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With Stefanski off to Cleveland, the Answer at the Offensive Coordinator Position should be Obvious

After Crushing Loss to the Niners, Where do the Vikings go from Here? Part II

Read Part I of this Article on our sister-site, purplePTSD.com by clicking HERE.

The first part of this article was written before the news that Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski had landed the head coaching gig in Cleveland (or that George Edwards was let go). The second part of this article, also written before then, was meant to advocate for just that level of change (albeit very specific change, as you’ll find out), as it was clear that head coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t going anywhere.

That means the new question becomes, what should they do now?

This article was meant to advocate for a new set of eyes on the offense, or rather, a different set of eyes. It’s my feeling that now that the Vikings are looking for just that, the answer as to who that person/persons should be is evident, even if head coach Mike Zimmer is reportedly taking his time to name a successor.

Now, as you’re probably aware if you have a functioning hippocampus… This Vikings team during the Zimmer era has had a revolving door at the offensive coordinator position, and while I’ve said that change was needed, bringing in someone new with an entirely new offense isn’t that answer. If the window of opportunity for this Vikings team is still open (a valid question), the time needed to install an entirely new offense is a bridge too far.

Instead, what this Vikings team needs is someone who knows the team already and knows what worked and what didn’t in 2019. They need a person who, arguably, was behind the success this team did have in the run game, ie the person(s) behind the zone blocking/run scheme the Vikings implementing last off-season. The person behind heavy personnel packages, play action, and the like. It’s not as if the Vikings offense in 2019 wasn’t among the best in the NFL. It’s just that it was run by someone who clearly didn’t understand the how and why of that success, or especially, how to use aspects of that offense against good or great opponents.

Fortunately, the Vikings still have the person who, along with his team, is mostly responsible for a lot of the positive from 2019. That person is Gary Kubiak and his team is essentially already in place.

After the defeat in the 2017 NFC Championship game, the Vikings tripled down on their window by signing Cousins and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Outside of perhaps nailing some picks in the draft, and maybe some salary cap magic by executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski, this Vikings team is looking like it’s going to be losing some players, not gaining them. That means that this team is going to have to improve in other ways.

The following Vikings are currently unrestricted free agents this off-season:

Trae Waynes, Anthony Harris, Rashod Hill, Andrew Sendejo, Mackenzie Alexander, Dan Bailey, Britton Colquitt, Sean Mannion, Dakota Dozier, Ameer Abdullah, Brett Jones, Laquon Treadwell, C.J. Ham… Huff, puff, huff and/or puff… Kentrell Brothers, David Morgan, Jayron Kearse, Stephen Weatherly, Eric Wilson and Marcus Sherels.

Oh, and there’s the club option on Everson Griffen, who is 32 years old. There’s also the fact that he along with Linval Joseph, who is 31, and Xavier Rhodes, who is 29, are all making at least $12.9 million apiece in 2020.

As of the writing of this article, the Vikings are $4,085,221 over the cap.

That means that outside of a restructure from players like Cousins, Rhodes (who has nearly $5 million in dead cap space), and/or Riley Reiff (who has a $4.4 million dollar dead cap hit), this team could be at best the same next season and at worst, weaker especially on defense (albeit on paper). Keep in mind that next season is the last contract year for both Cousins and breakout player of the year Dalvin Cook.

Now that it’s been announced that offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is headed to Cleveland as their next head coach, we may have the change that we need. That change was necessary as it means that the Vikings have been outcoached and outplayed on every level in two of the last three playoffs, so at least they won’t essentially be expecting a different result with either the same roster or one that, on paper, wouldn’t be as talented as the 2019 unit (which’d mean if I were a betting man, who was able and knew how to bet legally , I’d put money on similar results in 2020 unless something drastic happens this off-season) or the same people calling plays on the sidelines.

So. Yes. Zimmer has a great regular-season record and yes, he’s got an eye for talent and an innate ability to get the most of that talent as it pertains to his defense. Yes, he’s also not going anywhere, this off-season, but whenever a head coach who calls the plays for an entire unit fires the coordinator for that unit, the writing is on the wall that unless something drastic changes that head coach will be gone next.

So, giving a guy like Kubiak full control of the offense, an offense that after the record-breaking Cousins deal was meant to be as explosive as the defense was supposedly dominant, may be what this team needs to get over the hump that Zimmer and previous-company have run into.

