Wide Left: Vikings offensive preview – avoiding the bleep show

Blair Anderson has a theme (bleep show) in his latest Wide Left blog.
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Kirk Cousins

In the land of Kick Ass Offense, there are many ways that you can describe the Minnesota Vikings’ 2018 season. Although roughly half of them are curse words; the Vikings were able to do some good things in the early part of the season until literally everything went to shit.

In case you forgot, “everything” included having their offensive line coach die, multiple offensive linemen winding up on injured reserve, both guards attempting to get Kirk Cousins killed, no resemblance of a running game, an offensive coordinator that was obsessed with screen passes on third-and-long and a head coach that wanted to run the Veer offense that your local high school probably executes to perfection.

After turning into a dumpster fire late in the season, the Vikings turned around and threw everything they could at the offense after pulling up in a Brinks truck at MSP when it looked like Anthony Barr was going to sign with the New York Jets (because Mike Zimmer loves his defense, baby).

If there is one goal for the offense coming into the 2019 season, it should be to put up enough points to not have their defense sweat out every yard (although Zimmer will probably make them do that anyway). Without further ado, here’s how the offense shakes up prior to the Vikings reporting for their first practice in Eagan on Friday afternoon:

Quarterback

While the Vikings shiny new toy, Kirk Cousins, obliterated opposing defenses in September to the tune of 1,387 yards, 10 TD and two interceptions, things completely became unglued just as things around him all went to shit (Are you sensing a theme here?).

By the end of the season, there was a small group of the fan base that was willing to fly a private jet to Case Keenum’s house in Brad Childress-like fashion to see if he could come back for the Vikings, but that type of thinking is borderline psychotic. At the end of the year, Cousins still got his stats (4,298 yards, 30 TD, 10 INT) but needs to show he won’t wet himself in front of a live national television audience in order to get the Vikings back to the playoffs.

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Behind Cousins is cult hero Kyle Sloter. If you think that people who want Keenum back are nuts, there’s a smaller group of people that want Sloter to start solely based on his preseason performance against third and fourth stringers. What’s even crazier is that the Vikings decided that his competition would be Sean Mannion, who has attempted just 53 passes in four seasons. If they were going to do this all along, wouldn’t it be easier to call up Shaun Hill and see what he's doing?

Then there’s Jake Browning who got a large sum of money for being terrible in his final two seasons in Washington. He’s probably a camp arm that mixes a mean Gatorade.

Running Back

If you’ve been reading my articles, you know that I’m a huge fan of Dalvin Cook. While he missed a lot of time with a hamstring injury last year, those injuries are common in patients who involuntarily see their knee explode. In fact, Washington’s Derrius Guice is dealing with the same thing after tearing his ACL taking on the entire New England Patriots second string last summer.

Talent is not a problem with Cook, but so far, staying healthy has been. Cook has missed 17 of a possible 32 games in his career and has a lengthy injury history dating back to his days at Florida State.. The thing with being an injury prone player, however, is that you are until you’re not. With Cook ranking sixth in PFF’s elusiveness rating at 81.9, staying on the field could result in a massive season if the offensive line pulls its head out of its ass. (Again, we’ll get to this later.)

Behind Cook will be third-round pick Alexander Mattison, who wasn’t too impressive statistically at Boise State, but seems to be what offensive advisor Gary Kubiak wants from his running backs. He’s not fast (4.67 40 time at the NFL scouting combine) and he’s not shifty (11.42 agility score according to PlayerProfiler), but he’ll wait for an opening, stick his foot in the ground and try to run your ass over if given the opportunity.

The rest of the field was made simpler after Roc Thomas was sent packing for his January marijuana arrest as Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah will battle for the final roster spot. Boone was solid when given the chance last year and Abdullah returned kicks after being randomly poached from the Detroit Lions. If neither of them do anything stupid, they might both make the team.

There’s also C.J. Ham, who will start at fullback. The other Minnesotan on the Vikings offense is a jack-of-all trades and does everything well. With offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski teasing 50 shades of Kubiak in his offense, it’s possible that versatility can be a nice weapon when the Vikings need it.

Wide Receiver

Life is great at the top of the depth chart at receiver as they have the best duo in the NFL. Adam Thielen, who if you haven’t heard went to Minnesota State-Mankato on a $500 scholarship, turned into a Pro Bowler and now has his face tattooed on some guy who probably made a drunk bet in a bar about four years ago that he now regrets (and if this isn’t the dream, I don’t know what the hell is), turned two seasons of torching the NFL into a massive contract extension last spring.

Stefon Diggs, meanwhile, got the bag after putting the finishing touches on what will probably go down as the happiest day of my life including the day I got married and the birth of my first child, giving the Vikings two kick-ass receivers for the foreseeable future.

After that? F#$%!

