The Minnesota Vikings offense certainly was not the evildoer in 2020. That unit ranked fourth in total yards gained and 11th in points scored. Folks that are compensated to make an impact and the ones with lofty expectations on offense earned their keep. Kirk Cousins authored 35 touchdowns with 4,265 passing yards.
Dalvin Cook was second in the NFL with yards from scrimmage. The Vikings running back also tallied the second-most touchdowns in the business.
Adam Thielen caught 14 paydirts – not bad for a man that was spitballed to be a shell company without the departed Stefon Diggs. Justin Jefferson set the all-time NFL record for rookie receiving yards in a season (1400).
How in the hell did this team miss the playoffs with those factoids aforethought?
For starters, the pass-protection facet of the offensive line did not do the franchise any favors – per usual. Minnesota’s offensive line surrendered 39 sacks, which plonked the team in the bottom one-third of the NFL. Per Pro Football Focus, that 39 sacks of Cousins did not even display the entire atrocity.
PFF ranked the Vikings as the fourth-worst pass-blocking offensive line leaguewide at a 55.5 grade. Pew. That was two spots worse than the 2019 campaign, so there was zilch for pass-blocking improvement from year to year.
Unbelievably, though, the offense still ticked with a suspect pass-blocking line. The evidence is doled out with the yards-gained metric and the individual performances mentioned above.
The defense was the culprit – and particularly the second-half defense.
Last in the NFL for Second Half Points Allowed
Here’s the deal – plain and simple. The Minnesota Vikings were the best squad in the NFL for points scored in the second half of football games during 2020. No offense scored more points than the Vikings in the third and fourth quarters. They scored 252 points. Yes, a diminutive segment occurred in “garbage time.” But 252 points were not scored in totality with the game out of reach. Assertions that say so are meritless.
So, the best offense in the world after halftime — factually confirmed. What about the defense? It was the worst.
The Vikings handed out 264 points to the opposition in the second half of games. That ranked 32nd in the NFL – or dead last. Minnesota, by points – scored and allowed – showcased the most proficient offense in all of the land and the most deficient defense.
Did it ever feel as if Kirk Cousins and the gang took the lead – to no avail? Maybe in games versus the Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, or Dallas Cowboys? This is the eye-test verified by numbers.
It was the undoing of the 2020 Vikings – the second-half defense.
Second Half Yards Per Play Bad, Too
Yards allowed per play were naughty, too. On average, Minnesota furnished 5.1 yards per play to opponents in the third and fourth quarters. That is half of a first down on each play. That ranked 29th in the league. Big chunk plays were surrendered. On the occasions offenders were bottled up, a reconciliation play thereafter was allotted to the opponent, further disallowing the feasibility of winning. 27% of all second-half plays resulted in first downs for the Vikings foes. The Washington Football Team was the best in the league with this metric at 18% — a 7% deficit for Minnesota.
In a nutshell, the Vikings defense was porous when the game was on the line. It’s why Russell Wilson raced down the field in Week 5 for a game-winning score. Ryan Tannehill did the same early on with Tennessee – so did Andy Dalton for the Dallas Cowboys at a juncture when the season was still salvageable. While the Vikings offense was often scripting game-winning drives, the defense was leaky. It was the difference between a year-end standing of 7-9 and 10-6.
Health and a Few Tweaks on the Horizon
Don’t succumb to doom and gloom or “burn it to the ground” armchair strategies. Few things are easy to rehabilitate in the NFL, but this malady is not too daunting. Yes, the Vikings defense ranked 29th in points allowed at season’s end. And players like Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson will probably skedaddle to other teams.
But the Vikings merely need to mend. The loss of Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Michael Pierce, Mike Hughes, and Eric Kendricks [down the stretch] was taxing. “Next man up” works here and there, but not at every level of the defense – weekly. Mike Zimmer’s defense was forced to offset keynote injuries up front, in the middle, and at the back of the defense – for larger-than-life talents like Hunter and Kendricks.
A return to health for Hunter, Barr, Pierce, Hughes, and Kendricks will be paramount. If the franchise then addresses the defensive end, third linebacker, and free safety spot, a Zimmer defense that is more familiar to the norm will reemerge.