With the 2018 season complete, we can now look at the full 16-game sample size to see what story the stats tell us.
Here are three areas that led to the Minnesota Vikings’ downfall.
The Vikings perpetually struggled on 2nd/3rd and short (1-3 yards), which stalled numerous drives throughout the season.
Minnesota finished 28th in first-down percentage, converting those situations at 55 percent. While the stigma around the Vikings was that they tried to force short-yardage runs up the middle, they actually ran it just 41 out of 111 times in those situations, tied for the fifth-fewest attempts in the league. The problem was they converted just 22 out of 41 first downs in those spots (10 percent below the league average), running it for 2.29 yards per carry.
They passed it the second-most in the league in short-yardage — 70 times — converting 55.7 percent of the time, just above the league average of 54 percent. Their turnover percentage in short yardage, though, was also the fourth highest in the NFL at 4.5 percent.
Altogether, 2018 was a struggle in this area after the 2017 Vikings finished sixth in first-down percentage (64 percent) with much better balance (59 pass, 55 rush) in short yardage.
Too Much Pressure
The Vikings offensive line permitted 259 pressures this season, per Pro Football Focus, the highest number allowed in Mike Zimmer’s five seasons and the second-highest in the NFL this season (Houston exceeded them with 280). Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff — to whom the Vikings devoted big money in 2017 free agency — tied for the team lead with 42 each.
The offensive line allowed 200 pressures in the 2017 regular season — the best mark in their previous five years — but took a huge step back with the retirement of Joe Berger and a season-ending injury to Nick Easton. Kirk Cousins’ lack of mobility also played into the rise.
The Zimmer-Era Vikings continue to be plagued by offensive line woes. In the five years before Zimmer arrived, none of the Vikings offensive lines permitted more than 200 pressures — in part because of their dependence on running the ball with Adrian Peterson. With the league passing more than ever, Minnesota’s offensive lines have not held up.
More Sacks, Less Pass Rush?
While the Vikings led the league in sacks up until the final week and wound up finishing tied for third with 50, they still posted some disappointing pass-rushing numbers. For instance, their 16 sacks on the road ranked tied for sixth-lowest in the NFL. Their number of sacks on first and second down (18) tied for eighth lowest, showing a lack of pressure generated with their typical four-man rush. Their quarterback hits (42, per PFF) were at a five-year low.
The Vikings have often said that they are more focused on pressures and rush discipline than sacks, especially against mobile passers, but they recorded zero or one sack in four of the last nine games — all losses. As good as Minnesota’s defensive line is, there is still room to improve.