Surprising Stat Proves Vikings Offense Not Far Away from Potency

Vikings WRs Included in National 'Trios Ranking'
Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn (17), wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18), and quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Numerous Minnesota Vikings enthusiasts are of the opinion the team’s 2021 offense was bland, run-first, or too vanilla.

While the Vikings were beset by stretches of problematic and underwhelming playcalling, the offense as a whole was not non-dynamic.

Also remember — any stat you read about the Vikings offense, Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, or even the defense from 2021 involved virtually no “garbage time.” Minnesota tied the NFL record for games decided by eight points or less in a single season (15 games) last year. The only game with any semblance of garbage time was versus the Los Angeles Rams when Minnesota trailed 27-13 early in the 4th Quarter. Even then, 14 points is a reasonable margin to surmount — or at least to try.

Because the franchise finished 2021 with another mediocre season, Vikings brass fired Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer, preferring a youthful, collaborative alternative in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell. And with O’Connell’s expertise, Minnesota’s offense, at least on paper, should flourish.

Kevin O'Connell
Kevin O’Connell

But here’s the deal — the Vikings passing game wasn’t some fledging endeavor with Zimmer in charge last season. It’s tempting to write it off as such because “Blah, Zimmer’s offense,” but doing so disregards the numbers (remember, the numbers sans garbage time).

According to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Vikings ranked fourth leaguewide in air-yard catches of 20+ yards. That is — airing the ball out down the field with no mention of yards-after-catch.

In a nutshell, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, and these Vikings threw the ball downfield successfully more often than other teams. The Vikings even doubled up the San Francisco 49ers in the metric.

Why is this important? Well, the ingredients for O’Connell to enhance Spielman and Zimmer’s offense are there — totally in place. O’Connell is not dragging a group of run-first dink-and-dunkers to Football 101 school. Primarily with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn, the Vikings are already pushing the ball downfield via the air with or without a new coach in the saddle.

Oct 31, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) reacts with wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

This may cause some disbelief, but the statistics are irrefutable. If this stat were derived from catch-and-runs from Dalvin Cook or Kene Nwangwu, indeed, the metric would be misleading. Yet, that’s not what the stat illuminates — these are air yards from Cousins to his pass-catchers. Plain and simple.

The 2021 precedent — pushing the ball downfield with chunky 20+ yard passes — bodes well for the incoming coach. While coaching style, demeanor, and ideas will change, the mindset to “air it out” is already engrained in the Vikings psyche — whether you choose to believe it or not.

And this — the Warren Sharp stat — is probably why Justin Jefferson leads the NFL in 25+ yard receptions since joining the NFL:

Most 25+ Yard Receptions,
Since 2020:

  1. Justin Jefferson (34)
  2. Cooper Kupp (28)
  3. Davante Adams (27)
  4. Tyler Lockett (24)
  5. D.K. Metcalf (23)

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).