The Minnesota Vikings are gearing up to go to Lambeau after their Week 7 bye. Things haven’t gone right for the squad this season, and they are sitting at 1-5 as they prepare for their final 10-game stretch. While that 1-5 mark was certainly unexpected, some things have transpired this season that are even more shocking.
Samia being worse than Elflein
Pat Elflein was coming off a horrible 2019 campaign, and many fans cringed and worried when shortly after the preseason resumed, it was made known he’d be the starting right guard for this year’s Vikings. It was no shock when his performance was just as bad as what we had been accustomed to seeing, and many fans rejoiced (tongue in cheek) when he was placed on injured reserve after the first game with a thumb injury.
Dru Samia was named to be his replacement, and there was optimism that he would be an upgrade over the struggling Elflein. It was a shock to all when the complete opposite happened — Samia was actually worse than Elflein. He was simply overpowered and outmatched against any defensive lineman he encountered. Seeing Samia get pushed back into the Vikings’ backfield became a common occurrence, and the constant penalties he racked up were drive killers for the Vikings.
Sometimes fans should realize the coaching staff does know what they are doing and are putting the best players on the field when they can. That was certainly the case with Elflein. Samia’s play through the five games he played in made Ol’ Pat look like a Pro Bowler.
There was a ton of excitement in late August when the Vikings moved a second-round choice to get edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fans were pumped to see him on the field with Danielle Hunter, giving Minnesota arguably the best bookend pair of pass rushers in the entire NFL.
That vision never became a reality. Hunter was injured, and it was soon realized the move was to get an established pass rusher in house to replace the one they’d be losing. Ngakoue had five sacks for the Vikings in his brief stint and was the primary source of pressure the defense could muster through the first six games.
Just a week ago, however, they traded Ngakoue to the Ravens for a third and future fifth-round pick. While some saw this move coming, the fact the Vikings actually did it was a shock. Not only are they losing a second-round choice for just six games with this player, but it’s also a sign that this team is conceding that the 2020 season is lost. While many see this as a major mistake by Rick Spielman, credit should be given to him for trying to get something back for Ngakoue when it was clear the season was lost, and he was unlikely to re-sign with the Vikings.
Kirk Cousins was coming off a very solid 2019 season. The guy not only lit up the stat sheet by throwing for 3,600 yards and 26 touchdowns, he protected the ball better than he had in the past and also took on more of a leadership role with the team. He put the team on his back and willed it back into games, winning a few in the final seconds.
This season things have taken a shocking turn for the worse. Cousins has thrown 11 touchdowns, but also 10 interceptions. Some of those throws were Hail Marys as time expired, but others were just poor decisions on Cousins’ part. He also has had some lost fumbles and just seems out of whack so far this season. The Vikings’ quarterback is usually very generous with the football, spreading the love around, but through the first two games primarily targeted Adam Thielen whether he was open or not.
It is unclear why Cousins is playing so poorly. Maybe some of it has to do without having Stefon Diggs on the team, or maybe it’s because of Kubiak’s play calling. Whatever the reason, it was unexpected.
The Vikings traded Diggs to the Buffalo Bills prior to the start of the season and acquired a first-round choice in the process. They used that pick on wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and while they were hoping he’d be able to replace some of Diggs’ production, they probably didn’t see him being this good this early.
Jefferson has arguably been the best rookie in the NFL this season. He already has 537 yards on the season. The kid plays with a ton of energy and does so many things well. He already runs dynamite routes, can make tough grabs when covered and has great overall speed. Now the team knows they have their No. 1 wide receiver of the future on the roster, someone they can look to build around in seasons to come.
The lack of pass rush
The Vikings’ defense was always going to have some questions as the 2020 season began. There were concerns about the cornerback group and their inexperience. There was also some worry about the interior of this unit and whether or not the defensive tackles would be able to slow down opponents’ running games.
One area that wasn’t a concern was the Vikings’ pass rush. While they lost Everson Griffen, it appeared that Ifeadi Odenigbo was ready to take over as a starter after a breakout 2019 campaign. Hunter was also on the roster and there was no reason to think he wouldn’t continue being one of the premier defensive ends in the NFL. When the team traded for Ngakoue in August, Vikings fans drooled at the potential of him and Hunter terrorizing quarterbacks together every Sunday.
As stated earlier, it appeared the trade for Ngakoue was to replace Hunter and not to play with him because Hunter’s “tweak” turned out to be a neck injury. Even so, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that Ngakoue and Odenigbo would still be able to provide plenty of heat from the edge. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The Vikings, through six games, have just 13 sacks, which is league average and is killing this defense.
Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme lives or dies by pressure created up front. The lack of pressure has allowed quarterbacks plenty of time to find their receivers, who are easily getting open against the Vikings young corners. Zimmer has struggled to overcome the lack of pressure from the ends, and even when he sends a corner or safety on a blitz, it seems to almost always get picked up. With Ngakoue now traded, the pass rush for the Vikings will be even more non-existent and will make things all the tougher on the team’s young cornerbacks.