One Critical Key to Vikings 2023 Success

ESPN Identifies Vikings Biggest Weakness
Kirk Cousins & Vikings Offensive Line

I have written about the offensive line more than once this season, firstly asking for a revamp and then for it to be addressed in the draft. The top brass in Minnesota had other ideas, and instead, it is as you were with the Vikings OL.

Only Kyle Hinton, who is now with the Atlanta Falcons, is missing from the 12 men in Minnesota last year, along with two undrafted rookies. The Vikings have chosen to bank on improvement from the guys they already had, and offensive line continuity will be critical to the Vikings success.

The Vikings are well set at offensive tackle; Brian O’Neill is coming into his sixth season and has proved himself to be one of the best right tackles in the league. On the opposite side, Christian Darrisaw is showing all the signs of being the elite franchise left tackle the Vikings hoped for when drafting him in the first round of the 2021 draft. The interior of the offensive line is where the Vikings will be hoping continuity leads to the most significant improvement.

One Critical Key to Vikings 2023 Success

Something strange is happening in Minnesota this year; the Vikings will run the same offensive scheme with the same offensive play-caller for the first time in several years. That’s the advantage of having an offensive-minded head coach who calls the plays. The last five seasons of Mike Zimmer’s tenure as head coach saw a revolving door at offensive coordinator, with five different men calling the plays on offense.

One Critical Key to
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) at the line of scrimmage against the Washington Commanders during the second half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports.

For the first time as Vikings quarterback, Kirk Cousins has the opportunity to return for Year 2 of the same scheme, with the same five men protecting him. How much of an advantage that is shouldn’t be understated. The Vikings offense was good last season, so having the opportunity to build on that and improve on the areas that can be better, rather than starting from scratch, is huge. The players will have a deeper understanding of the scheme, changing how they approach plays and giving them greater scope to concentrate on the opposition rather than learning a new scheme.

In 2022, the Vikings offense ranked 7th for total points (424), total yards (6145), and yards per game (361.5). There was a significant discrepancy where the Vikings got their yards, ranking 5th in passing yards (4484) but a lowly 27th in rushing yards (1661). Unsurprisingly, Kevin O’Connell has talked about running the ball more, signified by the signing of Josh Oliver, a tight end with a reputation for blocking. It should also help the offensive line, most of which you would consider run blocking as their strength. If the Vikings can find a bit extra to improve from that starting point, the offense will be in good shape.

Offensive Line Improvement

Minnesota will be hoping O’Neill returns from an Achilles injury at the start of the season and continues as one of the most consistent right tackles in the game. He has stated publicly that his rehabilitation so far has been smooth, though no timeline has been set. Darrisaw had an incredible second season, only dampened by concussions causing him to miss three games. When on the field, he was dominant, and a repeat this season would put him firmly in the “best tackle in the league” conversation.

Significant Week 18
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) on the sidelines before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

O’Neill and Darrisaw will both still work to improve, but the major improvement needs to come from the interior. The man responsible for making that happen is offensive line coach Chris Kuper. Speaking to the press a couple of weeks ago, O’Neill talked to the media about the coach’s impact in his first season. He remarked about how Kuper came in and day one, pointed out tendencies over the last three years that need to be fixed, and attributed that to improvement on the offensive line, particularly Bradbury.

the Vikings Last 5
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) on the sidelines during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings need Kuper to facilitate more improvement from Bradbury after the center was re-signed in March. Bradbury is the communicator on the Vikings offense, which is why bringing him back made sense. He will always struggle against the big elite interior pass rushers, like Dexter Lawrence, which we saw in the playoffs last season.

The most significant area for improvement needed is seeing Ed Ingram’s growth in Year 2. He had a difficult rookie season, but with a year as a starter under his belt, it’s time to kick on. Can he do that? Any improvement from Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland at this point will be minimal. Improvement from Ingram likely defines how improved the offensive line is as a unit.