Is it too early for the Minnesota Vikings to hit the panic button? Around this time last year, the Vikings were sitting with a 3-1 record and looked like one of the best teams in the NFL. They finished the season with a 13-4 record and were 11-0 in one-possession games but fell short in the Wild Card Round.
To start the 2023 season they are 0-3 and have lost each game by one possession. This year’s team has been the complete opposite of last year’s version and is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Will they figure it out in Week 4 or is it time to panic in Minnesota?
Panic Brewing For The Vikings?
The Good For The Vikings
Captain Kirk and CO
Offensively, the Vikings have played well and their pass catchers have been a huge boost for their quarterback. Justin Jefferson once again is showing why he’s one of the best wide receivers in the league, he’s had over 140 receiving yards each game and leads the league in receiving yards. T.J. Hockenson and Jordan Addison haven’t lit up the stat sheet but are a nice compliment alongside Jefferson. It’s only a matter of time before both of these two have their “breakout” games.
Despite the winless start, Kirk Cousins has been playing high-level ball. He is currently the NFL passing leader in yards, yards per game, and touchdowns (nine). According to ESPN, statistically, they’re the third-best offense in the league. They will continue to get better as the run game improves, but as of now, Cousins is giving the offense the spark they need.
It’s Not How You Start
Making history isn’t unfamiliar territory for this football team. Last season they secured the largest comeback in NFL history, this year they look to become lucky number seven. There have only been six teams to make the playoffs after dropping their first three games. The chances are slim but it’s not impossible. The last team to make it happen was the Houston Texans in 2018 who finished 11-5 and won their division.
There’s a lot of football left to be played and a win on Sunday can be a kickstart to turn the ship around. The offensive line protecting Cousins will be what turns the season around. They’ve been outstanding in protection, and rank third in pass-block win rates (71%). Letting him drop back 40 to 50 times is the best solution to secure some wins and gain some momentum.
What Needs Improvement
The defense has been the Achilles heel for this team the past two seasons and are struggling to start. The past two seasons they finished bottom three in total defense. They haven’t performed as poorly this season but their struggles have hurt the team. Last Sunday, Justin Herbert completed 40 of his 47 passes, 405 yards, and threw for three touchdowns. They were also without their best offensive weapon, Austin Ekeler.
The two factors to get this defense rolling are forcing turnovers and sacking the quarterback. The defense hasn’t been able to gift the offense many extra possessions. They’re -7 in turnover differential which is dead last in the NFL.
If they can take the ball away at a higher rate it’ll be beneficial to the offense. However, creating turnovers starts with pressure from the defensive line, and they haven’t performed well upfront. Six sacks won’t get it done, especially if five of those come from one player. Danielle Hunter with his five sacks only trails T.J. Watt who has six. As the season progresses Hunter will see double teams and chip blocks, he’s going to need others to help impact the game.
Running Back Issues
Parting ways with four-time Pro Bowler, Dalvin Cook has been a back breaker, in both the run and pass game. Alexander Mattison has become the lead back but he hasn’t brought the productivity they need. The Vikings are struggling tremendously in the run game and haven’t found that run balance they’re accustomed to. So far, they haven’t had a rushing touchdown or a run longer than 20 yards. They’re second to last in total rushing yards (199), yards per game (66.3), and rushing first downs (nine). They are last in rushing attempts with 50.
This is a successful but pass-heavy offense that needs to find balance. The lack of running success shouldn’t all fall on Mattison but they need to find a spark. Expect newly acquired running back, Cam Akers, to come in and give this offense a different look and bring some life to this run game.
The difference between them being winless and undefeated is the turnover issue. They have seven fumbles lost on the year and have two games with multiple lost fumbles. The most crucial coming against the Philadelphia Eagles, they fumbled out the back of the end zone which led to a touchback instead of points.
Taking care of the football should be the priority heading into this week, and they’re facing a team that has their own struggles creating turnovers. If they can protect the football they should have a successful day moving the ball and scoring points.
It’s How You Finish
It isn’t time to panic in Minnesota. The record doesn’t indicate their on-field performances. Eventually, they will get the run game going, the defense will figure it out and they will take better care of the football.
Luckily, they haven’t played any divisional games but they have to play catchup. The first step will be winning on Sunday and then they can focus on finding a way to win the division. They will head to Charlotte for a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Carolina Panthers.