Vikings Reason For Optimism Is an Obvious Choice

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Sep 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) runs on to the field during team introductions before a game against the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports.

During the heyday of the Mike Zimmer-led organization from 2015 to 2017, the best part of the Minnesota Vikings was easily the defense. The feared unit with stars at every level was a scary matchup on the schedule for every offense. That changed over the years. While the defense was still good in 2018 and 2019, it fell off a cliff in the 2020 offseason when multiple starters departed, and others declined.

Vikings Reason For Optimism Is an Obvious Choice

That defense of the prime Zimmer years was paired with an explosive running attack around Adrian Peterson in 2015, a committee between Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon in 2017, and later Dalvin Cook, who had his best season in 2020. The team has now clearly shifted its strength to the passing attack.

Vikings Reason For Optimism Is an Obvious Choice
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8), wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18), and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) celebrate the win against the New England Patriots after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

PFF named the reason for optimism for the 2023 Vikes, and the choice was the passing attack.

The Vikings boasted a fierce passing attack under first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell last season. Their 361.5 passing yards per game were seventh most in the NFL, and they recorded the third-best receiving grade (83.1). Much of that was due to Justin Jefferson, and the team drafted Jordan Addison, who should be a strong WR2. They’ll also have a full year with T.J. Hockenson at tight end.

Even if it’s not a repeat 13-win season, this should be a strong group.

Trevor Sikkema, PFF

Employing Justin Jefferson will transform most teams into a decent passing offense. He is a special player and arguably the best wideout in the NFL — and has the league lead in receptions and receiving yards to prove it. The Offensive Player of the Year did that with a shaky wide receiver group around him. Adam Thielen declined right before our eyes. His ability to get open diminished is why the Vikings opted to release him.

Hockenson Chatter
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) reacts after a play against the New York Giants during the second quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The position got younger as 21-year-old Jordan Addison replaces him in the unit, with K.J. Osborn having the ability to earn more opportunities after a couple of years as the third WR on the team.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson was also a crucial part of the passing attack. He turned into the second option after the Vikings traded for him. The addition of Josh Oliver, who can take over as the blocking specialist, and the full offseason with the team could lead to a monster season from the former eighth overall pick.

Naming the passing attack as the team’s strength without mentioning the quarterback is a strange choice. Kirk Cousins is a four-time Pro Bowler and PFF — the company that provided the article — gave the signal caller a top 10 passing grade in back-to-back years. While the 34-year-old is not an elite quarterback, he is a good one and certainly one of the better passers in the league. Twenty-five touchdowns in eight consecutive seasons are no accident.

Vikings Have Huge New
Jun 7, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on during mandatory minicamp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

There is a good chance that the passing offense will be even better in the upcoming season for multiple reasons. The players will be in their second season in the system, and they can now focus on improving the execution instead of trying to learn the playbook like last year. In addition to that, head coach Kevin O’Connell is also in his second year and should get more comfortable as a play caller.

The offensive line could also be improved, especially the interior positions. It has been the weakness of the offense for years. Ezra Cleveland has improved in every one of his three seasons, and Ed Ingram could be in line for a sophomore jump, with Garrett Bradbury returning, too. He is also coming off his best season in pass protection. Addison’s development will also be crucial for making another jump.

PurplePTSD: Old Viking to Dolphins, Ed Ingram Momentum, MIN-LV Winners and Losers
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings guard Ed Ingram (67) defends against Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Vernon Butler (94) in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

It has been the strongest part of the Vikings team for a couple of years and quietly carried the team after it slowly transitioned from a run-first to a pass-first team. The good news is that there is no reason why the passing offense should slow down. Expectations are once again that the unit is the reason why the Vikings are competing for the playoffs.

The defense and running game must get better for the team to be in a position for a deep postseason run, but the franchise will go as far as the passing attack takes them.

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