As Minnesota fans wallow in pity and despair, Vikings Twitter burns itself to the ground and calls for the destruction of the franchise surface… Jokes aside, the Vikings lost a close match last night against Philadelphia and look to rebound next week against the Justin Herbert led Chargers. In what has been a less than ideal fashion, the Vikings start 0-2 in their 2023 campaign, continuing the hot then cold fashion they’ve had since the Zimmer era. However, much to fans dismay, it’s not time to hit the panic button yet. The reality of this season is the Vikings will probably have a worse record than last year but will be a better team. Truly, this was on display in the first two weeks, where the team did play incredibly well, albeit their two losses. Looking ahead, here are four things that Vikings fans should note before writing off this season as a bust.
The Steady Hand of Kirk Cousins
Casuals will tell you Kirk Cousins isn’t clutch, that we should trade him to the Jets for draft capital. Stop, because Cousins has made a case that he is one of the top three Vikings quarterbacks all time and his trajectory in this continues. In two weeks, Cousins has put up MVP numbers en route to 708 passing yards, 6 passing touchdowns, an interception, and a 72% completion percentage. If those numbers hold for the rest of the season, he’ll eclipse 6,000 passing yards and have 51 touchdowns. For any other quarterback, he’d be celebrated but not Cousins. Yes, he’s had 3 fumbles and an interception, but one was a strip sack by the Eagles and the other was on Ed Ingram. As for the interception, maybe it’s on Osborn, maybe it’s not but if you want to hit the panic button on two turnovers in two games… The blame for these losses is not on Cousins’ shoulders. Could he have played better? Yeah, but those improvements are marginal. He is making clutch throws and threading the needle (like below). As a veteran presence, he’s leading this team and leading it well.
Defense Wins Championships
After an offseason that saw the Vikings lose Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Duke Shelley, Za’Darius Smith, and a few other defensive pieces, many expected the defensive struggles to continue. However, when you remove the points earned on scoring turnovers, the Vikings defense is allowing just 19 points a game to opposing offenses. In a vacuum, the defense might still be bad. In reality, they’ve played very well but still have their struggles. The bottom line is Flores is working, the defense is far and improved from last season. No, you can’t just pick and choose which plays you want to count but as a whole, outside of turnovers and busted coverage, the Vikings defense has looked solid and will win this team some games. If special teams can pick up the slack, this team can compete with any team.
Choose Your Weapon
Though KJ Osborn has not looked ideal, Minnesota has a stable of weapons to utilize. In the passing game, Jefferson is just as good as anticipated. Currently, he’s on pace for 170 receptions and 2,600 yards. This will simmer but he’s cooking. The rookie Addison has also looked solid, racking up 133 yards and 2 touchdowns, which puts him on track for a 1,100-yard season. To pair with these two, Hockenson has continued his tear, putting up 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns with a few crucial catches in two games. As a unit, the air raid offense looks sensational. However, many say the weakness falls on Alexander Mattison and as a whole, he’s not good enough. Don’t hit the panic button on Mattison, Minnesota has played arguably the two best defensive fronts in the league. Backs will struggle against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Truly, if you were to pick three random backs (say Dalvin Cook, Ty Chandler, and Kareem Hunt) behind this line and in these games, they’d also have fits. The weapons are fine and cleaning up the turnovers will show that.
It’s the NFL, Deal with It
Minnesota won 11 one-possession games during their 2022 season, which is the best all time. Close games can swing either way and last season, they always swung in favor of the Purple and Gold. For most fan bases, that would be a sign of resilience and grit. Usually, it shows a team can grind out close games and win. For Minnesota, they’re frauds. However, good teams find a way to win close games and Minnesota is good. Yes, the Vikings are 0-2 this season, but they have lost both games by one possession (dang karmatic justice…). If last year’s wins were lucky, you can’t have it both ways because realistically, these losses are unlucky.
In these games, the Vikings had seven turnovers, with three being in the red zone. Clean up the turnovers, remove some questionable play calling, and Minnesota winds handily in both. Put it this way: Minnesota is a bad team who lost to one of the worst teams in the league and can’t win on primetime OR the Vikings lost to two teams that have recently been to Super Bowls and despite their turnover woes, had a shot to win in both games up until the end. It’s the NFL, no win is guaranteed. Don’t hit the panic button, just relax.