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Everything you need to know about the LA Rams next opponent: Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have stars around Kirk Cousins, but can he win the big game?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The fact that Christmas is upon us is cheery for obvious reasons, but gloomy for NFL fans who every year around this time remember that feeling of another season coming to a close. And when the season is closed for each team’s fans, it’s another eight or nine months of waiting until the start of the next NFL campaign.

So that also means that it has been a while since Week 1. Here’s a reminder (or initial minder) of how the Minnesota Vikings have landed at 7-7 and probably needing to win out to guarantee a spot in the playoffs.

The Vikings started the season with a 7-0 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals, but then fell behind 21-7 in the third quarter and 24-14 in the fourth. Minnesota mounted a comeback and forced overtime on a 53-yard field goal by Greg Joseph as time expired, but then Dalvin Cook lost a fumble in the extra period just as the Vikings were getting into field goal range. The Bengals avoided a tie by kicking a game-winner with the clock nearing 00:00. 0-1.

Minnesota next held a 20-7 lead over the Cardinals in Week 2, but Arizona took a 34-33 lead with 4:29 remaining. Kirk Cousins drove the Vikings to the Arizona 19, but Joseph, who had made two 52-yard field goals that day, missed from 37 as time expired. 0-2.

Following a Week 3 win over the Seahawks, and a seven-point loss to the Browns in which Minnesota still had a chance to tie the game in the final minute, the Vikings won back-to-back close games against the Lions and Panthers. 3-3.

Then in Week 8, the Vikings had a chance to take a 20-13 lead over the Cowboys but stalled at the DAL4 and settled for a field goal. Cowboys backup quarterback Cooper Rush then drove 75 yards in two minutes to score a go-ahead touchdown with :51 seconds left. Minnesota next had a 24-10 second half lead against the Baltimore Ravens and despite blowing that, Cousins found Adam Thielen for a game-tying score with 1:03 remaining. The Ravens held the ball for almost 9 of the 10 overtime minutes before Justin Tucker gave Baltimore a last second win. 3-5.

Again the Vikings rebounded, this time defeating the Chargers and Packers in close games, but Minnesota blew another lead in Week 12 against the 49ers (Cook lost another fumble, Cousins stalled in another red zone when the team needed a touchdown). Then finally, the Lions game happened and the Vikings nearly avoided embarrassment by scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 1:50 left, but it was all for naught and Dan Campbell got his first win as a head coach. 5-7.

In defeating the Steelers and Bears since then, the Vikings stand at 7-7 with a schedule that includes only a single final score that has a difference of more than eight points (30-17 over Seattle), meaning that an unluckier Minnesota team could be 4-10 right now.

But a luckier Minnesota Vikings team could easily be 11-3 too.

The Vikings next host the 10-4 Los Angeles Rams this Sunday and while that was everything you need to know about how they’ve had one of the strangest, most erratic seasons possible, here is everything you need to know about the coaches and players who will be facing off against Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford in Week 16.

Minnesota Vikings (7-7)

Head coach: Mike Zimmer (Year 8, 71-54-1)

Philosophy: “Be Marvin Lewis of the NFC”

Cincinnati Bengals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

In six years as the defensive coordinator of the Bengals under Lewis, Zimmer saw Cincinnati post four winning seasons with an 0-4 playoff record. In his first seven years with the Vikings, Zimmer has three winning seasons and a 2-3 playoff record. Now in Zimmer’s eighth year, five seasons removed from their last NFC Championship game, the Vikings are 7-7 and it’s hard to fathom why Minnesota would run it back in 2022 unless they’re a sleeping giant that gets hot in the playoffs.

They might be.

Though the .500 record is familiar, the Vikings have lost all seven games by a touchdown or less, dropped two games in overtime, missed a chip shot against the Cardinals, and let Jared Goff beat them on the last play of the game. A luckier Vikings team would be 11-3 right now.

But you gotta make your own luck in this league and the end result is still 7-7.

