It’s Time For Klint Kubiak To Get Weird

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You could describe the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 13 loss to the Detroit Lions with many different words, including some that decency forbids me to type. But no set of words encapsulates Sunday’s performance any better than this one: embarrassing.

As a born and bred Minnesotan, the moment Jared Goff delivered Detroit’s first win of the season, I received a flurry of messages from friends looking to make sure I was okay. Truth be told, the final play didn’t shock me. This entire season has been a big embarrassment for the Vikings, and Sunday just felt like the perfect bow on top.

This team has shown potential at times, only to suffer soul-crushing defeat after soul-crushing defeat. Weirdly, Minnesota’s collapse in Detroit showed its true colors. The Vikings are a very average NFL team. They do some things well and have some star players on both sides of the ball. But inconsistencies in player performance and coaching hold this team back from becoming anything more than what they’ve been all year.

It’s not a fun conclusion to come to for fans, but it’s a necessary one. The question at this point is: What now? The playoffs feel like an unrealistic dream at this point. Mike Zimmer has essentially been relieved of his duties by the fans.

There’s no official word yet, but Minnesota likely will be blowing things up come season’s end. That makes this final five-game stretch extremely important to evaluate the franchise. In essence, the last weeks of the season will be a tryout for certain players and coaches. But nobody has a more critical audition than Klint Kubiak.

It’s been a roller coaster with Kubiak in his first year as an offensive coordinator. He’s had stretches where he’s called great games, and he’s set up Cousins for his most efficient season to date. But Kubiak also seemingly forgot Justin Jefferson existed for the first half of the season, and stretches of stagnant offense in crunch time leave a sour taste in the mouth.

The jury may still be out on what Kubiak could become, but it seems unlikely that he’d survive a house cleaning of the coaching staff. The next five weeks serve not only as a last-ditch effort to salvage his job in Minnesota. More importantly, it’s essential to control what direction his career is headed.

Kubiak is an example of nepotism in the Vikings’ coaching ranks (see: Zimmer, Adam). At only 34 years old, the younger Kubiak has age on his side, but his offense feels outdated at times. His philosophy is built upon the same zone run scheme his father, Gary, built. But Gary developed that offense in the ‘90s. It’s not to say that those concepts don’t still work in today’s NFL, but sometimes Klint seems out of touch with today’s league because of it.

For example, Cousins’ deep ball has been a significant aspect of his game, yet he’s gravitated towards dink-and-dunk passes for almost the entire season. Sometimes it’s on Cousins to make the correct read, but often it’s been play-calling. Kubiak has a good base that he’s working with, but a failure to innovate beyond what he knows has been his downfall so far.

In a league where every team is looking for the next Sean McVay or Kliff Kingsbury, that’s not going to cut it. Teams want young coaches with new ideas, a department the younger Kubiak lacks.

The excellent news for Kubiak is that he is young and now has a team at his disposal that hit rock bottom in Detroit. He has nothing more to lose. For a coach still learning the ropes, it creates a limitless sandbox in which he can experiment with new concepts.

After his performance in the kick-return game, fans clambered for more touches for Kene Nwangwu on offense. Kubiak delivered on the request, but Nwangwu’s lack of experience as a runner was exposed. It quickly became apparent why he hadn’t been used previously in the running game.

However, when you have an athlete as dynamic as Nwangwu on the team, it’s on the offensive coordinator to find creative ways to get them involved. Is there any reason we couldn’t see Nwangwu line up as a receiver with more space to create? Or maybe get him in motion sometime other than an ill-conceived two-point conversion attempt?

These are the sorts of questions Kubiak must ask himself if he wants to establish an identity in the NFL. He has an excellent opportunity to showcase himself in Minnesota and potentially set himself up for what’s next. But if he fails to show more creativity, he risks failing to maximize his opportunity and falling into the “former coach’s son” trope.

The next five weeks will say a lot about what kind of coach Kubiak can become. It would be unrealistic to expect perfection or some whirlwind turnaround, but the ability to make in-season adjustments is everything. It’s what differentiates those who have long careers from those who don’t. Every time the Vikings trot out the same offensive blunders, it makes you question Kubiak’s decision-making.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Kubiak’s future in the NFL rests upon how he responds through all the adversity Minnesota’s gone through this season. The league wants innovation on offense, holding up a sign reading “Join or Die.”

The next step is clear for Kubiak. It’s time to get weird on offense and show enough to catch the eye of a suitor.

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