EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings in 2020 were a better team on offense than defense for the first time in Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's tenure in Minnesota.
"For the first time in my seven years, I thought we had a very, very explosive offense. We got a lot of good players over there," Zimmer said Tuesday morning.
And even though the 2021 offseason is still in its infancy, it's no surprise that each side of the ball feels different emotions with the 2020 season shrinking in the rearview mirror.
Offensively, the Vikings ranked fourth overall in yards per game 393.3 and were 11th in points per game at 26.9.
Minnesota's offense scored the third-most points in franchise history at 430, and racked up at least 400 yards of offense in half of its games.
So it's no surprise that even though the Vikings missed the playoffs, wide receiver Adam Thielen has high hopes for the unit going forward.
"I'm excited to move on to build off of what we've had this year," Thielen said. "Obviously, it wasn't where we wanted to get, where we wanted to go. We didn't hit our goals, things like that. But there's a lot of exciting things moving forward."
He later added:
"I think in a lot of games this year we played really well as an offense. We were able to spread the ball around, a lot of guys were able to really help this offense move the ball and score points, be efficient, things like that," Thielen said. "I think that there's definitely room for improvement, there's things that we could do better to help this team win games and excited to work on those things this offseason."
Dalvin Cook (1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns) and Justin Jefferson (88 catches for a Super Bowl era-rookie-record 1,400 yards and seven scores) were Pro Bowlers.
Kirk Cousins threw for a career-best 35 touchdown passes in generating a passer rating of 105.0, the second-highest of his career.
Thielen caught 14 touchdowns in 2020, the third-highest total in team history, while second-year tight end Irv Smith, Jr., took a noticeable jump with 30 catches for 365 yards and five scores in 13 games.
Cousins praised Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak for his role with the offense in 2020. (It's worth noting that Kubiak is mulling retirement).
"Well, I do think Gary did a phenomenal job leading our offense and the way he called our games and game-planned for us," Cousins said. "I'm proud of the way we ran the football. I'm proud of the way Dalvin played. He had pretty much a historical year. If he plays Week 17, it probably would be even more so.
"And obviously what Justin did was outstanding," Cousins added. "Adam was a touchdown machine."
In short, this was the best offense the Vikings have had under Zimmer. But the other side of the ball, it was also the worst defense Minnesota fielded in seven seasons.
Injuries and other factors played a part, as Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce and Anthony Barr missed all or most of the 2020 season. Eric Kendricks was having a likely All-Pro season before he missed the final five games, too.
The Vikings struggled to stop the run as they allowed at least 96 yards in all but one game, and allowed 19 rushing touchdowns, the eighth-most in a season in team history.
And Minnesota couldn't generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks either, as the Vikings finished with a franchise-low 23 sacks (an official statistic since 1982).
The lowlight was Week 16 in New Orleans on Christmas Day when the defense allowed a season-high 264 rushing yards, a franchise-worst 583 total yards and 52 points, the second-most in franchise history.
Ifeadi Odenigbo summed up his frustrations earlier this week.
"I'm just angry to be honest. I'm angry how everything played out. I'm angry," Odenigbo said. "We had a lot of expectations going in. Obviously, these weren't the right circumstances."
Early in the 2020 offseason, the Vikings parted ways with multiple starting cornerbacks and two starters along the defensive line.
Zimmer on Tuesday put the onus on himself for the defense having a down season with so many young players on the field.
"I probably miscalculated some things going into the season when we lost all the guys that we lost the year before — the two corners, the nickel back, the backup safety, the backup defensive end, starting defensive end, the starting nose tackle," Zimmer said. "I'm sure there's more that I can't remember, but we had a complete overhaul on defense, and sometimes that happens when you get to Year 7."
The defense is eager to return some key players in 2021 and also hope for some better health and luck. If it happens, and the defense returns to its recent high standards, perhaps the Vikings defense will end next season in a better mood.
"We did some good things," said veteran safety Harrison Smith. "Obviously, there's a lot to improve on, but [it will be about] being realistic about those things, evaluating yourself realistically and taking the coaching points from every coach and then collectively getting that together when we get back here."