While that makes you wonder why the owners are so confident in the man who has been given everything he’s wanted to build that defense, that’s not going to change this off-season. However, again, the writing is on the wall that the powers that be in the Vikings organization are expecting big things in 2020. Zimmer is cognizant of that, so why not lean on the guy who has brought success, and championships, nearly everywhere he’s been (especially as a coordinator)?

While it bemoans me to even have advocated for yet another change at the OC position after a near revolving door during the Zimmer regime (yet another black mark on Zimmer), it’s clear that the Vikings had zero answer for the Niners, or Packers, or Bears… Or Chiefs, Or.. Well, you get the idea. People thought that even putting the idea out there that this Vikings team needed a change at the coaching position(s) in my article ‘The Vikings are Squandering their Super Bowl Window, and the Worst Part? They don’t even know why‘, was so bad it was laughable. Well, look who is laughing now. Nobody.

While Zimmer is technically to blame for everything that happens on the sidelines and field as the head coach, we’re essentially stuck with a head coach who mainly contributes on defense and who can’t even get his offensive coordinator to reply to his emails about running the ball (maybe he spelled DeFilippo wrong?). So, this team essentially needs another head coach that focuses solely on the offense. That requires a level of experience that few have, and a track record of success that even fewer do.

Gary Kubiak has won seven Super Bowls in his career and he’s shown a masterful ability to take the same roster from one year and turn things around in a single off-season. Look at what he did in Baltimore in 2014. In that one season he took the same roster from 2013 and installed a west coast offense and his typical zone-blocking scheme and, well, instead of paraphrasing Wikipedia I’ll just post what they said:

Under his guidance, the Ravens had their most successful offense in 19 years, with quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett achieving career single-season highs in yards and touchdowns. The Ravens also went from 30th in rushing (total yards) and 18th in passing (total yards) to 8th in rushing (yards) and 13th in passing.

Thems results.

The other benefit is that because Kubiak was here this season he’s already ingrained in essentially everything. He knows what works, what doesn’t, he knows the tendencies of his players, all of it. While it would technically be yet another change at the OC position, it’d be as close to keeping the same OC as keeping Stefanski in terms of continuity without all the, you know, abject failure.

The reality is that this Vikings offense, nay team, is entirely too talented to be not only:

– Entering the playoffs as the sixth seed this season.
– Missing the playoffs last season.
– Losing to the Eagles in embarrassing fashion.
– Losing to the 49ers in embarrassing fashion.
– Needing a literal miracle to beat a team they were up 20-0 on at half-time in the Saints.
– Being 10-6 in every sense of the word, by which I mean:
– In those 10 wins, the Vikings offense scored an average of 30.3 points
– In the games they lost? 17.3 points.

That means they scored less than 60% of the points in games they lost than the games they won and while that may seem like common sense (clearly you don’t play as well in games you lose), that discrepancy speaks to the absolute lack of consistency this offense had in it’s play-calling and game planning. It’s not that this Vikings team is mediocre, it’s that they’re either really, really, REALLY good or just plain bad.

While many will point to Cousins as the reason why that’s the case, there’s a tangible difference in the game plans between those games and obviously there’s a gigantic difference from the good Cousins (who was playing at an MVP-level statistically) and the bad Cousins. Sure, when Cousins is bad he’s really bad, but that should only make you even more frustrated with those game plans as you think Stefanski would have avoided those game plans like the plague.

But the good news is that Stefanski is Cleveland’s problem now, so the key is now hoping that Zimmer will come to the same conclusions a lot of fans have. Kubiak talked this past season about his role and loving the stress-free aspect of not being THE guy. That’s essential as he retired from the NFL for health reasons, so perhaps they could elevate someone underneath Kubiak (Rick Dennison, or his son Klint)…

So either they can go into next season with yet another “up-and-coming” offensive coordinator, and missing some major pieces on defense and somehow expect a different result, or they can elevate someone to the offensive coordinator position who has proven that he can win with a roster that is built to do just that (The Broncos), and say that more of the same clearly isn’t going to get the job done otherwise it would have by now.

Otherwise, we’re just going to watch Zimmer’s window of opportunity close for good, if it hasn’t already. It seems like an easy choice.

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started purplePTSD.com back in 2015 & purpleTERRITORYradio.com in 2019, and purchased VikingsTerritory.com before the 2017-18 season , used to write for VikingsJournal.com and is the host of the ’Morning Joes’ & ‘About the Labor’ Podcasts, as well. Follow on Twitter: @vtPTSD

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