OC: Klint Kubiak

After serving three years as an offensive assistant under his father in Denver, Kubiak spent 2019-2020 as Minnesota’s quarterbacks coach and became an offensive coordinator for the first time this season. Cousins has played the best football of his life over the last three years, so it is possible that the 34-year-old Kubiak draws head coaching interviews of his own soon.

NFL: NOV 03 Vikings at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Changes on Offense from 2020:

OT - Riley Reiff to Christian Darrisaw (first round pick)

G - Dakota Dozier to Mason Cole

TE - Kyle Rudolph to Tyler Conklin

WR - Adam Thielen?

Thielen has been out for a few weeks but is hoping to return on Sunday. Backup K.J. Osborn has played nowhere near the same level.

What to expect from Minnesota’s offense:

Passer Rating: 100 is the new 80

If you ever needed a better example of the declining value of “good stats”, I give you Kirk Cousins. Over his last three seasons, Cousins has managed 90 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, 7.9 Y/A, 67% completions, and has a passer rating of 104.7.

Numbers that most Hall of Fame signal callers could have never dreamed of in their era.

Cousins now has more 100-rating passer seasons than Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and the same amount as Steve Young. Cousins has more 100-rating passer seasons than Dan Marino, Joe Montana, and Brett Favre combined. We all know that this does not mean that Kirk Cousins is in the same breath as those players and it does not mean that passer rating is a good measure of a quarterback; it just means that we have to respect the impact of the era and right now 100 is the new 80.

Congratulations, Octogenarians.

This also doesn’t mean that I think Kirk Cousins is bad or anything but I think his career win-loss record speaks for itself: 58-58-2.

I know some are bemoaning the mention of passer rating and a quarterback’s win-loss record, but personally I say throw out all the stats. None of that matters. You know when you know, and Kirk Cousins is 33-years-old at this point... WE KNOW.

And never underestimate the value of an upgrade in supporting cast...

Immediate 2020 draft Regrets

With the 12th pick of the draft, the Raiders selected Henry Ruggs. Then at 15, the Broncos picked Jerry Jeudy. Then CeeDee Lamb went 17th to Dallas. Then Jalen Reagor went 21st to the Eagles. Regardless of how any of those players performed as rookies, every single general manager of those four teams knew by Week 5 of last season that he seriously screwed up by not picking Justin Jefferson instead.

Jefferson is one of those immediately obvious superstar players, having caught seven passes for 175 yards in his third career game, then finishing his rookie season with 1,400 en total. At 21 years old. A sophomore slump would have been understandable, but through 14 games he has a career-high 89 catches and nine touchdowns, and another 1,335 yards. Even as the focal point for opposing defenses, teams don’t know how to stop him and just three weeks ago he had a career-high with 11 catches and 182 yards.

There’s probably only one player who Jalen Ramsey should cover, but the presence of Adam Thielen would make a difference.

The team hasn’t had Dalvin Cook for every game but he return two weeks ago with 205 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers. He now has 1,067 yards and 30 catches for 221 yards, but also three fumbles. However, Cook was placed on the COVID-19 list on Thursday and as an unvaccinated player, will not be available. Instead, it will be backup Alexander Mattison, who has two 100-yard games in his three starts in 2021.

Tight end Tyler Conklin has been heavily targeted, but seemingly always near the line of scrimmage: he’s averaging 5.8 yards of depth per target.

By comparison, Jefferson’s ADOT is 12.5.

2021 offensive ranks

Points: 12th

Yards: 8th

Turnovers: 3rd

Pass attempts: 13th

Rushing attempts: 12th

Net yards per pass attempt: 12th

Passing touchdowns: 7th

Interceptions: 2nd

Rushing yards: 9th

Yards per carry: 14th

Rushing touchdowns: 26th

Points per drive: 14th

3rd down %: 24th

Red Zone %: 3rd

DVOA: 14th (7th in passing, 25th in rushing)

Offensive “strength of schedule”: 21st by DVOA*

*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that the Vikings have faced an “easier-than-average” schedule of defenses in the NFL by average DVOA.

