Minnesota's Divisional round loss at San Francisco on Saturday sent the Vikings home while advancing the 49ers to this weekend's NFC Championship game, where they will play the Packers.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who has led the team to the playoffs in three of six seasons since 2014, spoke recently about trying to "get over the hump" and make it to the ultimate goal.
Eric Eager of analytics site Pro Football Focus took a look at the four Divisional round losing teams (Minnesota, Baltimore, Houston and Seattle) and said each has a chance to contend for Super Bowl LV if it focuses on specific areas.
Eager wrote the following of the Vikings:
As the Vikings look to the future, they have to address some concerns that have been percolating for some time but, thanks to Zimmer and the rest of his staff, have not been fatal with respect to contending in the NFC.
View photos of Vikings players during final interviews with the media at TCO Performance Center.
According to Eager, Minnesota needs to address "offensive weapons" and "cornerback play" to take a step forward in 2020.
This would have seemed silly to say just a year ago, when [Stefon] Diggs and Adam Thielen were arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL. While it's very possible Thielen could return to health and bring the pair back to that stature, it's simply not sustainable to play offensive football in 2020 with only two NFL wide receivers on your roster.
The Vikings did involve rookie Bisi Johnson and brought back 2016 draft pick Laquon Treadwell, but overall the unit lacked depth behind Diggs and Thielen. Eager pointed out that Minnesota "resorted to using two or fewer wide receivers at a higher rate than every other team in the PFF era except the 2006 San Diego Chargers."
The Vikings have tight ends to involve in the passing game, and Eager said "there is some serious talent and depth at the receiver position" in the 2020 NFL Draft but added that Minnesota may also want to consider the free agent market.
As far as Minnesota's cornerbacks, Eager said that Mackensie Alexander has "had his moments" of shining at the slot corner position and that Trae Waynes' passer rating allowed has increased each season. He also was critical of Xavier Rhodes, who allowed a passer rating of 128.4.
Eager wrote that it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Vikings draft a corner in either the first or second round for the fourth time in Zimmer's tenure.
Strib's Scoggins calls for Vikings to make OL an offseason priority
Minnesota was outplayed in the trenches at San Francisco.
To be fair, the Vikings played a dynamic, physical 49ers front four that was coming off 13 days of rest compared to just six. But Minnesota's offensive line – which has been built around an athletic run-blocking scheme – did not hold up against the likes of Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Joey Bosa.
Minnesota's run game never got off the ground, and Vikings QB Kirk Cousins faced pressure early on. He was sacked six times, which tied a season-high (Week 4 at Chicago).
Worth noting is that the Vikings offensive line did improve from 2018 to 2019, allowing 12 fewer sacks of Cousins in his second season in Purple. But in games that he was under duress, the quarterback struggled.
Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune recently delved into Minnesota's offensive line situation and argued that the unit should be addressed this offseason. He wrote:
This is not another rebuke of Cousins' aptitude. It's become abundantly clear by now that he has undeniable strengths and undeniable weaknesses, and making something out of nothing will never be his calling card.
Give him adequate protection and Cousins can torch defenses. Put him under duress and what happened Saturday in the Bay Area often is the result. Houdini, he's not.
Scoggins said that the Vikings "slammed into an immovable wall" at San Francisco that "nullified" the team's pass and run.
Problem is, in the biggest game of the season, Cook had zero impact because he kept getting hit and tackled at the line. The 49ers geared their game plan to stop him, and it worked.
The offensive line needs to be overhauled with a minimum of two new starters, perhaps three.
Scoggins reassured that Minnesota is not a "mess."
This isn't about cleaning up an utter mess. The Vikings won a playoff game and finished eighth in the NFL in scoring. The focus, as Zimmer said Monday, is figuring out how to "get over this hump" of being good but not championship-caliber.
Building a strong offensive line is the first step.