Where Can the 8-1 Vikings Improve?
To start into the season with an 8-1 record is an impressive achievement. The Minnesota Vikings have already beaten every divisional opponent and have a five-game lead over the Green Bay Packers, who are 4-7. Everyone would’ve taken that before the season began. The Vikings entered the year with a completely new regime and different schemes on offense and defense.
Of course, some growing pains were expected, so the top record in the league is a surprise. It’s even a good thing that the Vikings are not close to their ceiling and can still win games. However, the Vikings shouldn’t rest on their laurels and look to improve some weaknesses instead. Despite the strong season, they can still improve in the following areas.
Every fan would agree that the offensive line is blocking better than in recent years, and it is probably the best unit Kirk Cousins had in Minnesota. However, they allow pressure too often. Cousins has been pressured on nearly 36% of his dropbacks per PFF, ranking him close to the most pressured QBs in the league.
Of all starting quarterbacks, only Justin Fields, Daniel Jones, Davis Mills, Ryan Tannehill, and Marcus Mariota have been under pressure more often. That number is even worse, considering the Vikings are an average blitzed team.
Christian Darrisaw is one of the best tackles in football, and Brain O’Neill is always reliable. However, the interior of the line is still a work in progress. Rooke Ed Ingram is leading the league in pressures allowed. Ezra Cleveland is usually one of the better guards in the league but has a few stinkers mixed in every year, just like he did with an atrocious game in Week 9 against Washington.
He let Jonathan Allen, granted he’s not an easy matchup, almost wreak the game. Surprisingly, center Garrett Bradbury is playing at an improved level this season. In the playoffs, the Vikings will likely face a team with a strong defensive line, and the offensive line has to hold up.
More Creative Defenses
Ed Donatell came in as the new defensive coordinator, and most players had to learn a totally new system after playing their whole careers in Minnesota under Mike Zimmer. Therefore, Donatell had to keep some training wheels on at the start of the season. He rarely called blitzes and kept creativity at a minimum. Opposing quarterbacks often knew what kind of pass rush and coverage they have to expect.
Ten weeks into the season, Donatell is slowly becoming more unpredictable with his play calls because the players understand the scheme better. The next step is to play more single-high coverage and put one safety in the box. The problem with that is that the Vikings would have to trust their cornerbacks, and opposite of Patrick Peterson, that trust can’t be there with rookie Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth. The defense might be limited in 2022 because of that, but some creative blitzes and coverage plays could be coming soon.
Third Quarter Scoring
The Vikings have a positive point differential every quarter except the third. Kevin O’Connell’s team is +8 in the first, +10 in the second, +43 in the fourth, and +3 in overtime. In the third quarter, however, the team struggles to get on the scoreboard and is -29. The only time the Vikings actually won the third period was against Arizona and last Sunday against the Bills by one and four points.
One explanation can be that the Vikings started the second half with a kickoff in six of the nine games. But there are still enough chances to score points. Another explanation could be that the opponents are coming out of halftime with some excellent adjustments. A game has four quarters, and the Vikings should be better in the third.
Greg Joseph went into the season with high expectations after exclusively drawing praise in training camp and the preseason. He routinely hit field goals of more than 60-yards distance to end training days and made a 58-yarder in the preseason that would have been the longest field goal in Vikings history if he made it in the regular season.
In the regular season, he has not been able to showcase his skills, as he’s the worst kicker in the NFL in extra point percentage with 84% and among the worst in field goal percentage with only 72.2%.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt
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