This may come off as a, "no sh**, Sherlock" statement but if the Vikings want to improve upon an 8-7-1 season, they'll have to be a better offensive team this season.
Despite a 4,000-yard season from Kirk Cousins, Minnesota's offense ranked in the bottom half of the league in points, yards and red-zone efficiency.
- Yards: 5,529 - 20th
- Points: 22.5 - 19th
- Red zone scoring percentage: 54% - 21st
Despite that, Bill Barnwell of ESPN predicts the Vikings have the fifth-best "offensive arsenal" in 2019. Here's what he had to say:
"How far can two star wide receivers take you? The Vikings have the best one-two punch in the game with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and though the eight consecutive 100-yard games Thielen posted to start the 2018 season probably won't pop up again this season, the 28-year-old has topped his receiving yardage total four consecutive times. Mike Zimmer still insists on Minnesota running the football -- a curious emphasis given that the Vikes have these two wideouts and are paying their quarterback $28 million per season -- but don't bet against Thielen making it five in a row."
Barnwell has the Vikings' arsenal ahead of offenses like the Saints, Patriots and Falcons. Even though those three units finished top 10 in points and yards in 2018. It's also worth noting that Barnwell ranked the Vikings fifth in 2018, too.
The thing is, the Vikings do have the personnel to be a better offense.
They have two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph, and if Dalvin Cook stays healthy he's one of the more versatile backs in the league.
The one area they should focus on improving is their red-zone offense. If Minnesota had scored on just 10 percent more of their drives inside the 20-yard line, they would've been a top-10 unit last year.
There's a few reasons why they were unsuccessful in the red zone. First, Cousins was running for his life with a shaky offensive line. Second, their kicking situation was a crap shoot and Mike Zimmer clearly has no trust in using them. Third, John DeFilippo didn't do the offense any favors with his play-calling.
Because of the offensive line and shaky play calling, Cousins was put in a lot of third-and-long situations.
As pointed out by Matthew Coller of SKOR North, Cousins averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt (16th best) on third-and-long. For more context, here are the top-five quarterbacks in those situations.
- Ben Roethlisberger 8.7 (yards per attempt)
- Aaron Rodgers 8.7
- Tom Brady 8.5
- Matt Ryan 8.3
- Drew Brees 7.9
You can make up any excuses you want for Cousins but the fact of the matter is, other quarterbacks have demonstrated they can deal with third-and-long situations.
Kevin Stefanski is technically the Vikings' offensive coordinator but Minnesota also brought in Gary Kubiak to ease his ongoing transition, which saw him take over for DeFilippo midway through last season.
Kubiak was a wizard in Houston, helping Matt Schaub put up video game-like numbers. Even during his time in Denver when Peyton Manning could barely throw a spiral, the team's offense was still competent and was able to piggyback on an elite defense and win a Super Bowl.
Keeping Cook healthy is also imperative for the Vikings to be better in 2019. He's missed 17 games over the course of his first two seasons. And it's fact that Zimmer wants to focus on the run game, where the Vikings ranked 30th in the league last season.
Minnesota already lost Latavius Murray to free agency (Saints) and drafted rookie Alexander Mattison in the third round. If Cook can't stay healthy, it's going to be an uphill battle for them to be successful running the football.
Maybe the Vikings can overcome their shortcomings in 2019. The personnel is certainly there but they'll need everyone on board and healthy to make it happen.