Through four games in 2019, the Minnesota Vikings ranked 5thin points allowed. It was a “typical” Mike Zimmer product as the defense was humming.
Through four games in 2020, the Minnesota Vikings rank 26th in points allowed. It’s an atypical Mike Zimmer product as the defense is not humming.
At this point last year, the Vikings were the eighth-best team in points scored, and that has now dipped to 13th in 2020. The takeaway is rather obvious – for now, the 2020 Vikings are not as formidable as the 2019 Vikings. And, that breaking news will not stun anybody.
The regression is attributable to a variety of possible factors. Perhaps Minnesota has been more susceptible to early regular-season woes because of no preseason. The Vikings let several key veteran players walk away on defense. Stefon Diggs, a sure-fire playmaker, was traded to Buffalo, and it took a couple of weeks to realize his replacement, Justin Jefferson, needed involvement in the offense to produce. Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr – two Pro Bowl starting defenders – are beset by injury.
Alternatively, maybe the 2020 Vikings merely are not as good as the 2019 Vikings. It could be that simple. After all, the Vikings, under Zimmer, seem to bounce from damn-good season to mediocre season back to damn-good season. There’s a viable chance that this 2020 rendition is one of those mediocre squads. But there are twelve football games left to determine a verdict.
Now, though, the Pandemic Vikings are an offense-first team. It’s an odd spectacle.
A Mike Tice Feel
When former head coach Mike Tice was entrusted to captain the ship, his defenses ranked as follows in points allowed: 30th (2002), 23rd (2003), 26th (2004), and 19th (2005). So, the Vikings never cracked the top half of the NFL defensively under his leadership. The team was notoriously poor at tackling, and most excitement or prosperity came by the way of a shootout with an opponent.
To a less egregious degree, that’s where the 2020 Vikings stand. The defense played decent last weekend at Houston, which brought the points-allowed ranking “up” to 26th in the business. Justin Jefferson followed up his Week 3 breakout gala with another impactful performance. Dalvin Cook seized the NFL’s rushing crown lead with a dominant showing. Adam Thielenwas reliable, and Kirk Cousins avoided mistakes.
The offense did its part, and the Vikings squeaked out a nerve-wracking victory. That is the way it’s going to be while Zimmer’s defense gains its footing. This particular team does not have Randy Moss, Nate Burleson, Michael Bennett, or any other Loveboat nymphs, but it does have Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Kyle Rudolph, and Alexander Mattison.
Which bunch would you rather have?
Can Kubiak and Zimmer Nurture an Offense-First Team?
What a weird turn of events. A defense-first coach promotes a former quarterback to run the offense while the defense regresses and relies on the offense.
If the 2020 Vikings offense was emulating the 2016 offense (or something of the like), this team would be barreling toward an extremely high draft pick. Led by Sam Bradford and Matt Asiata in the backfield, the 2016 Vikings were a anemic offensive unit that relied on defensive prowess and an enticing turnover differential. If that offense style of offense was present in 2020, these Vikings would be a 4-win team at best.
Instead, Gary Kubiak has handsomely paid playmakers to utilize offensively. For however long is necessary, Minnesota’s offense must score 24 points per game as if they’re an assembly line constructing a little red Corvette. Some games, the defense will be able to frustrate opponents to the tune of less than two dozen points – especially in contests that Harrison Smith avoids ejection.
After the Vikings came up short in Week 3 versus the Tennessee Titans, Mike Zimmer appeared to put the burden of proof on the offense to win the game during his postgame press conference. Those smoke signals indicate fire, and that’s probably why Cousins and friends rose to the occasion in Houston during Week 4.
Defense Must Even the Gap
Let’s be clear: All of this offense-first hubbub is to get the Vikings to a point of coherence or respectability. The aforementioned Mike Tice teams are not ones that inspire jealousy. They were exciting teams that routinely fell short of expectations. Why? Because they didn’t play defense.
Therefore, the Vikings offense leading the charge in the interim is what will save the hopes of the 2020 season. It is emphatically not an archetype for a deep playoff run. Think “stop-gap” more than anything else.
Brick by brick, Zimmer will need to cultivate this defense on the fly. Whether that’s a return to the lineup by Danielle Hunter or just a maturity by the young players, the defense will need to grow up and/or jell fast.
Otherwise, Minnesota will have a vintage Mike Tice season of 9-7 or so.