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Lunchbreak: ESPN's Barnwell Analyzes Vikings 'Boom or Bust' Offense

Entering the 2020 season, the Vikings offense was looked at as the strength of the team.

Minnesota had veterans across the lineup and were well-versed in Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's scheme, as experts and pundits believed that unit would carry a roster that featured a retooled defense.

And through six games, the offense has had its moments, including a trio of 30-point games, and three performances of 400-plus yards. But the unit has also struggled with turnovers and displayed a pair of clunkers in losses to the Colts and Falcons.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell recently took a look at the Vikings season so far, and honed in on an offense that has had some ups and downs.

Barnwell called Minnesota a "boom or bust" offense that is either clicking on all cylinders, or stuck in the mud.

He wrote:

The offense on the whole has taken a step backward, even with rookie wideout Justin Jefferson filling in ably for the departed Stefon Diggs and making plays downfield. [Kirk] Cousins' 10 interceptions are a part of the problem, but not the whole story. The Vikings were one of the most aggressive teams in the league with play-action a year ago, but their play-action rate is down from over 33 percent to closer to 26 percent. More problematic is what has happened on those play-action passes; while Cousins has hit big plays — including a 71-yard touchdown to Jefferson — off fakes, he has also thrown three picks on 46 play-action attempts. Cousins threw just one pick on 139 play-action attempts last season.

Barnwell noted the Vikings have faced the league's second-longest average distance to the sticks on third downs, meaning they are consistently in third-and-long.

However, Barnwell also pointed out that while many would believe that would likely mean struggles on early downs, the opposite has occurred.

Barnwell wrote:

You would figure that a team facing third-and-forever wouldn't be doing much on first and second down, right? That's not really the case here. In fact, Minnesota has the best average expected points added (EPA) of any team in the league on first downs. How can you be the best first-down offense in the league and end up in third-and-long all the time?

Well, you have the league's most boom-or-bust offense on first downs. No team has picked up a new set of downs on first down as frequently as the Vikings, who pick up 10 or more yards on first down more than 33% of the time. They also create big mistakes, as Gary Kubiak's offense has taken four interceptions and four sacks on first down.

Barnwell also noted that the Vikings current playoff chances are at five percent, a sharp drop from Minnesota's preseason playoff chances of 51.3 percent.

Barnwell's full thoughts on the Vikings season this far can be found here.

Cleveland breaks down 1st NFL start

The Vikings had their fourth rookie start a game in 2020 this past weekend, as Ezra Cleveland cracked the starting lineup.

The 2020 second-round pick played at right guard and filled in for Dru Samia, who had a wrist injury. Samia had opened four games for starter Pat Elflein, who is on Injured Reserve.

Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune wrote about Cleveland’s first start after the rookie lineman chatted with the Twin Cities media on a video conference earlier this week.

Krammer wrote:

Offensive line coach Rick Dennison said last month that coaches are keeping open the possibility of moving Cleveland back to tackle, but for now he is the latest player rolling through the Vikings conveyor belt at guard, a position in a yearslong run of inconsistency and injuries. Cleveland was the 16th guard to appear in a Vikings regular-season game since Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris played every snap in 2015.

And the newest member of the offensive line wasn't alone in poorly handling the strength of Falcons defensive linemen Grady Jarrett and Allen Bailey, among others.

Cleveland said he's also facing the mental adjustment of memorizing an NFL playbook with new verbiage.

"Maybe the speed of everything," Cleveland said. "Everything is kind of similar to what we did at Boise, the zone running and the open zone, and we ran some power and stuff.

"But terminology is a little different. It's hard to throw all those words away that you learned those three or four years in college and learn new ones, but it's all part of the job, and I'd say terminology is for sure the thing that was hard."

Cleveland played left tackle at Boise State, but primarily played at left guard throughout training camp.