Minnesota’s Early-Season Struggles Are A Collective Failure

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports)

The favorite debate among Minnesota Vikings fans focuses on Kirk Cousins and Mike Zimmer. Is Cousins the quarterback that can get it done? Is Zimmer on the hot seat? The possibilities for discussion are endless. One of the biggest questions is, who is really to blame for the 1-3 record? Cousins? Zimmer? Rick Spielman?

They all get their fair share of criticism, but Minnesota’s issues go far beyond the quarterback, coach, and general manager. If the Vikings possibly drop to 1-4 or 1-5 before the bye week, there’s a possibility that at least one of them will lose their job. However, the blame shouldn’t be only on those three. There are many more people to hold accountable that have been overlooked.

A lot of the more established veterans that have been on the team for a few years haven’t been playing up to their standards. One of these players is Eric Kendricks. This year, Kendricks has posted a career-low PFF grade against the run, at a meager 48.9. He already has seven missed tackles, which is usually the average amount of missed tackles he’s finished the season with since 2018.

Kendricks hasn’t been the same player in coverage either. He’s allowing a career-high passer rating at 114.0 and has already allowed 159 yards. For context, he allowed just 269 yards in nine games last year.

On offense, the most notable veteran not playing to his potential is Adam Thielen. He had a solid first three weeks of the season but struggled against the best defense the Vikings have played. There were times against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday when he lost at the top of routes more often than he had in the past. Here, on fourth down, Cousins is under pressure almost immediately but manages to get it off just as Thielen loses at the top of his route.

The other big miss was on the interception that Cousins threw in the fourth quarter. It seemed as if Thielen should have undercut the route at the end to get open. Instead, Greedy Williams was able to box him out and get underneath him, virtually taking Thielen out of the play.

Beyond a couple of elite veterans not playing up to their own standard, the Vikings’ young players have struggled to take the step forward. The most notable is D.J. Wonnum. The second-year edge rusher has started four games opposite Danielle Hunter, but he has done virtually nothing in any of them.

Wonnum has struggled tremendously against both the pass and the run. He gets washed out of runs so frequently that he has yet to record a tackle for loss. Wonnum is one of the biggest reasons the run defense has struggled. The good thing is that he is one of few Vikings players who doesn’t miss tackles, but the downside is it’s because he’s never close enough to make them.

Here is a good example from Sunday:

Wonnum has graded out as PFF’s worst pass rusher so far this season, recording only four pressures in 114 pass-rushing snaps. The Vikings’ pass rush depended on Wonnum taking a step forward this season. It was one of the reasons they didn’t select a defensive end earlier in the draft. But even later-round defensive ends like Chauncey Golston, who was a fifth-round pick from the Dallas Cowboys, have outplayed him.

It’s easy to mention Garrett Bradbury, but there have been plenty of issues on the offensive line. Ezra Cleveland hasn’t taken a step forward this season either. He’s been average if you remove the anomalous game he had against the Arizona Cardinals. For a guard, average is usually enough, but it’s fair to expect more from your second-round pick from a year ago. With Bradbury and Rashod Hill floundering, maybe a better year from Cleveland would help firm up the Vikings’ offensive line.

The final component to the early season failures is the team’s various “keynote” free-agent acquisitions who haven’t played well at all. Guys like Bashaud Breeland, Sheldon Richardson, and Mackensie Alexander have struggled so far. Given that they are on one-year deals, this season was supposed to be a prove-it year for many of them. But they haven’t helped their cases for the future. Or the Vikings’ season.

The Vikings aren’t 1-3 because of Kirk Cousins or Mike Zimmer or Rick Spielman. There are culpable players across the roster and the coaching staff. Because of the strained relationship between Cousins and Zimmer that has polarized the state of Minnesota, many forget about the other extenuating factors that have led to this rough start.

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