The Vikings Are Putting Massive Trust in 2 Players

Oct 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Helmet; Fans gather in front of U.S. Bank Stadium before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings made some strange calls in the 2023 offseason. One of them was the departure of Duke Shelley, who played decent football last season (especially because the purple cornerback room is flirting with disaster and he only signed for $1.3 million with the Las Vegas Raiders). He could’ve been a spot starter, penciled into the starting lineup until one of the young guys usurp him.

The Vikings Are Putting Massive Trust in 2 Players

The Vikings Are Putting Massive Trust in 2 Players
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) prepares for the snap from center Garrett Bradbury (56) 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

A more crucial but still strange decision, however, happened on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings somehow returned their whole offensive line. All ten rostered o-linemen from last season are still with the team.

But why would they do that? The unit didn’t play super well, particularly the pass protection. It should’ve been common knowledge how much the group struggled but the recently released Netflix documentary Quarterback even highlighted their problems.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins was under constant duress in the 2022 season (and, for that matter, since the beginning of his tenure in Minnesota in 2018). No passer was hit more often in the last season than Cousins according to PFF. That is unacceptable and has a few reasons.

Vikings Face Need for Kirk
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets instructions from head coach Kevin O’Connell in the first quarter game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

Cousins is not a mobile quarterback who can escape pressure by scrambling out of the pocket. If he was, he surely could avoid some of the pressures and hits but he isn’t, so the offensive line has to protect him better. While the offensive tackle duo is quite fantastic, the interior three (Ed Ingram, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland) are a liability.

And the third major reason for the number of hits is Kevin O’Connell and his scheme. Longer developing plays are a problem if the pass protection is not good enough and Cousins is the guy ending up on the ground because of it.

Two of those issues can change but Cousins will not suddenly turn into Patrick Mahomes and make plays outside of the pocket all the time. However, O’Connell’s play-calling and play design will get better in his second year of him actually calling plays.

The offensive line could also be in for an improvement, mainly second-year guard Ed Ingram. Coming into the league as a second-rounder, the team and fans had high expectations for him but he couldn’t fulfill those. His play was a real issue.

Oct 30, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and guard Ed Ingram (67) in action during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

No guard in the NFL allowed his quarterback to be pressured more often than Ingram. He also allowed the second-most hits and third-most sacks, according to PFF. In addition to that, most folks remember the plays when he repeatedly stepped on Kirk Cousins’ foot. Issues like that must become a thing of the past.

The coaching staff has massive trust in Ingram and his upside. They are expecting big things from him. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips praised him during OTAs:

I couldn’t be more pleased with our pick and the fact that he played through the whole year and he worked through a few growing pains as a rookie, as any rookie in this league. Particularly at offensive line where the slightest false step – a receiver can get away with a false step most times – but the slightest thing when you’re inside, especially those interior three and you’ve lost. The way he handled that, he wasn’t fazed by it, he didn’t blink by any of that stuff, he just kept trying to get better and he’s in great shape. I think he looks really good coming in and expect big things from him.

Wes Phillips, Vikings OC

Offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw had a terrific second season and Ingram could also potentially make a jump. Although it is improbable that his improvements are as significant.

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is hit by Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

If the offensive line can not hold up, it will be once again on Cousins to save the franchise from the catastrophic scenario of suffering an injury as the starting QB. The four-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game due to injury in his career. That feat deserves much more respect.

He played games with rib injuries in back-to-back seasons and Vikings fans never hear a single word about it. Who knows how many injuries he had over the years and still kept playing? The problem is, that could change on any given play and the lack of reinforcements to the offensive line is concerning.

The front office and coaching staff are putting all hopes into Ingram’s potential improvement and that Cousins continues to show his all-time great toughness. Let’s hope that doesn’t backfire because the team is playing with fire.

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