The Vikings Should Bench 1 Player
The Minnesota Vikings lost the first game of their 2023 campaign with an unexpected 20-17 loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led by former first-overall pick Baker Mayfield. Three turnovers but no takeaway were too much to overcome, especially with some penalties in crucial situations making life even harder.
The Vikings Should Bench 1 Player
One bright spot was certainly the excellent run defense that held Rachaad White and Sean Tucker in check, similar to how well Tampa Bay handled Alexander Mattison and Ty Chandler. Unlike the running attack, the passing game was quite effective, although not consistent enough throughout the game.
Kirk Cousins and his weapons ranked 10th in dropback EPA/play in Week 1, resulting in 344 yards for the passer. His favorite target, Justin Jefferson, had a field day, firing up 150 receiving yards to open his season in pursuit of the elusive 2,000-yard mark.
Next to him, one player stood out in the passing game. Rookie Jordan Addison had a wonderful NFL debut, catching four passes for 61 yards and a score where he ran past the defense and showed deep threat ability.
Despite his solid performance, Addison is still not a starter and is officially a backup to fourth-year players Jefferson and K.J. Osborn. Veteran Osborn was just like the rookie targeted six times, but he only hauled in three passes for 31 yards.
A couple of plays were meaningful, and both are controversially debated in the Vikings bubble. Cousins threw the ball in Osborn’s direction in the red zone but missed him slightly, throwing it behind him to escape the lurking safety. The play resulted in an interception, a crucial one.
In the fourth quarter, on an essential drive where the Vikings needed a score, they went three-and-out. The final throw went to Osborn, but again, Cousins slightly missed him and overthrew his target. In both instances, the blame shouldn’t be directed at Osborn, although the expectation is that a starting receiver can make at least one of those plays.
What should the Vikings do with that situation? Well, they should just put Addison in the game and treat Osborn like the WR3, the same role he had in 2021 and 2022. The rookie is a more dynamic player and a natural playmaker that needs to be on the field.
Osborn logged 58 of 64 offensive snaps, and Addison 36. When there were two wideouts on the field, it was exclusively Jefferson and Osborn, while the rookie only played in sets with three receivers.
That is where the adjustment should be made. There could be two reasons why Kevin O’Connell wants to keep Osborn in. The first one is that Osborn is a veteran. Those are less prone to making mistakes. In addition to that, the rookie must take the job, and teams don’t just hand them the starting role. The argument can be made that Addison has taken it with his Week 1 performance.
The second reason why Osborn might get the nod is run blocking. He is a solid run blocker and can help keep a defender away from the ball carrier, whereas that is one of Addison’s weaknesses, especially because of his size. He is a willing blocker but just lacks the strength.
Minnesota wants to be able to run and pass out sets with two wideouts (12 and 21 personnel), and Osborn is a better fit for that. Versatility has been a big theme all year, and O’Connell wants to be able to do everything out of every formation.
At some point, however, the advantage of Addison over Osborn in the receiving game is too much to keep him off the field. He has shown he can be the complementary piece to Jefferson out wide, and the Vikings should unleash their high-priced rookie. Osborn wouldn’t disappear from the offense but revert into his role as the third wideout, where he has been quite fantastic for a couple of seasons.
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