These Vikings Are Designed to Do Damage in the Playoffs
When teams are looking to rebuild or analysts are looking to predict team success, where do they look? They look to the premium positions on the football field. What are those? Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Offensive Tackle, Edge Rusher, and Cornerback.
These are the positions that make or break teams in the NFL, where having elite talent or not is the difference between being a perennial contender and already breaking down the draft board by the time December rolls around.
These Vikings Are Designed to Do Damage in the Playoffs
Not only do these positions on the field matter a ton for regular season success, but if anything, they are even more critical when it comes time for the playoffs, and for the Vikings, that bodes well. In fact, Minnesota possesses dynamic pieces at nearly all of these positions, and that talent will matter when it comes to the playoffs.
Whether in a home game against a middling Wild Card team or a Round 2 matchup against San Francisco — or even on the road in a possible NFC Championship matchup vs. the Philadelphia Eagles — it doesn’t matter who Minnesota plays. They will have a chance in every game this postseason due to their incredible wealth of talent where it matters.
Let’s break down the pieces they possess and examine why this Vikings team will be an issue come playoff time.
Of the positions of value in the NFL, Quarterback is the most important of all. It is nearly impossible to achieve success, regular season or playoffs, in the NFL without high-level Quarterback play.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has had a season that could be considered quite divisive. On one hand, the process metrics point towards a drop off relative to years past, with a decreased PFF Grade and EPA/Play. But on the other hand, he has improved in many ways that were points of major criticism for him in years past — pocket presence, 4th quarter play, recovery from mistakes. All issues that Cousins had in the past have been neutralized this season, if not become downright strengths.
So, where does that leave Minnesota at the Quarterback position? Is this a place of strength for Minnesota? Can Kirk Cousins be relied upon to lead this Vikings team through the postseason? To give them an advantage with his play?
Well, the answer here is less about what we can rely upon Cousins to do and more about the positions we can depend upon head coach Kevin O’Connell to put Cousins in. Fortunately for Minnesota, that arrow seems to point in a very positive direction, as O’Connell has been drawing up masterful gameplans all season long and has experience orchestrating a deep -– and very successful –- playoff run with an inconsistent quarterback, having just won the Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford and the Rams last season.
Overall, Cousins may not be a bona fide superstar like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, but with Kevin O’Connell at his side, he is more than capable of guiding this team deep into the playoffs, especially with the set of weapons he has to work with.
Coming into the season, it was widely believed that Minnesota would have a very strong wide receiver group led by young superstar Justin Jefferson. But even given those expectations, the Vikings receivers have performed well, especially Jefferson, who has stamped his place as one of the best –- if not the best –- receivers in the NFL.
Minnesota currently ranks 6th in the NFL in PFF receiving grade, and that likely undersells their true level of play as they have come on especially strong of late, with impressive games from KJ Osborn and TJ Hockenson in back-to-back weeks, combined with an incredible level of play every week from Jefferson.
Wide receiver is massively important in the NFL Playoffs. Just ask the two Super Bowl participants last season, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams. Those teams were carried by incredible receivers, namely Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp, who notched historic regular seasons en route to a spectacular playoff run that led to a Superbowl performance for the Bengals and a championship for the Rams.
Does any of that sound familiar? An incredible wide receiver having a historic regular season, and that receiver being a major factor in his team’s playoff push?
Just like he has been in the regular season, Justin Jefferson will be an issue in the playoffs. What are teams supposed to do against a wide receiver that has consistently shown that he can beat brackets and double coverage? Do they triple him?
Well, unfortunately for Minnesota’s opponents, Jefferson isn’t the only weapon Minnesota possesses. Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn are dangerous receivers in their own right, and of course, newly acquired tight end TJ Hockenson can pop off at any time.
Combine it all, and Minnesota’s receiving weapons will be an issue for any playoff team the Vikings might face, which is good news for Vikings fans and bad news for everyone else.
But of course, it all hinges on whether these Vikings weapons have time to get open.
Minnesota’s downfall for years has been a weakness on the offensive line, namely at the tackle position. Year after year, a talented Vikings team with dangerous weapons fell short due to an inability to protect the quarterback.
But this season has been different for Minnesota, as they have seen a massive improvement at offensive line, highlighted by two tackles that are likely the best tackle duo in the NFL.
At the very least, Pro Football Focus thinks so, as Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw ranked 5th and 2nd, respectively, in the entire National Football League.
Having two tackles play at the level that O’Neill and Darrisaw have has allowed Minnesota to make the jobs of the rest of the offensive line significantly easier. This has led to improved play all around on the offensive line, with Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury also having career years, while Ed Ingram has been a very solid rookie at the right guard position.
Having tackles of the caliber of O’Neill and Darrisaw is an incredible asset come playoff time, as they almost completely negate the threat of opposing edge rushers, and that will allow Cousins the time he needs to get the ball downfield to Justin Jefferson and the rest of Minnesota’s wealth of weapons.
Often forgotten in the disappointment that is this Vikings defense is how good their pass rush has been, especially their edge rushers. Coming into the season, the dream for Minnesota was a combination of high-level play from Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter. But both Smith and Hunter have met and exceeded those expectations this year, posting a top 12 PFF Grade at their edge rusher position.
Having a powerful edge rusher duo like Minnesota is extremely dangerous in the playoffs. It allows the defense to get pressure without blitzing, allowing the defensive coverage to hold up long enough for the rush to get home.
Having players like Smith and Hunter on the defense makes everyone’s job easier, defending the pass and the run. This will matter immensely come playoff time, and because of those two players, this Vikings defense will cause issues, even with major weaknesses elsewhere.
The Vikings cornerback group has had a very up-and-down season, with some very poor stretches leading to calls for defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s head. But they are not nearly as bad as we think, and injuries are a significant factor in this group’s struggles.
Currently, the Vikings CBs consist of Patrick Peterson and Duke Shelley on the outside, with Chandon Sullivan in the slot. Now that is a group that won’t raise any eyebrows around the NFL, and while they have been a weakness at times this season, they’ve actually been sneakily good. In fact, Patrick Peterson is ranked 7th among all cornerbacks in PFF Grade, and Shelley is just behind him at 14th. Sullivan has struggled much more, but many of those struggles are due to the high demands of the slot cornerback position in this Vikings defense.
This cornerback room may not be capable of an elite level of play, but they are good enough to give Minnesota’s fearsome pass rush time to get home, and with the talent Minnesota possesses on offense, that may be all they need come playoff time.
Former Vikings QB Benched in Washington
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