Last year, defenses begged anybody not named Diggs or Thielen to step up and Laquon Treadwell looked like he had been playing with Matchbox cars on the sidelines. Unfortunately, the Vikings need to pay him a lot of money to get rid of him.

If Minnesota cuts Treadwell at the end of camp, they’ll absorb a cap hit of $2.5 million. If Rick Spielman meets up with one of his GM buddies, dares him to chug half a bottle of Absinthe and then makes a drunken trade that he’ll regret in the morning, the Vikings are only on the hook for $1.3 million. The money is one thing, but there’s also a chance that Stefanski will say “To hell with this,” and kick him to the curb at the end of camp.

Outside of Treadwell, the Vikings will throw a bunch at the wall and see what sticks. Jordan Taylor hasn’t played in a NFL game in two years due to hip surgery, but he’s probably better than Treadwell. Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson haven’t played in a NFL game period and are probably better than Treadwell. Brandon Zylstra and Chad Beebe barely saw the field last year and are probably better than Treadwell.

I mean seriously, just find a way to get Treadwell off the team and we’ll be fine, OK?

Tight End

This was where all the drama happened this offseason. For the fifth straight year, the Vikings drafted a tight end to be a more athletic compliment to Kyle Rudolph. The difference with this year was that Rudolph had one year remaining on his contract and like a shrewd businessman, he got a four-year extension out of the Vikings. Cheers to you, Mr. Rudolph.

There are limitations to Rudolph’s game, but the good aspects are something that negates said limitations. Rudolph posted the highest catch rate (78%) of his career in 2018 and remains a solid red zone target despite having just four touchdown catches last year. (Rudolph combined for 15 touchdowns in 2016 and 2017.)

The problem with Rudolph is that he’s not a burner and once he gets the ball, he’s probably going down soon after. The solution? Draft a faster tight end.

Irv Smith Jr. was schemed in space during his junior year at Alabama and with Tua Tagovailoa throwing him the rock, he was able to use his 4.63 40-yard dash time to get yards in bulk. Nobody is going to confuse this guy for a Randy Moss type impact (unless your grandpa is watching and sees him wearing No. 84), but he can make some big plays that the Vikings desperately needed last year.

Outside of that, David Morgan is probably going to pancake some dudes and Tyler Conklin will try to make the team.

Offensive Line

This is the part I’ve been waiting for and it’s the most difficult part of this article. Just thinking about the offensive line last year made me want to slam an entire 12-pack of Grain Belt.

After o-line coach Tony Sparano died and Nick Easton went on the shelf with a neck injury, the Vikings decided to use Mike Remmers, who should be playing tackle and Tom Compton, who revealed himself as the worst best friend ever by letting Cousins get killed on every other play, at guard. The result was a combined 76 pressures allowed between the two, according to Pro Football Focus.

This year, the Vikings made the novel concept to try to play everyone at a position they’re comfortable with. It’s an earth-shattering strategy, but after last year, I’m willing to give anything a shot.

The Vikings drafted Garrett Bradbury with their first-round pick and while drafting an offensive lineman that high is the football equivalent of getting socks for Christmas, Bradbury has already made a positive impression on teammates. This is probably because they had to watch Remmers and Compton try to play guard last season.

With Bradbury presumably locked into the center position for the next decade, the Vikings will slide Pat Elflein over to left guard, where he was an All-American at Ohio State. Again…playing guys at their natural position. Weird.

On the right side, the Vikings signed Josh Kline to play guard. When you ask Tennessee Titans fans about Kline, however, they give you that weird, psychotic “See you in hell” grin that we give people when they ask about Matt Kalil. With that, the Vikings traded up to draft Dru Samia in the fourth round of last April’s draft, who was on Oklahoma’s Joe Moore Award-winning line as the best offensive line in college football. If Kline goes Kalil on us, at least there is a solid backup plan.

That leaves the tackles where Riley Reiff will man the left-side and Brian O’Neill will hold down the right. Reiff might still be having flashbacks of getting destroyed by Jerry Hughes in Week 3 last September, but the Vikings could do a lot worse on the blindside. He also didn’t make a rumored move to guard which would have destroyed the whole playing people at their natural positions thing.

On the other side, O’Neill was supposed to redshirt last year, but got thrust into the starting lineup when it looked like Rashod Hill chugged the other half of that bottle of Absinthe we were talking about. The results were pleasant as the Pittsburgh product didn’t allow a sack and allowed just 31 pressures on the season.

Conclusion

After last year, we know that Kirk Cousins needs everything around him for things to go right. With the Vikings offseason moves, it appears that they’ve done all that they can to make sure a repeat of 2018 doesn’t happen.

If the offensive line doesn’t work out and Dalvin Cook gets hurt, we could be in for another shit show. However, if everything goes to plan, the Vikings offense should be much improved in 2019.

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