Before you hear all about how well the offensive coaches will get along in 2019, and how explosive Dalvin Cook looks, and that the Wilfs are committed to building a championship team to pair with their championship hotels and championship retail spaces, let’s take a moment to commemorate the 2018 season:
As the Vikings begin full-squad training camp practices Friday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan and players and coaches begin telling us how wonderfully their team is coming together, this is a good time to remind Minnesota’s largest fan base that almost none of the optimism expressed in the next six weeks will mean anything once the real games begin.
The coaches work well together? The running backs looks healthy? The quarterback is meshing well in the new system? There’s a sleeper defensive back who could make all the difference?
You will hear that this August. We know because you hear that just about every August.
What will matter for the 2019 Vikings is not what they say this summer, but what they show after a potential rough start or key injury this fall.
They didn’t handle any of that well last year, in a season of extreme expectations.
Remember that a year ago at this time, the Vikings were coming off a 13-win season and had lavished a then-record contract on Kirk Cousins to upgrade at quarterback.
They were a very-good-yet-very-much-improved team. Right? What could go wrong?
Only just about everything. Their final 8-7-1 record doesn’t look bad, unless you compare it with what the fan base had been led to expect. Then it looks borderline embarrassing.
To recap: A 13-victory team “upgraded” at quarterback, kept its stars relatively healthy, hired a coach from the Super Bowl champs to run the offense and then missed the playoffs, showing little cohesion or gumption in the finale, a 24-10 loss at home to the Chicago Bears.
The new franchise quarterback tried to embarrass Adam Thielen, the most popular athlete in Minnesota, during that game; the team changed offensive coordinators late in the season and the heralded defense gave up 21 or more points nine times.
There wasn’t much to like about last season, other than Thielen’s streak of eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games.
Now coach Mike Zimmer is admitting his defense needs tweaking, and a former head coach has been brought in to mentor/serve a rookie offensive coordinator, and the offensive line remains worrisome, and before training camp began, one player was cut after being arrested for having enough marijuana to stage a Cheech and Chong revival and another had his suspension lengthened from four to eight games.
Every football team is a stew of odd ingredients, and the temperature at which the team simmers can make all the difference.
Last year, two sad events might have derailed the season long before Cousins began coaching Thielen on the U.S. Bank Stadium sideline. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano died, and star defensive end Everson Griffen had to take time away to address his mental health.
In the real world, the two shouldn’t be equated. Sparano’s death was tragic; Griffen’s struggles were worrisome. In football, where the world relentlessly moves on, both had to affect the final record.
Most eight-win NFL teams believe they’re one player or tweak away from the playoffs, and this is technically true. But the 2018 Vikings’ record wasn’t a matter of bad luck on the field. They earned their mediocrity.
Their point differential in 2017: plus-130. Their point differential last year: plus-19.
The defense’s ranking dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 in terms of yards allowed (275.9 to 309.7 points per game), but dropped from No. 1 to No. 9 in terms of points allowed (15.8 to 21.3).
This year’s team desperately needs Cook and Cousins to stay healthy; the backup running backs are unproven and the backup quarterbacks hope to someday hear words as complimentary as “unproven.”
The Vikings look like they’re not a bad team as they prepare to don helmets. Last year, given expectations, they often were.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org