The Vikings Trenches Are Controversial. Again.

Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Nick Vigil (59) scores after intercepting a pass by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the third quarter in Glendale, Ariz. Sept. 19, 2021. Cardinals Vs Vikings

It seems like the Vikings do this every year. They spend all off-season making moves to improve a unit that has been deficient the year prior. Money is spent on high-profile free agents, as is draft capital. Sometimes it pans out. Sometimes it doesn’t — and it’s back to the drawing board.

For the first time since 2015, the Vikings may finally have a competent offensive line.

The defensive line, not so much, but we’ll get there.ย 

Protecting Cousins Like A Winter Coat

Through two games, the offensive line has performed at a spectacular pace. For a unit that was borderline dismal last year, this is very welcome news. This group was so excited about protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins that they accumulated numerous false start penalties to start the season.ย 

ESPN has their pass block win rate ranked 22nd (52%), and their run block win rate ranked 7th (75%) through the first two weeks. In retrospect, the Vikings finished 2020 ranked 18th (56%) in pass block win rate and 21st (70%) in run block win rate. They have been able to maintain some consistency without the help of first-round pick Christian Darrisaw. His addition, when healthy, will only boost this unit. The offensive line has also accumulated the numbers against some fearsome defensive fronts.

 

Cousins is the largest benefactor of this success. Pro Football Focus has Cousins ranked as the most accurate quarterback with a clean pocket this season. Want more? *Somewhere, Kylo Ren is shouting for more.* Over his past 16 games, Cousins has recorded a passer rating of 90+ or better, ranking him second in NFL history while tucked in between some Manning fellow. Protecting a quarterback, one who is primarily a pocket passer, works — go figure.

Defensive Woes

The defensive line has been underwhelming so far this season. This is disappointing, especially after finishing 2020 ranking towards the bottom of the league and getting utterly embarrassed to the tune of six rushing touchdowns surrendered on Christmas Day. Nothing quite like rounding out a mystifying 2020 with a giant lump of coal.

According to ESPN, the Vikings defensive line finished 2020 ranking 30th (36%) in pass rush win rate and 32nd (24%) in run stop win rate. So far this year, they are not off to a much better start. They currently rank 29th (35%) in pass rush win rate and 31st (25%) in run stop win rate. That is not good. Especially considering all the additions made via free agency.ย 

The Vikings started free agency by signing defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson to a two-year, $22 million contract. He was acquired one year after the team signed defensive tackle Michael Pierce to a three-year, $27 million contract. Pierce sat out 2020 via the NFL’s covid opt-out, so 2021 is technically his first season with the team. Factor in the return of All-World defensive end Danielle Hunter — and this unit should be keeping opposing offensive lines up at night. One missing ingredient to this defensive unit, the absence of Anthony Barr, could prove more important than one might realize. Barr does his work in the shadows of a defense.ย 

Super Bowl or Bust

One thing that has remained consistent over the years — Super Bowl teams typically rank within the top-15 of offensive line play. It’s just science.

Are their outliers any given year? Sure. You typically do not see a team with an offensive line ranking worse than 20th overall. The same is attributable to defensive units. Having a top-15 defensive unit is critical to postseason success. Ironically, the top-10 offenses in NFL history have paltry Super Bowl success.

Minnesota will need to first win a handful of games before even being considered a postseason contestant, let alone a Super Bowl contender. The blueprint for success is there for them, should they decide to take it. Continued growth along the offensive line and cleaning up whatever the hell is going on with Zimmer’s treasured defense will help vault this team into the upper echelon conversation.