Are the Vikings Experiencing an Identity Crisis?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings’ 14-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns inside US Bank Stadium brought to light most of the fears that Vikings fans have been tip-toeing around for quite a while. Whether it be Minnesota’s leaky run defense, overmatched offensive line, or Kirk Cousins‘ inability to make enough plays against the blitz, these aren’t exactly new problems.

Kevin Stefanski returned to Minneapolis and essentially called Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer’s bluff by running the ball down the throats of Minnesota’s “revamped” defensive line headlined by newcomers Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce. Despite thoroughly dominating the line of scrimmage throughout the day to the tune of 184 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry, Stefanski’s questionable play calling kept the Vikings within reach. Baker Mayfield was wildly inaccurate on multiple occasions, missing wide-open receivers, including superstar Odell Beckham Jr.

Pro Football Focus handed Mayfield the third-lowest QB grade (49.2) of Week 4 after he completed just 45.5% of his throws — despite having wide open receivers downfield all day. If Mayfield had some semblance of accuracy on his throws, or if Stefanski just kept the ball on the ground with Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, this game looks far more lopsided once the clock hit triple zeroes.

Circling back to Tomlinson, Pierce, and the rest of the Vikings’ defensive line. Per Spotrac, the Minnesota Vikings have the seventh-highest paid defensive line throughout the league — committing nearly $33 million and 17.61% of their salary cap to their defensive front.

And what does that particular investment have to show for it thus far? After getting pummeled by the Browns on Sunday, the Vikings rank 25th in defending the run, allowing 135.5 yards per game. For a franchise with obvious defensive fingerprints all over it with Spielman and Zimmer continuing to use their resources on that side of the ball, this is inexcusable production.

While it’s been customary over roughly the past decade, Minnesota’s shortcomings on the offensive line were on full display against one of the league’s best fronts led by Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. For the second time in four weeks, the big hoss’s up front were dominated, resulting in a measly 65 rushing yards and 2.8 yards per carry.

With Minnesota’s unapologetic reliance on the running game — ranking 4th and 8th over the past two seasons in rush attempts — does it make any sense to run behind an offensive line that continues to be overmatched anytime they go up against it a competent defensive front such as Cleveland’s? Spielman’s negligence of the offensive line makes it extremely difficult to be effective at running the ball with the amount of volume that the Vikings so desperately crave.

At this point, we should all be plenty familiar with who Kirk Cousins is. And more importantly, we all know who he isn’t. Cousins won’t be mistaken for Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, or Josh Allen. Cousins’ limited mobility requires a strong offensive line — just ask fellow statue quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. And unless you decided against watching the latest Super Bowl between Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, then you already know that even Patrick Mahomes struggles operating behind an inferior offensive line. Cousins is no different.

After what was put on film on Sunday, it should go without saying that the Vikings need rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw to be an impact player — which might be asking a lot considering his recurring groin issues.

As currently constructed, the Vikings see themselves as a smash-mouth, defensive oriented football team with Zimmer and the way the front office has allocated its resources in free agency and the draft. And as Sunday showed us, the Vikings pale in comparison to competent teams like the Browns that deliver on their identity.

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