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Lunchbreak: The Ringer Makes Quick Reaction to 2018, Explains 2019 Outlook

The Vikings 2018 campaign ended sooner than they would have liked when a loss to the Bears Sunday eliminated them from the postseason.

As each NFL team’s season wraps up, The Ringer writers are putting together articles that look at pros and cons from the year. Danny Heifetz delved into the 2018 Vikings and spotlighted a number of pieces offensively and defensively that “went right” for the team. He started with wide receiver Adam Thielen, saying the Minnesota native “joined the upper echelon of NFL wide receivers.”

Heifetz wrote the following of Minnesota’s defense:

The Vikings defense wasn’t quite as good as their dominant 2017, but they remained elite. Minnesota entered Week 17 fourth in defensive DVOA one year after finishing second, continuing the dominance of one of the most schematically complex defenses of the decade. Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s squad was once again the toughest defense in the league on third down, allowing conversions on fewer than 30 percent (!) of third downs for the second year in a row. Minnesota’s defense was so good on third down that the 4.8 percent gap between them and the second-place team (the Jets) is larger than the gap between the second-place team and the 14th-ranked Rams. The Vikings entered Week 17 leading the league in sacks, buoyed by defensive end Danielle Hunter’s 14.5 sacks, tied for fourth in the league. Minnesota did not maintain the sterling health among defensive starters that it had in 2017, but the team kept its elite defense churning with surprisingly strong play from safety Anthony Harris, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive back Holton Hill, and linebacker Eric Wilson.

Heifetz stepped back and took a big-picture look at the Vikings.

Entering 2019, Minnesota’s defense is still an elite unit, Thielen and Stefon Diggs are still one of the best receiver duos in football, and Dalvin Cook looked strong when healthy at the tail end of the season. Minnesota might be a prime post-hype sleeper team in 2019.

PFF evaluates passing, protection

In its postgame reaction piece titled “Re-Focused,” analytics site Pro Football Focus said that Kirk Cousins “came up short” for the Vikings in Sunday’s division matchup but added that blame can’t be placed solely on the quarterback. The PFF team wrote:

The platform wasn’t the best for [Cousins] again, as he was under pressure on around half of his snaps, often straight up the middle flushing him to the Bears edge rush. Throws that where there to be made were missed and ultimately, he couldn’t make plays against a suffocating Bears coverage unit.

The Vikings pass protection issues started through the middle with an Eddie Goldman sack in the first quarter and things didn’t improve much from there.

[…]

The Vikings have devoted resources to their offensive line in recent years, they need to do so again if this offense is to improve next season.

PFF also pointed to Minnesota’s struggles defensively, saying the unit “failed to make key stops” when absolutely necessary.

Vikings offense has ‘myriad of questions’ heading into the offseason

Minnesota’s offense couldn’t get into a rhythm against Chicago Sunday afternoon, stringing together just one touchdown drive on the day.

In NFL.com’s “What We Learned” reaction roundtable for Week 17, Kevin Patra didn’t hold back in his critique of the Vikings. He said the offense “laid an egg against a great Bears defense” and pointed out that the unit didn’t convert a first down on its first four possessions for the second straight week.

Patra said quarterback Kirk Cousins “was rattled from the jump” and that Minnesota didn’t make plays when they mattered most, on third downs and in the red zone. He wrote:

Minnesota converted a putrid 1 of 11 [third downs] and only got to the red zone once. The Vikes offense was a mishmash of unforced errors, poor plays, bad blocking and zero explosiveness. Minnesota didn't have a reception of 20-plus yards on the day and attempted just one pass beyond 15 yards until the final desperation drives against Bears backup defenders. The Vikings offense has a myriad of questions to answer this offseason.

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