September 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) delivers the ball to running back Dalvin Cook (33) in the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Vikings have always been one of the most frustrating teams to watch during the 2021 NFL season. The team is 3-5 after another disappointing loss in Baltimore, posting all five early-season losses by seven points or less. In fact, despite their bad record, the Vikings still have a positive point differential (+3).
Nor is it that the team has underperformed statistically. Kirk Cousins has numbers that reflect a top quarterback in the league, Dalvin Cook has been excellent executing the ball, and the Adam Thielen / Justin Jefferson duo have seemingly picked up right where they left off in 2020.
So how does this team fare closer to the bottom of the leaderboard than to the top mid-season? Well, at least the loss to the Ravens only continued an unsettling trend that has followed the Vikings all this year. After jumping to a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter behind the force of two long touchdown drives, the Vikings’ offense stalled over the course of the final three quarters. After gaining 172 yards on those two drives, Minnesota would win just 144 over the course of its last nine possessions.
Even considering this, the beginning of this game was impressive enough to put it in a rarefied air for the Vikings season. It was only the fifth time they scored touchdowns in consecutive units in 2020. For reference, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have accomplished the feat seven times in just their last four games.
Super fast starts
The truth is that this version of the Vikings is quite talented. A quarterback who takes care of the ball, dynamic receivers and running backs, an improved offensive and defensive line; You really can’t ask for much more. With that, of all the frustrating things about this team, the one that causes a real tear is this: consistency. If you just looked at the opening series of each Minnesota Vikings game, you’d probably come to the conclusion that this team was a true contender on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.
Unfortunately, if you watched the rest of those games, you often wondered how this team managed to move the ball so easily a few minutes earlier. However, your eyes are not deceiving you. This team has gotten off to a fast start in almost every game this season, while quickly becoming a shell of that success throughout the remainder of the contest.
Like many things in this league, the numbers can help tell the story. First, let’s see the good. Vikings are really amazing coming out of doors. Here are the results of each opening campaign for Minnesota from week one:
That’s pretty good folks. Since week one punt to open the season against Cincinnati, the Vikings have scored in every series to start their games. They’re averaging a whopping 5.1 points and 59.4 yards per series on these possessions, but this excellent touchdown isn’t the only thing that’s important.
Even if they didn’t score in each of these units, as long as opposing defenses are forced to stay on the field for extended periods of time, that could be considered a success. Minnesota has done a great job on this too, and they’ve averaged 3:33 off the clock on these first few possessions. Again for reference, the NFL leaders in time per possession are Cleveland at 3:13 and points per possession are Arizona at 2.81. It’s obviously a small sample size, but the Vikings’ starting offense takes these numbers out of the water.
A sad Viking competition
However, with all the good things, there is so much bad. After their initial series, the Vikings averaged 10.8 possessions per game. As fast as Vikings can warm up to start a game, they also quickly disappear. Over the course of these just under 11 possessions, the Vikings’ productivity plummets. In these possessions, they are averaging just 30.1 yards, 2:33 of playing time and just 1.7 points.
Looking at this drastic drop, it is no wonder why the Vikings’ offensive rankings have fallen far below where they were in 2020.If we eliminated the eight units that have opened Vikings games this season, they would be very comparable to those of the Vikings. New York Giants. in terms of offensive production. The Giants are scoring 1.72 points per drive while averaging 30.5 yards and taking 2:40 of playing time. And you wouldn’t know, New York even has a similar record to the Vikings, at 3-6 in the NFC East.
Despite a comparison to the New York Giants, there is too much pedigree in this Vikings offense for them to be at that level. That only makes the lack of production even more puzzling, but there are probably a couple of reasons to point this out. First, one that half of Vikings fans will praise while the other half condemn: Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback, but not great.
Cousins is probably the best player to go up the floor as the boy below center. There will never be a time when a team with Captain Kirk is not at least competitive in games, despite the nickname of “garbage time statistics” that has often been falsely applied to their performances. However, Cousins lacks a consistent factor that championship-caliber quarterbacks have (i.e. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, etc.). Sometimes it will come with a big boost with gutsy pitches; other times, it will constantly flip over to your flat option.
Another possibility, perhaps more optimistic, is that Klint Kubiak is still learning his way as an interlocutor. This is a bit unfortunate given the number of close games the Vikings have played in which some questionable plays have impacted the outcome. For a fan base hoping to be a competitor this year, these lapses are only magnified. However, there is good news with this option. It is based on the fact that it is obvious that you can write an amazing script before each game. The Vikings offense has looked sharp to start every game, and if Kubiak can perhaps improve his calls on the fly, he will be a lethal unit. However, until something subsides, the Vikings will likely remain on the same level as the New York Giants.