The 4 Biggest Problems for the 2023 Vikings

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

If the Minnesota Vikings defeat the Detroit Lions in Week 18, accompanied by a loss by the Green Bay Packers to the Chicago Bears, an Arizona Cardinals win over the Seattle Seahawks, and either a Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints loss, Minnesota will jaunt into the playoffs.

So, the postseason probably isn’t happening.

The 4 Biggest Problems for the 2023 Vikings

The year is winding down for the Vikings, and the offseason could begin as early as Sunday night or Monday morning, depending on one’s perception.

And as an initial autopsy, these were the four biggest problems for the 2023 Vikings, ranked in ascending order (No. 1 = biggest problem).

4. Defensive Inconsistency

The 4 Biggest Problems
Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores chatting with Tatum Everett on February 15th, 2023. The Vikings hired Flores from the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a linebackers coach for one season.

In Brian Flores’ first year with the Vikings, his defense was poor out of the gate, great for 10 games, and then collapsed in the last three. When Kirk Cousins was injured — more on that later — Flores’ defense kept the enterprise afloat and propelled Minnesota to flirt with the postseason.

Here are the numbers:

Vikings Defense,
Per EPA/Play,
NFL Ranking,
2023:

Weeks 1-3 = 26th
Weeks 4-14 = 1st
Weeks 15-17 = 31st

Long story short, the defense died when the Vikings needed must-win games to enter the postseason.

3. Rushing Futility

Year 1 of the O'Connell Era
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Through 16 games, the Vikings ground game ranks 27th in the NFL per rushing DVOA. No combination of Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, Cam Akers, and Kene Nwangwu has worked. Twenty-seventh translates to sixth-worst.

Minnesota hired Kevin O’Connell, a former quarterback, to promote offense, and that’s great, but O’Connell must eventually nail down the Vikings’ ground game. Otherwise, they will never become Super Bowl contenders. Teams don’t have to “establish the run” anymore, but they must be able to churn out yards on the ground when they have a two-score lead. In their current form, the Vikings don’t do that and hence play close games every weekend.

The rushing attack needs new personnel and an enhanced philosophy or at least a focus of priority.

2. Turnovers

Turnover Woes
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings rank 30th in giveaways, handing the ball to opponents 32 times. Twice per game. In 2021, Minnesota had 13 turnovers all season, ranking tops in the league.

The turnover bug probably would’ve stabilized had Cousins not fallen injured, but truth be told, Minnesota had oodles of fumbles before Week 8. Giveaways have ravaged the Vikings’ second act under Kevin O’Connell.

Slicing 32 turnovers to league average could be the difference between a 7-9 record right now and 10-6 or 9-7. That’s how deadly they are.

1. Kirk Cousins’ Season-Ending Injury

Return to Familiar but Unkind
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports.

Everything about 2023 was ruined when Cousins tore his Achilles. Of course, in true Vikings fashion, a backup quarterback in Joshua Dobbs came through the curtain, convincing absolutely everybody that he was poised for a Case Keenum-like run.

It lasted two games.

Dobbs regressed — rapidly — and Nick Mullens took over, with little success. Minnesota needed Cousins to turn around its season; the whole enterprise was finally cooking the moment he got hurt.

Minnesota played with house money after the Cousins injury, and the house ultimately won.


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.

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