The Minnesota Vikings finished 7-9 in the 2020 season, falling short of expectations. While some of their shortcomings were out of their control due to the pandemic’s unique circumstances, a lot of decisions the coaching staff and front office made before and during the season were a big reason why they finished under .500.
Why didn’t they sign one of their free-agent cornerbacks?
The Vikings made a conscious decision to go into the 2020 season with a young group of corners, opting to release Xavier Rhodes, coming off a down year. They couldn’t match what Trae Waynes was going to make on the free-agent market, but perhaps they should’ve tried harder to keep Mackensie Alexander.
Their youth movement backfired. They didn’t anticipate Mike Hughes getting hurt again, despite his injury history, and they couldn’t have foreseen the regression that Holton Hill was going to go through. But sometimes, when you gamble, you lose, which is what happened with the Vikings in 2020. They were forced to use their two rookie corners extensively, and while Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler had some nice plays during the season, they had plenty of bad moments that were costly.
The Vikings needed to hang on to one of these veteran cornerbacks instead of letting them all go. Alexander was the guy to keep because he only got a one-year deal from the Cincinnati Bengals. His knowledge of Zimmer’s coverage schemes would have helped their first-year players, and his ability to blitz off the edge also would’ve come in handy for a team that couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback.
If the Vikings could have a do-over, they surely would’ve done all they could to keep Alexander in house, and perhaps a few more wins would’ve come their way.
Trading for Yannick Ngakoue seemed like a great move. Minnesota realized they would be losing Danielle Hunter for the season and needed an elite edge rusher to help make Zimmer’s defense go. Ngakoue was brought in late in camp and wasn’t really in game shape until about Week 3. He managed five sacks in the first six games of the season, but the Vikings went 1-5 in that span. Realizing they weren’t going to re-sign him and the season was all but lost, Rick Spielman dealt Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for a third-round pick.
While it’s hard to blame Spielman for being aggressive, maybe he should’ve stepped back and looked at the big picture. This season was always going to be a weird one with the pandemic and the uncertainty it created. Maybe he should’ve just realized that and not made a move that would cost the Vikings a chance to get a young playmaker through the draft. While he deserves some credit for getting a pick back in return, Minnesota could’ve used Ngakoue down the stretch, especially when they were making a playoff push.
The whole Ngakoue situation was odd, one the Vikings and their fans will want to forget soon, but that won’t happen until after the 2021 Draft.
Failing to upgrade at guard
The guard position was handled in a very puzzling manner all season long. First of all, the Vikings didn’t bring in any help in the offseason. They cut their best interior blocker, Josh Kline, and re-signed Dakota Dozier. The draft wasn’t any better. They failed to bring a true guard prospect until their final pick of the seventh round.
Not only was their failure to upgrade surprising, but the coaching staff also failed to make changes when their players were struggling. For whatever reason, the Vikings didn’t see enough of Pat Elflein last season and let him start again in 2020. He struggled in the team’s opener and then got hurt. He was replaced by Dru Samia, who was somehow even worse, but they kept rolling him out there until he also got hurt. Finally, they put Ezra Cleveland at right guard, and while he had his ups and downs, he was an improvement.
While it was nice to see them finally go with Cleveland on the right side, the Vikings never tried anything different at the left guard spot, which was inexcusable. Every single week Dozier got the start, and every single week he was horrible. He got pushed around, blown past, and drew costly flags in many games. Instead of trying Brett Jones, Oli Udoh, or even Kyle Hinton, Dozier would start. The team seemed shocked when every week he was a major liability.
The fact the Vikings failed to make a change at a major area of weakness was maybe the most absurd decision of the season.
Sticking with Bailey and Maalouf
Not making changes when players were struggling was common for the Vikings last year. Not only did we see this on the offense with the guard position, but we saw it on defense with the tackles and on special teams. The fact that Marwan Maalouf made it through the entire season with his job intact was surprising — this unit was horrible all season long. They had multiple blocked punts, botched snaps, no return game, and struggled to cover. They couldn’t kick field goals either, and their punt game was terrible.
Maalouf could’ve been fired by midseason, but the team just kept rolling him and his poor unit out there week after week.
The Vikings also should’ve made a change at kicker. Dan Bailey was solid early in the season but melted down about halfway through. He became completely unreliable to the point where Minnesota elected to go for two instead of attempting a routine extra point. Instead of making a change, especially after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, they stuck with their kicker. It was no surprise he was unreliable and kept missing kicks that no professional should.
The Vikings will have a new special teams coordinator in 2021 and should have a new kicker. The fact it didn’t happen sooner is a major head-scratcher.