imagine them being as stacked after this year.
A lot of the core players are also going to be on the wrong side of 30 soon, and so while many of them are signed through 2023, they’re in their prime now as well so soon they’ll start aging out of that window. So it’s hard to not feel like this season is piss or get off the pot time and while that fills me with a tremendous amount of anxiety it also fills me with something even worse. Optimism.
Considering anytime I’ve been this optimistic I’ve ended up throwing my “Miracles Can Happen” rock through a plate glass window it’s hard for me not to intertwine hope with heartbreak and rage. Those times were in 1998, 2001, 2009, and 2017, uncoincidentally, and it’s really starting to feel that way as well in 2019. The difference this year is that the team is complete in every sense of the word and while it may be a tad bit early to say that the on-the-field product is as good as some of the teams from those years, it’s safe to say that on paper this is the most complete Vikings team/organization in my life and considering how well Kubiak has done at improving the offenses he’s been hired to improve and how much the Vikings defense is committed to Zimmer’s way (per Barr’s spurning of the Jets, etc.), it feels like we’re very close to doing something that many (myself included) felt was impossible (just ask my therapists(s)).
So, I guess we’ll soon see how misguided my optimism is. So stay tuned to the purpleTERRITORY Media Network for all Vikings news!