If Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer had his way, there would be no hype or fanfare surrounding his team heading into each season.
Zimmer prefers that people doubt his team so they can keep applying a blue-collar mentality before delivering punishing play.
That was the case in 2017 when the Vikings went 13-3 and reached the NFC title game. But with plenty of preseason expectations in 2018, Minnesota disappointed with an 8-7-1 mark and missed the playoffs.
With the regular season still four months away, Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report recently wrote that he expects Zimmer’s squad to get back to their old ways and listed them as one of the NFL’s most underrated teams in 2019.
Sobleski wrote that more equality on offense under first-year Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski should help Minnesota reach the postseason.
A more balanced attack can be expected and not necessarily from a run-pass perspective, though the Vikings did attempt the sixth-most passes last season. How Stefanski uses the available talent is far more important. Last year, [Stefon] Diggs and Adam Thielen shouldered too much of the workload with a combined 302 total targets.
The coach’s roots are based in the West Coast offense, which is where [Kirk] Cousins thrives, especially in the play-action game. Diggs and Thielen will run more timing and intermediate routes. The team’s tight ends, including second-round rookie Irv Smith, Jr., should be an even bigger part of the scheme. Overall, Stefanski’s fingerprints should be all over the system after he had to adapt on the fly.
Plus, the Vikings fortified the offensive line by signing Josh Kline and drafting three blockers, including first-round center Garrett Bradbury.
Zimmer will still have his hands in the defense, a unit that has ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game in each of the past four seasons.
The unit features All-Pros and Pro Bowlers at every level, including the likes of Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith.
Sobleski said the Vikings will be just fine at stopping opponents.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings remain a top-five defense. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson departed in free agency, but Minnesota made a great move by retaining linebacker Anthony Barr.
Buffalo, Carolina, Houston, Pittsburgh and Washington were also listed as Sobleski’s most underrated teams for 2019.
Cronin: Vikings hope Mattison can complement Cook
Vikings rookie running back Alexander Mattison racked up 1,415 rushing yards as a junior in 2018 as he became the first Boise State player to lead the conference in a season.
Mattison’s big year included 687 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the final four games of the season, a stretch that ended with back-to-back 200-yard games.
The running back likely won’t be counted upon to be the featured back for the Vikings in 2019, but ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin wrote the team hopes he can complement Dalvin Cook.
And in doing so, Cronin wrote, Mattison would also fill the role left by Latavius Murray, who signed with the Saints in free agency.
Mattison, a 5-foot-11, 221-pound bulldozer, not only resembles Murray in stature (he forced the third-most missed tackles of any back in the draft-eligible FBS in 2018, per Pro Football Focus) but in the way his downhill rushing style fits combined with Cook.
“We watched all the tape on him, and it seems like the more carries he gets, the more work he gets, the more he gets lathered up,” General Manager Rick Spielman said. “To have that type of one-two punch along with the current backs we also have, we’re going to have a pretty good stable of running backs.”
Murray generated 4.1 yards per carry on 8.8 rushing attempts per game in 2018 for the Vikings. His best production was the byproduct of increased opportunities. Each of his six rushing touchdowns came when he notched double-digit carries.
Mattison left Boise State early after averaging 4.7 yards per rush during his junior season and 30 carries a game during his final five games in 2018. While there’s little doubt that Cook will be the focal point of Minnesota’s run game, Mattison’s workhorse tendencies were traits the Vikings sought.
Minnesota drafted Mattison in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.