Why Isn’t the Vikings Offense Very Good Right Now?

Mike ZImmer / Kirk Cousins
Oct 11, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer stands with quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) during a fourth quarter timeout against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this 2021 season, the expectation was the Vikings offense would, at a minimum, be a Top 10 unit. This was a Top 10 offense a year ago, returning almost all its starters and looking to feature a bolstered offensive line through additions in the draft.

Through 3 weeks, this expectation was vindicated, as the Vikings put up impressive offensive performances against Seattle and Arizona and moved the ball well outside of penalties in Week 1 against the Cinncinati Bengals.

But after that encouraging start, the offense has sputtered, directly responsible for losses against Cleveland and Dallas and nearly causing another loss in a disappointing victory against the winless Detroit Lions. In Week 9 against the Ravens, the offense looked fixed, scoring 14 points on its first two possessions before collapsing again, leading to another loss.

So, who or what is to blame for this offensive ineptitude? Why are we stuck watching a team that can’t move the ball consistently when we have a highly paid quarterback, a pair of elite receivers, one of the best running backs in football, and by all indications, what seems to be an improved offensive line from last season. How can everything be the same or better from last season, and the offense is performing worse?

First, evaluate just how poorly Minnesota’s offense has performed. Using EPA/play, a stat Minnesota finished 11th in the NFL in last season, we can see how efficient an offense has been on a play-by-play level.

The Vikings rank a disappointing 19th in the NFL in this statistic, an absolutely abysmal place to be. But it gets even worse. If we look at just the last five games, the Vikings drop down to 28th in this efficiency statistic, right next to the Giants, Panthers, Lions, and Texans.

Now that we’ve seen how dreadful the Vikings offensive performance truly has been so far this season, let us go through the list of possible villains responsible for the woes.

Kirk Cousins

As the highly compensated quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, when the team loses — especially due to offensive ineptitude — the blame often falls on Cousins. Is that a fair assessment of his play this season? Or is he just a convenient scapegoat for analysts and fans alike?

Cousins is currently PFF’s #3 ranked QB. And while PFF is not the gospel regarding an NFL player’s performance, a grade as high as Cousins’ does imply that he isn’t the primary cause of the Vikings’ issues on offense this season. Cousins hasn’t been perfect, but he’s virtually avoided bad mistakes and has shown evidence of significantly improved maneuvering in the pocket through eight games this season.

My verdict? Cousins could be better, but those who blame him generally just use him as a convenient scapegoat.

Offensive Line

When it comes to boogeymen curses and blamed by those cursed to watch Vikings games, Minnesota’s offensive line is usually the second part of the team to catch flak after its highly paid quarterback. It’s no secret the offensive line isn’t good – hell, I don’t even know if I can remember the last time they were good – but are they the reason this seemingly high-powered offense isn’t producing?

My Verdict? To a degree, yes. The offensive line has been good in some games, shaky in others, and was destroyed by the Cleveland Browns. They can’t shoulder all the blame, but they do deserve a significant amount of it.

Klint Kubiak/Mike Zimmer

This is generally the final step in the most scripted and standard of rants against the team after a loss, cursing Zimmer or Kubiak for their influence on the offense. I put them together here because it’s impossible to evaluate the impact each has separately on the offensive side of the ball.

From a coaching perspective, there are some positives. The offense has been much more creative at times than in the past. Sacks and pressures, a massive problem in the Kirk Cousins era, are significantly down this season. But generally, this duo receives blame for what is considered an overly conservative approach to play-calling, especially in the 2nd half of games.

My verdict? This duo, whether Zimmer telling Kubiak not to take chances or Kubiak not wanting to make mistakes, is the primary cause of the Vikings offensive issues so far this season.

Conclusion

The Vikings’ offense is the primary reason this team currently has a losing record. The primary reason behind Minnesota’s offensive woes is a coaching staff that doesn’t do its best to take advantage of a talented group of players due to conservative philosophy and lack of risk tolerance.

The Vikings are great at avoiding turnovers, and generally, this is a valuable skill to possess, but not when it comes at the expense of offensive production. Simply put, Minnesota doesn’t throw interceptions or fumble the ball often, but they punt far too much, and these punts are essentially just less damaging turnovers.

Hopefully, this changes in the coming weeks, with the offensive line improving and the coaching staff finally letting the offense take chances. Because if this talented offense doesn’t start producing, they’ll likely exit their Week 11 clash against the Packers with a 3-7 record and little if any hope of doing anything except cleaning out their lockers at the end of the season.