Minnesota Vikings 2021 Team Study

Part 15 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 14 here: Green Bay Packers. Part 16 now available: Chicago Bears.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
4.85 -0.15 20th


Offensive Eff. Rating (purple and gold) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
12th 24th 19th


Despite rotating offensive coordinators seemingly every year, the Vikings have consistently implemented a well-designed offense that maximizes the talent of its players. Cousins can get the ball to his playmakers when they are schemed open and he has time to throw. So they have implemented a ton of play action, including bootlegs, setting up layered routes where he can pick his poison. This works because the run game has been extremely solid with Dalvin Cook, one of the best running backs in the league when he is healthy.

The strong ground game sets up better play action opportunities. Data shows that play action notably increases the efficiency of a team’s passing game, especially with a quarterback like Cousins, who cannot create plays with his legs. And the Vikings were in the top-6 in passing yards gained on play action in both 2019 and 2020. This declined a little in 2021 to 11th with a parallel decline in rushing efficiency, but they were still above average. Having arguably the best RB/WR combo in the league with Jefferson and Cook certainly helps. And Adam Thielen is also an absolute stud, although he’s not getting any younger.

But Cousins has never been able to put the team on his back and take over a game. It’s a great system, and he puts up a ton of stats with his incredible weapons. But year after year he fails to deliver in the biggest moments. There always seem to be excuses. The Vikings supposedly have a bad offense line year in and year out. They allowed the 6th-highest pressure rate in 2021 after allowing the highest pressure rate in 2020. Yet they have a ground game that consistently picks up good yards before contact. They also have had a great offensive scheme that gives Cousins time. I think the pressure rate results directly from his holding the ball too long.

The Vikings also lost a lot of close games (again), and it’s easy to point at things that were not Cousins’ fault. They lost in overtime to the Bengals on a Dalvin Cook fumble. They lost to the Cardinals on a missed field goal (that Cousins helped set up). They gave up a game-winning touchdown to Jared Goff and the Lions on 4th down. You can easily pin these on things outside of Cousins’ control.

But they also found themselves in those spots because Cousins could not capitalize on opportunities to win. They had two possessions in overtime against Cincinnati. The first was wasted when Cousins threw short of the sticks on third down and they had to punt the ball away. He got a 7-yard completion on the play but needed 11 yards. Against Arizona they actually had three opportunities to take the lead at the end. The first two were three-and-outs on third down incompletions. They never really buried opponents, even teams with bad defenses like the Lions.

These results obviously contain a ton of variance and he has had moments where he has delivered in the clutch. But when the Vikings fired Mike Zimmer and brought in a new coaching staff, I’m not sure they addressed the core of the problem. I think this offense has been the best version of itself and just caught some bad breaks. The scheme benefitted them so it's possible they won't keep it up with a new sheriff in town.

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