The Vikings' Playoff Loss Will Force the Front Office To Show Its Hand

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ playoff loss against the New York Giants highlighted a crucial flaw that had been apparent all season long. The defense is atrocious, and everyone from the coaching staff to the players is to blame.

The Vikings’ pitiful defense allowed the New York Giants to gain over 400 yards of total offense against Ed Donatell’s soft shell coverages. Brian Daboll had Daniel Jones looking like the second coming of Josh Allen. The Giants were 7 of 13 on third downs, and Minnesota couldn’t consistently pressure the quarterback, an issue that plagued the team throughout the year.

I tried defending this year’s team against pundits like Peter Bukowski, who would constantly call the Vikings fraudulent. It was funny coming from a Packers fan who defended the 2019 Packers ad-nauseam, a team that was winning plenty of close games and got lucky with turnovers. As much as I enjoyed making jokes at his expense, the result of the playoff game vindicated him. The 2022 Vikings were frauds.

Aside from Minnesota’s defense being historically bad for a playoff team, the 2022 Vikings had the sixth-worst DVOA in the league. They finished the season with a negative point differential and got lucky, forcing turnovers in close games. You could argue that forcing turnovers is a skill, and I would agree. But that’s unsustainable if your defense gives up 400-plus yards a game against mediocre quarterbacks. Turnover luck runs out, which is exactly what happened against the Giants.

With the Vikings becoming more of an offense-first team, the crowd is a lot more engaged when the offense is on the field compared to the defense. This actually works against the Vikings because the crowd won’t quiet down when Cousins tries to run a hurry-up offense. Conversely, the longer the defense stays on the field, the less of an impact the fans have, especially against a team like the Giants, who operate a ball-control offense. When the Vikings beat the Giants 27-24 in the regular season, Giants center Nick Gates said he was surprised by how quiet the crowd was.

Actually, I thought it would be a lot louder, I thought especially when our offense is out there they would be a lot louder out there. But you know, they’re Midwest people. They’re too nice. I can say it because I went to Nebraska. I went to Nebraska. I include myself in that one.

Of course, the Vikings put that quote on the jumbotron to try and energize the crowd. That proved ineffective because most of the excitement at U.S. Bank Stadium was quickly vaporized by the Giants’ offense, which was able to march down the field with ease. When the fans realized that they were reliant on the defense to get a stop to stay in the game, there was this nervous energy in the stands. Fans anxiously cheered on, but the stadium gradually got quieter as the game progressed.

When the game finally ended, there was understandably a sense of disappointment among the fans. The number of times I heard the phrase “Maybe next year,” followed by “We say that every year!” was staggering. Not a lot of drunk fans were bantering with each other, but the ones who were kept it relatively peaceful. I sat near a Giants fan who was super chill and frequently joked around with us. I expected an abrasive East Coast attitude, but they felt more like self-deprecating Midwesterners.

The 2022 Vikings were frauds, and there is no denying that. There’s also no denying that losing in the playoffs at home sucked. The Vikings were horrid defensively all year, and it bit them in the ass when it mattered most. Fans have every right to be frustrated. The silver lining here is that the defense can only go up from here. We won’t win as many close games next year, but I expect a more well-rounded team in 2023, and I don’t think people will be tossing around the term “fraudulent” again.

For that reason, this loss didn’t really hurt the same way 38-7 did. No one expected the Vikings to go on a run this year, so fans like myself could simply enjoy the ride. We’ve been blessed with entertaining games throughout the season, and Kevin O’Connell gave this team a brand-new identity. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah succeeded in his efforts to start a competitive rebuild, and Minnesota won the North for the first time since 2017.

In spite of the defense, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense played well and kept pace with the Giants’ offense for most of the game. Minus the trick play on third-and-one, O’Connell did a good job calling plays. It’s incredibly difficult to find a great offensive play-caller and quality quarterback play in this league. The Vikings have both, Cousins haters be damned.

However, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell will need to make many tough decisions for this team to make a serious run. Seven aging veterans occupy 44% of the Vikings’ cap space: Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Jordan Hicks. A couple of those guys have likely played their last game in Minnesota.

Any cap space created by cutting aging veterans will immediately be spent on long-term extensions for players like Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson, with both of their rookie-scale contracts ending in 2024. Kirk Cousins, Ezra Cleveland, and K.J. Osborn are set to become free agents the same year. Garrett Bradbury and Patrick Peterson are slated to hit free agency this year, but there’s no guarantee that the Vikings will re-sign any of them.

Last year, Kwesi and Kevin had the luxury of sitting back and evaluating the players under a new coaching staff. Adofo-Mensah branded it as a “competitive rebuild.” He succeeded in creating a competitive team but has yet to initiate the rebuilding phase. After losing in the wild card round of the playoffs at home against the New York Giants, the Vikings cannot simply run it back with the same pieces yet again. O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah will need to make some tough decisions to build this team in their image.

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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