Kyle Shanahan as a Vikings HC Option Gains Steam

Kyle Shanahan
Kyle Shanahan

Sunday was ugly for the Vikings. They lost to the Ravens 34-31 on a last-second field goal in overtime. On the year, the Vikings have been within one score in seven of the eight games they have played – winning two of those games.

Their inability to maintain a lead or overcome a nominal deficit is maddening and largely why they find themselves in a hole.   

Many things have factored into the product Minnesota has put on the field. They began the day on defense without many of their top options due to injury or COVID designation, but most teams deal with similar scenarios. The Vikings have faced a difficult schedule of opponents that only increases in difficulty each week, but so have other teams – good teams rise above. Two areas have really been detrimental to the Vikings, though. And those items are inherently related.

Time of possession and conservative game scripts have been the crux of the Vikings this year. 

The Vikings have done many things well through eight games — stuff that should ultimately result in victories. They are currently tied for 4th in turnover differential, maintain a positive point differential (+3), and rank in the top 5 of 3rd down percentage on defense. They also lead the league in sacks per game average with 3.4. These are categories that typically propel teams to the upper echelon of the league. 

They rank in the bottom third of the league in time of possession, however.

This keeps the defense on the field longer, late in games, resulting in a leakier-than-normal defense. A portion of the causation can be attributed to a conservative, predictable game script. The offense is usually well-scripted to start the game before slowly wilting away. The broadcast on Sunday identified how Klint Kubiak has admitted the need to get better at predicting his next play and the following string of plays. That is simply not going to cut it at this level. 

Ironically, similar happenings are besetting Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, which bodes well for those who would like to see the 49ers coach lead the Vikings in 2022.

Shanahan’s team, like Zimmer’s in Week 8, lost at home to a backup quarterback. The 49ers have not won a home game since October 18, 2020 – a span of 8 games. He, too, is seemingly wearing out his welcome with the fans and media.

Shanahan’s shortcomings differ from that of Zimmer, though.

Where Zimmer tends to focus solely on his vaunted defense, Shanahan, at times, spreads too thin amongst coaching and personnel duties. Part of this is his fault. In mid-June of 2020, Shanahan and the 49ers signed a contract extension through the 2025 season. The contract placed him amongst the top 5 highest-paid coaches and gave him final say over personnel decisions — all of this despite an overall record under .500 during his tenure. 

A change of scenery and less reliance on overseeing personnel decisions would likely behoove Shanahan. Minnesota would be an ideal team for Shanahan to explore.

General Manager Rick Spielman has done a masterful job with roster building. He has listened to Zimmer and made sure to try and get “his guy” during the draft without sacrificing the overall goal for the roster. Spielman has not been without fault, though – his in-season “panic trades” have not worked. 

Spielman would allow for Shanahan to focus solely on coaching. Shanahan would inherit an offense that is fairly complete and would enable him to squeeze as much production from it as he could muster. The heights he would elevate Jefferson, Thielen, and Cook would be reminiscent of a Vikings offense circa 1998.

Defensively, there would be a few holdover components from the Zimmer era, but the new coordinator would be able to piece together a unit that suits their respective coaching style. 

A good coach should call plays that tailor to their teams’ strengths and away from their deficiencies. To date, there has been little of that offensively from the Vikings. A change to Shanahan would usher in a level of competence that has been lacking this season.

So, kick back at watch how bad it gets in San Francisco. That’s the critical domino.