Where Do the 2023 Vikings Go from Here?
It has been a start to the season that defies belief. Minnesota has the league leaders in passing and receiving yards. They have scored the third most points across the league and have the number two guy for sacks. All that adds up to a 0-3 start. Why? The Vikings also lead the league in giveaways, including a mind-boggling seven fumbles through three games. Where do the 2023 Vikings go from here? Turnovers have played a key role in Minnesota losing games this season, but the problems don’t end there.
Where Do the 2023 Vikings Go from Here?
Since 1979, only six teams have started the season 0-3 and gone on to make the playoffs — the 1979 Chargers began 0-4. With the addition of a 17th game and a seventh playoff spot in each conference, the likelihood of this unlikely turn of events has improved slightly.
However, when a team starts 0-3, there’s a reason for that, and there are several reasons the Vikings are in this mess. The team’s staggering inability to hold onto the football is the most obvious one, and when a team continues to give the ball away at the rate the Vikings are, you won’t win many games. However, the idea that cleaning up the turnovers will solve everything is too simplistic.
Mistakes are littered through everything this team is doing. Fumbles, dropped catches, penalties, and miscommunication hamper the Vikings this season. They are all fixable problems, and the Vikings team themselves won’t be throwing the towel in. Talk of tanking is for fans, but with Kansas City and San Francisco on the schedule in the next four weeks.
The task of resurrecting this lifeless season is a daunting one. Road games against Carolina (next up) and Chicago complete the next four weeks. The Panthers and Bears are very winnable games for this team, but unless the Vikings can find an unlikely win against the Chiefs or 49ers, they face the prospect of heading to Lambeau Field in Week 8 at 2-5.
Roster Deficiencies on Offense
Minnesota has some very good players on their roster. Arguably the best WR in the league is Justin Jefferson, who is setting record-breaking pace for receiving yards, and a QB in Kirk Cousins who has thrown for over 1000 yards and nine touchdowns in three games, plus a promising first-round rookie WR in Jordan Addison. However, the rest of the offense is stuttering at best.
Christian Darrisaw finally played a full game on Sunday for the first time this season. He is an outstanding talent, but his struggles to stay on the field are a concern. Since signing his big contract, the pressure for T.J. Hockenson to produce has increased, and he hasn’t delivered so far. The K.J. Osborn as WR2 experiment should now be binned permanently. He’s a WR3 who will make the occasional big play.
Then we have the two major problems on offense: the IOL and the run game. Minnesota finally gained some traction in the run game against the Chargers, largely thanks to much-improved run blocking, albeit against less dominant defensive fronts than they faced in the first two games. With Cam Akers ready to step in this week, he and Mattison should be able to prove serviceable against most teams. The days of pounding the rock with Dalvin Cook and waiting for the big play are over. All you are going to get from this running game is serviceable. As long as the Vikings manage that, they should be okay.
Neglecting to address the IOL until last week’s signing of Dalton Risner was the biggest mistake the Vikings made coming into this season. Confounded by Garrett Bradbury’s injury, the Vikings had to make a move that would have been universally lauded before the season but is now accused of being reactionary. If Risner comes in, plays well, and is signed to a long-term contract, then it’s a good move that fixes a major problem for the Vikings. Coming in at 0-3 and on a 1-year contract, there’s a danger it’s a wasted move if the Vikings don’t become competitive this season and Risner moves on next year.
Roster Deficiences on Defense
If there are roster holes on offense, there are gaping chasms on defense. Brian Flores was appointed to try and make up for the lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball. His answer to the problem has been blitz, Blitz, and then blitz some more. The issue is that it leaves you vulnerable against elite, intelligent, and athletic quarterbacks – like Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. So, why continue with that plan? The answer is simple: the Vikings don’t have many options.
Outside of Danielle Hunter, the Vikings pass rush is almost none existent. Hunter has an impressive five sacks in three games. The rest of the team has one between them — a sack shared by Harrison Phillips and Ivan Pace. Phillips has been the lone bright spot on the defensive line, and undrafted rookie Pace has been a great find. Jordan Hicks and Camryn Bynum have been much improved this year, and Byron Murphy is a good cornerback – just not a Jaire Alexander or Sauce Gardner.
After that, there’s not much good news for the Vikings. Free agent edge rusher Marcus Davenport has only managed four defensive snaps. The 2022 draftees appear to be buried on the depth chart, apart from Akayleb Evans, who is doing a solid job at CB. Dean Lowry has had a rough start, as Phillips appears to be plowing a lone furrow on the defensive line. The edge rushers outside of Hunter have been entirely ineffective, so the Vikings will be desperate to get Davenport involved. Even so, the DL and edge need some serious attention during the upcoming offseason.
2023 is Still Alive For Now
Vikings fans can be forgiven for casting their eyes to next season, the possibility of a new QB, and any possible moves to facilitate that happening. However, the team isn’t there yet. Professional pride dictates that players and coaches alike will be hunting for wins, starting with a trip to Carolina this week.
Another loss will undoubtedly shift the focus to next season. Maybe then the phone will be ringing regarding a trade for Cousins, but for now, there will be no tearing everything down in September.