Offensive Depth Chart

DC: Adam Zimmer, Andre Patterson

A 34-year-old Kubiak runs the offense and a 37-year-old Zimmer co-chairs the defense with a guy who got his first coaching gig before either of them were born. The younger Zimmer has long coached linebackers in the NFL, getting his start in 2006 with the Saints. Patterson has coached football for decades but 2020 was the first time he held a “DC” title in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Changes on Defense:

NT - Shamar Stephen to Michael Pierce

DT - Hercules Mata’afa to Dalvin Tomlinson

DL - Jaleel Johnson to Sheldon Richardson

DE - Ifeadi Odenigo to Everson Griffen*

DE - Jalyn Holmes to Danielle Hunter*

S - Anthony Harris to Xavier Woods

CB - Jeff Gladney to Patrick Peterson

LB - Eric Harris to Nick Vigil

Well, there’s a lot to cover here.

What to expect from Minnesota’s defense

Rebuilding Blocks

The Vikings have one of those situations where they should seemingly be pretty happy with most of the personnel changes that they were able to make to the defense in the 2021 offseason, especially in doing their best to upgrade the defensive line: the Vikings have improved from 28th in sacks last season (23) to 1st in sacks this season (44). However, that’s with a catch.

Danielle Hunter (torn pec) and Everson Griffin (non-football) combined for 11 of those 44 sacks but are not going to play this weekend. The team is continually shuffling the rotation and are now led by D.J. Wonnum, a fourth round pick out of South Carolina in 2020 and leading the defense with six sacks and 12 QB hits. Right behind him is Armon Watts, a sixth round pick in 2019 who has five sacks over just the last nine games.

But my favorite duo in Minnesota is probably not the receivers, it’s the 665 lbs that sits in the middle of the defensive line: Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson. They’re disruptive and Pierce just returned from injury a few weeks ago.

Corner Stones

However, despite those upgrades, the Vikings are still a defense that ranks 30th in yards allowed, 30th in yards per carry allowed, and is soft against the pass. Their cornerbacks have a combined three interceptions this season, and two of those just got waived.

Minnesota brought in veteran Patrick Peterson to replace disappointing first round pick Jeff Gladney, and just released Bashaud Breeland. Xavier Woods is new to the defense too and has some good stats, but Sports Radar lists him with six touchdowns allowed this season. The best player in the secondary is the same as always: Harrison Smith. He could even be the Vikings player most likely to get a sack of Matthew Stafford.

2021 Defensive Ranks

Points Allowed: 23rd

Yards Allowed: 30th

Turnovers Forced: 14th

Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 23rd

Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 26th

Interceptions: 16th

Rushing Yards Allowed: 27th

Yards Per Carry Allowed: 30th

Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 13th

Points Per Drive Allowed: 18th

3rd down %: 3rd

Red Zone %: 22nd

DVOA: 16th (18th against pass, 21st against run)

Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 14th (average difficulty)

Starting Defense:

Special Teams

K - Greg Joseph has been fairly reliable, but his miss against the Cardinals got his name out there for all the wrong reasons.

P - Jordan Berry

PR - Dede Westbrook

KR - Kene Nwangwu has TWO kickoff return touchdowns this season and I didn’t think it was still possible to get one kickoff return touchdown. He is a fourth round rookie.

Last 3 games:

29-27 L to the Lions - It happened. Jared Goff got his first career win away from Sean McVay by finding Amon-Ra St. Brown for an 11-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock. He had to go 75 yards in 110 seconds to get there and he converted a pair of third downs and a fourth down on the drive. All allowed by the Minnesota Vikings defense.

36-28 W vs the Steelers

17-9 W vs the Bears

Minnesota’s defense had a reprieve for the last two weeks, facing two of the least effective passers in the NFL this season. Matthew Stafford is different.