MINNEAPOLIS — Earlier than the Minnesota Vikings can move forward with selecting up the items from a lost season, they need to consider the place issues veered astray and the way to get the franchise again on observe.
An eight-7-1 document for a season that began with Tremendous Bowl expectations can’t be pinned to only one factor that went unsuitable. Lengthy earlier than the season started, the Vikings had been marred with tragedy and compelled to navigate powerful occasions that appeared to have a domino impact all through the season.
Here is a take a look at how issues got here aside and what they’ll do to move forward.
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The affect of shedding Tony Sparano: The Vikings lost greater than a veteran presence in the offensive line room when Sparano, 56, died the Sunday earlier than coaching camp opened. The sudden demise of one in every of Mike Zimmer’s most trusted confidants “actually type of threw issues into a little little bit of a downward spiral” and performed into the Vikings shedding a few of their id, in accordance to the head coach. Sparano offered Zimmer with a trusted ear on all issues soccer and perspective on life. He was additionally a shut buddy of former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, whom Sparano lobbied to carry to Minnesota. Sparano was wanted this season to assist Zimmer and DeFilippo navigate murky waters as soon as the two coaches started to not see eye to eye. The run recreation was Sparano’s “child.” With out him, it faltered as the Vikings struggled to generate a constant speeding assault with an offensive line that handled bumps and bruises all season.
How do they move forward? The Vikings left Sparano’s workplace untouched after he died and saved a gentle on to bear in mind him. As Minnesota seems to be for its subsequent offensive coordinator and probably a new offensive line coach, Zimmer hopes to restore the “nasty” mentality his group had however appeared to lack in 2018. That edge is one thing gamers and coaches have lengthy tied to Sparano’s affect that carried from the O-line room to the remainder of the offense.
Everson Griffen tends to psychological well being: Vikings gamers and coaches rallied round the Professional Bowl defensive finish whereas he took a go away of absence from Weeks three-7 to take care of points pertaining to psychological well being. At the time he was hospitalized in late September, Griffen was tied for the fifth most sacks in the NFL over the previous 5 seasons with 44.5. The Vikings had been with out their emotional and vocal chief, which left a void in the locker room. The day after information started to trickle out of two separate incidents involving Griffen and Twin Cities space police, Minnesota suffered an embarrassing loss to Buffalo. The protection ultimately hit all-time low. With out their elite cross-rusher, the Vikings had to compensate elsewhere to lastly get again on observe. As soon as Griffen returned in Week eight, he recorded four.5 sacks the remainder of the season, however was not the identical drive off the edge.
What’s subsequent for Griffen? The Vikings may choose to move on from Griffen this offseason or ask him to restructure his contract. Griffen, who has no assured cash left on his deal, comes with an $11.9 million cap hit in 2019. Minnesota wants to determine whether or not the 31-year-previous remains to be able to enjoying at a excessive stage.
Offense by no means carried out constantly: Kirk Cousins put up massive numbers however largely struggled in clutch conditions. The Vikings had been the solely group in the NFL not to have a comeback win or a recreation-profitable drive this season, which doesn’t replicate nicely on their $84 million quarterback. Cousins’ play deserves a lot scrutiny for his incapability to come by when his group wanted him the most, however the offense was by no means ready to discover an efficient workaround for its shortcomings. When Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had been shut down by defenses, Cousins didn’t execute different choices. Dalvin Cook dinner was anticipated to be the centerpiece of the offense, however that didn’t occur till far too late in the season. That was amongst the litany of causes this group struggled to discover its id from week to week.
How does Minnesota repair its offensive struggles? It begins with hiring the proper coordinator — one who can fulfill what Zimmer needs and convey the greatest out of Cousins. The 30-year-previous Cousins is who he’s at this level. Discovering somebody who’s keen to construct their scheme round Cook dinner and different talent gamers to alleviate strain off the QB is important. It may additionally be in Cousins’ greatest curiosity to not have to study a complete new system going into Yr 2.
Zimmer/DeFilippo battle: The inner strife between head coach and offensive coordinator started round Week 7 when the Vikings put up 37 factors in a highway win over the Jets. Zimmer began to publicly critique the method issues had been working offensively by wanting to run the ball extra. His message continued over the subsequent eight weeks as he criticized thje offense for having an excessive amount of quantity, the utilization of Cook dinner and the ineffective run recreation. Zimmer and DeFilippo by no means noticed eye-to-eye with their soccer philosophies, which led to DeFilippo being fired forward of Week 15.
How can this be averted going forward? Zimmer has had 4 offensive coordinators since he took over in 2014, two of whom left in the center of the season. Zimmer mentioned he’s going to method searching for his subsequent OC in another way, which ought to embody discovering somebody who aligns his imaginative and prescient for the offense. “I’ve realized a lot about the questions, the interview course of, about issues that I ought to in all probability do a lot higher than what I did,” Zimmer mentioned. “Hopefully I’ll do higher this subsequent time.”
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Kicking recreation woes: The Vikings traded up into the fifth spherical to draft Daniel Carlson this spring and lower him after he missed three subject targets in Week 2. They then signed the second-most correct kicker in NFL historical past in Dan Bailey, however even he struggled at occasions this season and missed seven subject targets. Towards the finish of the season, Bailey thrived in indoor video games, however was it sufficient to make the Vikings really feel like they’re kicking points are solved?
Does the revolving door at kicker lastly cease? Bailey is ready to turn into a free agent in March and isn’t sure what’s subsequent. The Vikings have realized their lesson about not utilizing draft picks on kickers that usually want extra time to pan out (Carlson went on to have a remarkably good season in Oakland) in strain conditions. For that purpose, holding on to Bailey is important for a group that’s struggled with its kickers lately.