January 22, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) celebrates after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (not pictured) during an NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Recently, the Vikings haven’t presented much of a challenge for the rest of the NFL.
Two years ago, the Vikings missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record. There was an awful lot of explaining away that humble finish – including from yours truly – as being part of Zimmer’s one-good-year, one-bad-year pattern. Last season was supposed to be far better, and yet the team found itself in a disappointingly similar finish. 8-9 is no one’s idea of success.
The team now enters 2022 with a brand new leadership group. The roster, for the most part, looks similar to past ones. The most notable changes are on defense. Xavier Woods, Anthony Barr, Michael Pierce, Bashaud Breeland, and Mackensie Alexander (among others) are all playing elsewhere. The team will be relying on some combination of Lewis Cine, Za’Darius Smith, Harrison Phillips, Andrew Booth Jr., and Jordan Hicks to replace them.
Can a slightly different group of players partner with the new leadership to create a different outcome in 2022?
The NFL, The Vikings, and 3 seasons for Purple Optimism
1) Tremendous Skill
Don’t let misguided evaluations fool the wide receiver group, Minnesota really does have one of the most impressive collections of skills in the NFL.
Common football wisdom suggests that the game is won in the trenches. There a ton of truth in that sentiment. There is some concern about how the Vikings’ OL will matchup with the rest of the NFL. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that having a tremendous skill makes life easier for the lines. If players consistently get open with ease, the OL will need to block for less time. If the RB can make a man miss and / or outrace someone’s edge, then the blockers look a lot better.
In an ideal world, Minnesota can make a strong play along the line with great skill. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, we should be sure to remember that the skill guys will impact everything else on the team. Finding a way to slow down Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn, Irv Smith Jr., and Dalvin Cook is an unenviable task. Minnesota should be one of the toughest offenses to slow down.
2) High Ceiling Edge Rushers
More can be done to address the depth, but the starting two look really impressive.
The reports suggest that Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are forming a strong bond. Kevin O’Connell noted that Hunter was trying to recruit Smith before the former Packer signed with Minnesota: “Long before we really got going, when we were bringing Za’Darius to potential sign him, I knew Danielle and he had been in communication. . ” K / O then notes that the edge rusher “room is as close-knit as any reason for any position group on our team.”
In a perfect world, the two vets will stay healthy for a full 17-game season (and beyond). Teams will then need to choose between devoting resources toward one of the two dynamic edge rushers. Per PFRthe last time they were both healthy for a full year, Hunter and Smith combined to put together 27 sacks.
3) New Schemes
Vikings fans will enjoy watching the Donatell scheme in action, one of the trendiest NFL defenses. Partnering with a much-improved defense of the aforementioned skill will make Minnesota really difficult to overcome.
The Smith & Hunter pass rusher pair could be the engine that makes this entire defense go. Provided they are excellent as we expect, everything else will fall into place defensively. They demand so much attention from the iDL to get favorable matchups. The LBs should be able to roam relatively unencumbered, and the secondary will need to be covered for less time. Expect Donatell to find ways to use his top two pass rushers to allow the rest of the defense to thrive.
On the other side of things is Kirk Cousins and the offense. The QB1 has been in the NFL for a while and has had an awful lot of offensive coordinators in its time. If K / O turns into a perfect fit that can stick around for several years, we finally see # 8 take the next step. Previously, Donatell referred to the “cutting edge schemes and formations” that K / O is implementing on Minnesota’s offense. If the old DC is right in his evaluation, Minnesota should improve on an offense that was simply average in 2021.
Combining great skills, sensational edge rushers, and innovative schemes can make a recipe for football success. The onus falls on the players and staff to bring it all together during the offseason so that the 2022 season leads to a far different outcome than previous years.