Do the Vikings Have a New Curse?
In sports and the NFL, multiple curses seem to exist. The Vikings are famous for two of them, and the 2022 season is the last chance to escape the third one.
The Kirk Cousins Curse
On social media, Kirk Cousins is one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. He is known for good stats and his teams not consistently winning. Both facts can’t be disputed. However, what can be disputed is the correlation between the two things.
The quarterback is not just a polarizing figure but also single-handedly ruins seasons of NFL teams with his curse. Teams beaten by Kirk Cousins have never won the Superbowl in the same season.
Therefore he has two chances next season to eliminate the Green Bay Packers from contention. The Packers were beaten by the Cousins-led Vikings in each of the last two seasons and consequently lost heartbreaking playoff games against the Buccaneers in 2020, despite three Tom Brady interceptions, and to the 49ers in 2021, despite not allowing a single offensive touchdown. Both games took place at home, in Lambeau Field.
The Kicking Curse
There’s something wrong with Minnesota Vikings kickers. The body of evidence for a curse is overwhelming. The Vikings rank dead last in the last 20 seasons in the percentage of extra-point attempts with just 94.9% and among the worst teams in the league in almost every possible time frame. The average field goal percentage is acceptable but resulted in some heartbreaking losses over the years.
In 2015, the Vikings marched down the field in TCF Bank Stadium while trailing by only one point. Kicker Blair Walsh had the opportunity to kick the team into the divisional round of the playoffs. Walsh already hit three field goals. In one of the coldest games ever, he missed a 27-yard chip shot, and the Vikings lost the game. It was Teddy Bridgewater’s last start for the Vikings.
The year 1998 haunts Vikings fans to this day. The team finished 15-1 in the regular season, which resulted in ten pro bowl players. The offense was a record-breaking unit. Five hundred fifty-six points were the most scored in a season by one team — ever. Randy Moss achieved a single-season rookie record that still stands today – 17 receiving touchdowns. But not just the offense was great, but also the defense was a top-ten unit, as they ranked sixth in the NFL in points allowed. A team destined to greatness, arguably the best team to not win a championship in NFL history.
In the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings led by 7 points against the Falcons. Two minutes were left on the clock, and kicker Gary Anderson had the chance to put the game out of reach. He missed the 38-yard field goal. What makes the miss even more infamous is that he did not miss a kick in the entire season, as he became the first kicker in NFL history to hit every extra point and field goal in a season.
The Offensive Line Curse
The play of the interior offensive line has been absolutely atrocious in recent history. In the last five seasons, Elflein played center for two seasons, while Bradbury handled the position the other three. In his rookie season in 2017, Elflein played solid football. The results were a PFF grade of 66.6. In the following year, 2018, he fell off a cliff. He wasn’t fully healthy and took a step back to get a terrible PFF grade of 41.9.
Rick Spielman drafted his replacement in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Garrett Bradbury. The last center that was drafted higher than the 18th overall pick was the Patriot, Damien Woody, in 1999. He was supposed to fix all interior lineman problems for the next decade. While solid in the running game, three years into his career, he has been a liability in pass protection. His PFF grades in pass protection were around 40 in all three years and among the worst in the league. The team declined his fifth-year option, and he now enters the last year of his contract.
Despite investing in a center in rounds three and one since 2017, the return from that position is poor.
Since Mike Zimmer took over as the Minnesota Vikings head coach in 2014, no player played at the same guard spot in back-to-back seasons.
Joe Berger was the last guard that recorded a PFF grade of 70 or more in 2017. He retired after that season, and the struggles began. Across from Berger played Nick Easton, who was an adequate pass protector. The Saints signed him in free agency.
In 2018, Mike Remmers shifted from right tackle to right guard and received a 61 PFF grade. At left guard, the Vikings’ starter was Tom Compton, with a grade of 62.0. Both struggled, and in combination with the not up to par playing Elflein, the interior offensive line was just dreadful.
With Bradbury starting at center, Elflein moved to left guard, where he looked improved but still not like a long-term solution. Josh Kline handled the right guard duties. Neither played at a very high level, but both looked competent against most opponents and received grades in the 60s. The Vikings made the playoffs, where they were crushed by the elite defensive line of the San Francisco 49ers.
Kline didn’t return to the team, while Elflein was cut early in the season. Dakota Dozier and, after a few games, Ezra Cleveland, started at the two spots. Cleveland looked promising with a grade of 66 and good run blocking, while Dozier was a liability against pass rushers and run stoppers. His play on film looked exactly like his PFF grade of 44.6, miserable.
Cleveland moved to left guard in 2021, where he slightly improved his game and looked like a guard with a bright future in some weeks. Oli Udoh started and was moved from backup tackle to guard. If the referees didn’t call penalties against him, he would’ve played some solid football. However, penalties are part of the evaluation, and he was called for 16 of them — the most of any player in the NFL.
Fixing the Problem
A bad interior offensive line is unacceptable for a team that wants to be competitive and employs a pocket-passing quarterback like Kirk Cousins.
New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took the necessary steps to finally fix the problem. The offensive tackles Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw will be the offensive tackles. O’Neill is one of the best in the league, and Darrisaw has shown signs of greatness as a rookie.
Ezra Cleveland is the front runner for the left guard spot, while Oli Udoh is likely to be replaced. The Vikings signed multiple offensive linemen in the offseason. Chris Reed came from the Colts, Jesse Davis from the Dolphins, and Austin Schlottmann from the Broncos. In addition to the three signings, Adofo-Mensah selected LSU guard Ed Ingram in the second round of the draft. 2021 third-rounder Wyatt Davis is another candidate for the vacant spots.
Like Cleveland, Bradbury is the front runner to keep his job. However, his subpar play puts his starting chances in jeopardy. None of the additions is a center by trait, but if one can slide over to that position, there is a real possibility that Bradbury won’t start in week 1.
The new regime added four linemen to the mix and can coach up the players of the previous regime. If they can’t fix the interior offensive line in 2022 despite the high number of candidates for the vacant jobs, this is a real curse, and the team is in trouble.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who has a fable for numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Arguing about the Vikings on Twitter is one of his favorite things to do. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt