There were some ups and downs in head coach Mike Zimmer's seventh season at the helm of the Minnesota Vikings. With COVID-19 restrictions throwing every team off schedule in 2020, Minnesota was expected to make this year's expanded playoff field.
Instead, Vikings players have gotten an early jump on their winter vacations, as the team stumbled out the gate and finished below .500 for the first time since Zimmer's inaugural season with the team.
Here's a quick breakdown of how each unit on the team performed, by Forum News Service beat reporters Robb Jeffries and Jason Feldman.
Robb Jeffries: Kirk Cousins had a statistically good year, and showed some grit in bouncing back from a terrible start. A trio of young targets — receiver Justin Jefferson and tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin — emerged as viable options alongside No. 1 receiver Adam Thielen. Dalvin Cook largely stayed healthy and proved he can be the focal point of an offense.
But, then there's the offensive line. Years of early draft picks haven't gelled as the big guys up front were one of the worst units in the league. Many a drive were stalled by terrible pass blocking. Despite that, head coach Mike Zimmer said this is his most explosive offense to date — and he's right. Grade: B-
Jason Feldman: Washington Football Team fans told us a few years ago what we’d be getting in Kirk Cousins. His numbers will look really good at the end of the year, but it won’t always translate to a great record. So far, that’s been accurate. To be fair, though, after the Vikings’ bye week in 2020, Cousins was far from the team’s biggest problem. He wasn’t a problem at all. After a 1-5 start, he helped the Vikings go 6-4 the rest of the way, despite a defense that was decimated by injuries and often overmatched. Cousins was 236-for-341 (69.2%), with 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions over the final 10 games. He has two superstar receivers, one of the best running backs in the NFL and two young tight ends. The offensive line showed some signs of promise, but the team needs two guards and better depth. If they can land two linemen through free agency or the draft, this offense could be top 5 again. Grade: B
Feldman: It’s hard to fault the players here, with the exception of a few defensive backs who looked allergic to tackling. Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks all suffered injuries that took a big toll on the defense. Michael Pierce opted out of the season before the team’s first practice. Getting those guys back and healthy will be a massive boost. The team’s two young corners took steps forward and backward, but were much improved by the end of the season. Still, the glaring memories of the 2020 season will be the 475 points allowed (29.7 per game). That’s not close to good enough in the NFL, and we can only grade on what we saw, not on potential, or based on injuries. Grade: D
Jeffries: Zimmer made sure to emphasize it wasn't an excuse, but the defense was decimated by injuries. Minnesota played rookies and unproven young veterans on all three levels, and it showed. Minnesota allowed more than 30 points in seven games. The team's sack leader was a Viking for 53 days. It's a miracle the Vikings recovered from a 1-5 start to win seven games with guys like Jaleel Johnson, Todd Davis and Harrison Hand as starters down the stretch. Still, the defense mostly played hard despite being outmatched. Grade: D+
Jeffries: This was a terrible year for this unit, and I'm not sure much more needs to be said beyond special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf's contract not being renewed. The drafted long snapper lost his job, the veteran kicker couldn't hit the broadside of a barn for half the season ... the list goes on and on. Grade: F
Feldman: This was a disaster on an almost weekly basis. The Vikings had two punts blocked in a game. Their return game was nonexistent, or noticeable only because it turned the ball over in some key situations. They had two punts blocked in the same game. Kris Boyd took two costly special-teams penalties in the same game. And Dan Bailey became the pro golfer who can’t sink a 2-foot putt. Marwan Maalouf paid the price, but plenty of blame goes to the front office for wasting a handful of draft picks on players who didn’t play a game with the team, or didn’t pan out. It can only be better next season. Grade: F
Feldman: To be sure, the staff was put in a tough spot with offseason departures last year, injuries throughout this season and players opting out. The defense looked good for a stretch mid-season, but regressed heavily as injuries mounted. The 475 points allowed can’t be overlooked. But the No. 4 ranking in yards per game by the offense can’t be overlooked, either. The Vikings will have a new special teams coordinator next year and likely a new offensive coordinator. It felt like Mike Zimmer was trying to coach a young defense like it was the defenses he’s had the past few years. By the time he figured that out, it was too late. Grade: C+
Jeffries: This is a tough group to grade. On one hand, the offensive line still stinks and the special teams was a mess. On the other, Zimmer and the defensive coaches did a great job rushing the development of an undermanned defense. Zimmer was successful on five of his eight challenges, but his two-minute offense and clock management continues to be among the worst in the league. Part of me wants to give an incomplete grade since the offseason was so wonky, but that feels like cheating. Grade: C-