The Minnesota Vikings have squandered a golden opportunity and started the season 0-3. Trade rumors are swirling around quarterback Kirk Cousins. The offensive line is a veritable turnstile. Teams who start the season 0-3 have a miniscule chance of making the playoffs, and an even worse chance at having success in them. It seems like all hope is lost for the 2023 squad, right?
In the immortal words of Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins, “I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend”. Call it naivety. Call it blind-ass-fan syndrome. Whatever you want to call it, I believe that there’s still hope for the Vikings this season, and that the 0-3 start isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Let’s take a look at each of these points and try to find the silver lining.
Trading Kirk Cousins doesn’t make sense
It makes sense that the rumor mill is abuzz with speculation about Kirk Cousins, particularly when it comes to the New York Jets. The Vikings have started off 0-3, have a lot of good, young pieces on the roster, and have an aging quarterback who doesn’t necessarily fit the vision for the future. On the other side, you have a talented team who felt they were a quarterback away, swung for the fences to get him, and had him go down with a season-ending injury. The marriage makes perfect sense, right?
As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friends”. Despite the Vikings’ 0-3 start, Kirk Cousins is playing at a high level this season. And despite what history may say, this season is still salvageable. We’ll have more on that point in a minute. For right now, let’s just look at the Cousins-to-Jets trade rumors at a surface level. The need is there for the Jets, for sure, but why would the Vikings bail on Cousins at this juncture? What would they get out of the deal?
If we’re looking at the Aaron Rodgers trade as a baseline, the Packers swapped first-round picks with the Jets, and New York picked up two second-round picks (and a sixth, but that’s largely irrelevant) in the trade. One of those seconds could have become a first, were it not for the injury, but the injury happened so that’s what the compensation will be. It’s unlikely that Cousins would fetch as high a price as the four-time MVP and former Super Bowl champion, so where is the incentive to make a deal?
As it stands today, the Vikings are sitting in the third spot in the 2024 NFL draft. This year’s class looks to be a relatively strong one at the position, with the likes of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Michael Penix headlining the class. With Minnesota already in prime position to grab one of the top guys and prepare for the future, why would they tank the present for minimal return? They wouldn’t – and they shouldn’t.
The offensive line isn’t as bad as you think
One of the biggest – if not THE biggest – pain points during the 0-3 start for the Vikings has been the performance of the offensive line. Particularly the interior offensive line. It seems like every other dropback, Cousins is running for his life out there or taking a big hit/sack. It’s not just in the pass game, either.
So far through three weeks, the Vikings haven’t been able to get much going on the ground, either. Alexander Mattison was supposed to revitalize the Vikings run game in the wake of Dalvin Cook’s departure, and that simply hasn’t happened. But how much of that poor performance is actually placed at the offensive linemen’s feet?
The fact that the Vikings went out and signed former Broncos offensive lineman Dalton Risner would suggest that a healthy portion of the issue is the offensive line, right? The eye test may even confirm that notion, but does that really hold up to scrutiny Advanced metrics and position grading seem to suggest our eyes are lying to us, at least to a degree.
Despite what it may feel like, the Vikings offensive line is actually – at least analytically – performing quite well so far this season. The Vikings offensive line ranks fourth in the league in pass protection when looking at a weighted average of PFF grades, ESPN’s pass block win rate metric, and the SIS data. When looking at the run blocking ratings, again the Vikings rank within the top 5, coming in right at the number 5 spot. That tells a drastically different story than popular narrative.
This isn’t your father’s 0-3 team
With most 0-3 teams, you could see it coming. A lot of them are in that football purgatory of trying to transition to the next era of their team. They aren’t competitive, and the season feels lost from the very outset. There are a number of teams like that in the 2023 NFL season: The Bears and Broncos chief among them. This year’s Vikings team doesn’t have that feeling.
This is a team that could easily be 2-1, if not 3-0, had a couple of things broken their way. I would go out on a limb and say they would easily be talked about as one of the better teams in the league right now if they had three turnovers on the year instead of nine. That’s been the biggest factor in this team’s downfall, and it’s completely fixable. Turnovers are largely unreliable in the NFL, and at some point the Vikings turnover luck has to turn over. It’s simply unsustainable – and unreasonable – for them to keep this rate up.
If and when the turnovers settle down, the Vikings should be in good position to make a rebound. The offense, despite the giveaways, is playing really well. Justin Jefferson is on pace to smash all the single-season receiving records. Jordan Addison is showing all the promise and then some in his rookie campaign. KJ Osborn has flashed as a really good third option.
What’s killing this team right now is a combination of the turnovers and conservative gameplay. It’s really hard to win games in the NFL. It’s nearly impossible to win them when you’re turning the ball over three times a game. Combine that with a success rate (plays with positive EPA) well below 50%, and you have the Vikings current predicament.
What’s the solution? That’s above my pay grade. But it would seem like Cousins and the Vikings offense needs to put a little more faith in the guys up front, and maybe take the high-school approach of carrying the ball around town with them to get used to hanging on to it. Push the ball downfield more and stop giving it away, and we’re talking about this team very differently. There is hope, I promise.