It hasn’t been mentioned much, but there is no doubt that Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had to realize that big changes were needed after they were destroyed 24-10 by the Chicago Bears in the season finale last year when a victory would have given them a second straight trip to the playoffs and salvaged an up-and-down season.
Their selections in the draft this weekend were more focused on offense, with their first four picks being center Garrett Bradbury (first round, No. 18 overall), tight end Irv Smith Jr. (second, No. 50), running back Alexander Mattison (third, No. 102) and guard Dru Samia (fourth, No. 114).
And it stands to reason that with a new offensive coaching staff in place, they wanted to provide those coaches with a number of options to improve that side of the ball.
Yes, this weekend was another sign that a lot of the plans for this franchise changed after that loss in December.
The game was no contest as the Bears outgained the Vikings 332 yards to 164. The Vikings converted just one of 11 third downs while the Bears converted eight of 14.
Chicago controlled every aspect of the game and held the ball for 37:08. Despite already having clinched the division title, the Bears kept their starters in and embarrassed the Vikings.
After the game, there seemed to be some gloating by Bears coach Matt Nagy, who said: “I love winning. I think it’s fun to win. So when you win, whoever it is, who cares? Let’s just play ball.”
The Bears had also beaten the Vikings 25-20 at Soldier Field earlier in the season, but that game wasn’t as close as the score makes it look, as the Vikings scored a touchdown with under a minute left after trailing 22-6 in the fourth quarter.
It was a surprising turn of events after the Vikings and Packers had split the previous four NFC North titles, and after the Vikings had reached the NFC Championship Game the year before.
In my opinion, that defeat at U.S. Bank Stadium started a lot of moves that shook up the Vikings organization, and when the season starts, you will see an altogether different roster and coaching staff.
First of all, they brought in a whole set of new offensive coaches, including assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, offensive line coach Rick Dennison, tight ends coach Brian Pariani, quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak and wide receivers coach Drew Petzing.
No doubt they were given a lot more power than previous coaches had under Zimmer.
Because of that Bears loss, it put the pressure on the Vikings front office to not only re-sign Anthony Barr to a five-year, $67.5 million deal but to find a way to renegotiate Everson Griffen’s contract and bring back Shamar Stephen for three years and $12.5 million.
But they couldn’t find a way to keep Sheldon Richardson, who left for Cleveland, and center Nick Easton, who signed with New Orleans.
They didn’t think Easton was ready to come back and they took Bradbury with their first selection, hoping he could help fill the hole.
When it comes to Richardson, he was a big part of the Vikings’ defensive success last year — he finished with 4½ sacks and 49 tackles.
And despite the salary cap problem, they did try to add to their roster by bringing in guard Josh Kline for $15.5 million over three years, along with such role players as running back Ameer Abdullah and center Brett Jones (both one year, $810,000).
There is no doubt that this 51-man roster is going to look a lot different when the 2019 season gets underway.
Cousins met expectations
When it comes to Kirk Cousins, his numbers indicated that he lived up to every dollar of his record-setting contract, even as the quarterback took a fair share of criticism in his first year.
He finished 10th in the NFL in passer rating at 99.7, the fourth-highest ranking in Vikings history. His 70.1 completion percentage ranked second behind only Drew Brees of the Saints. And his 4,298 passing yards were the second-highest in Vikings history.
But Cousins was knocked a lot for his play under pressure, as the Vikings quarterback ranked second in the league in total pressures behind an offensive line that struggled.
Toward the end of the season, though, Cousins didn’t look the same as he did at the start, and he really had a hard time getting the ball to star receivers Adam Thielen and Stephon Diggs.
In his 11 games, Cousins averaged 299 passing yards per game, but over the final five games he averaged only 201.8 passing yards per game.
The biggest change was in Thielen, who was setting all kinds of all-time NFL records after averaging 103.5 receiving yards per game through Week 11 but averaged just 47 yards per game the rest of the way.
Diggs had a similar drop, going from 79 yards per game in his first 10 games to 46.2 yards per game in his final six.
And some of those issues are no doubt the biggest reason why the offensive coaching staff was overhauled before the draft.
• The Vikings will play back-to-back home games just once in 2019, the same situation they had in 2018.
• The Vikings selection of Garrett Bradbury gave North Carolina State first-round selections in back-to-back drafts for the first time since 1980. Linebacker Bradley Chubb was drafted fifth overall last season.
• After a terrible start for the Washington Nationals, former Twins second baseman Brian Dozier has three home runs and a double in his past seven games.
• While Duke has had a lot of talented Minnesota players commit there in recent years, including Tyus Jones and Gary Trent Jr., next season will mark the first time under Mike Krzyzewski that two Minnesota-born players are on the Blue Devils roster at the same time in Tre Jones and Matthew Hurt.
• Give Gophers head basketball coach Richard Pitino credit as he now has the fifth-best recruiting class in the Big Ten, according to 247 Sports, after signing Isaiah Ihnen out of Germany. The Gophers still have a shot at Myron Gardner, a 6-6 small forward out of Detroit who has offers from Cincinnati, Xavier and Georgetown.
• After a tough 2017, Byron Buxton is off to his best start as a major leaguer. He is tied for the American League lead with 12 doubles. His career high for doubles was 19 in 2016, which he totaled in 92 games.
• So far this season, former Twins reliever Ryan Pressly has given up only four hits and no runs over 11⅓ innings of relief for the Astros. And since being traded to Houston last year, for minor leaguers Jorge Alcala and Gilberto Celestino, Pressly is 2-0 with a 0.52 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 34⅔ innings. Alcala is 4-1 with a 5.70 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 23⅔ innings at Class AA Pensacola while Celestino is hitting .197 with five RBI in 17 games at Class A Cedar Rapids.