3 Reasons for Optimism about the Vikings after 0-2 Start

San Francisco Newspaper
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to pass against the New York Giants during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings have kicked off the 2023 party with a 0-2 record, a mark that doesn’t sit well with the team’s coaching staff, players, or fans.

3 Reasons for Optimism about the Vikings after 0-2 Start

Minnesota now faces longshot odds to reach the postseason and must find a way out of the winless hole.

Reasons for Optimism
Mar 1, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell speaks to the press at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not all bad for the Vikings, though. The team looks borderline competent about 70% of the time; the other 30% is ruining ball games. Here are three reasons Vikings fans should remain excited about the product through two games, ranked in ascending order of importance (No. 1 = most important)

3. The Defense Has Improved

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

In 2022, Minnesota won a division title and finished 13-4 with a defense that ranked 30th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed, a mini-miracle indeed.

Fast forward to 2023, with Brian Flores in charge after Ed Donatell was let go in January, and the Vikings defense has improved by the metrics and to the naked eye. It’s a bit weird to put that out in the stratosphere after the purple team just surrendered 259 rushing yards to the Eagles, rest assured. But Minnesota curiously didn’t insert run-stuffing personnel against Philadelphia, meaning, when they get in the mood to eventually stop the run, they’ll be able to do it more proficiently than Thursday night.

On the whole, the Vikings aren’t missing oodles of tackles like 2022. They’re forcing pressure, and the unit generally seems hungrier and faster.

And that’s through two games. Defenses improve over time, especially one peppered with youngsters like the Vikings current group.

2. Cousins Is Cooking

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) leaves the field after the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

You might be riddled with resentment over the Vikings 0-2 record, but the team’s quarterback is doing his part — and then some.

Cousins — somewhat quietly? — has started his 12th season in the NFL with his hottest start ever. He’s delivered 708 passing yards, 6 touchdown passes, 1 interception, a 114.2 passer rating, and a 68.2 QBR. The QBR mark is the eighth-best in the sport before the rest of Week 2’s docket.

An indictment of the controversial “QB Wins” stat, Cousins is throwing darts to Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson, keeping the team afloat while everyone (himself included) fumbles like Josh Allen during a kneeldown.

The encouraging part? Cousins doesn’t typically hit this level of hotness until mid-October and all of November. But he’s doing it already in 2023, and if folks stop turning the ball over, the 2023 Vikings can actually be quite good.

1. Turnovers Should Stabilize

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell talks to players during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

A reasonable case can be made that the only method the Vikings could be 0-2 through two games with all other aspects of their performance is a lopsided turnover differential, which they own. Minnesota has turned the ball over seven times — six fumbles — while forcing just one takeaway, an interception off Jalen Hurts.

If the Vikings fix their fumbling malady — like today — they can probably beat any time in the league or at least take the best of the best down to the wire.

This is rudimentary stuff. Don’t drop the ball, finish drives, and the box score will look markedly different. The Vikings are a fixed fumble problem away from consideration as a playoff football team.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.