It has been a rough two years for Minnesota Vikings fans.
After watching Kirk Cousins take Minnesota to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs in 2019, it seemed like the sky was the limit. Unfortunately, the following two-seasons were nothing short of disappointment, finishing under .500 in both ’20 and ’21.
Through Za’Darius Smith and an excellent ’22 draft class, the Vikings were able to reload for this upcoming season. With Cousins still under center, as well as Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook and the All-Pro duo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, Minnesota is hoping to end a two-year playoff drought.
Not everything is as easy as it sounds, though, and the talented Vikings roster has learned that the hard way over recent years.
So, how does the team get into the 2022 NFL Playoffs? Accomplishing these two things will go a long way toward completing that goal.
What Kirk Cousins, Vikings must do to defeat NFL postseason drought
2. Make sure Danielle Hunter is ready to go, stays well conditioned
Danielle Hunter may be the Vikings’ best player on defense, potentially being a top-five edge rusher in the NFL.
In 2018, during what would be Hunter’s second season as a starter, the Vikings’ edge rusher finished with 14.5 sacks. Hunter earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, as well as his first and only All-Pro honor.
During his ’19 campaign, Hunter would once again post 14.5 sacks. While his tackles behind the line of scrimmage dropped from 21 in ’18 to 15 in ’19, he managed to add three forced fumbles to his resume. He totaled zero forced fumbles during the previous season.
Hunter finished fifth in the Defensive Player of the Year race for the 2019 season. Pro Football Focus gave the defensive end a career-high grade of 89.4.
Up to this point, Hunter had maintained a healthy career, missing only two contests his rookie season and appearing in 78 games. In 2020, things took a turn for the worst in this department.
In September 2020, Hunter suffered a neck injury. As a result, the All-Pro found himself on IR and eventually underwent surgery. Minnesota’s pass rusher missed the entirety of the season.
In a Week 8 contest against the Dallas Cowboys in 2021, Hunter tore his pectoral muscle, once again ending his season.
Now with Za’Darius smith opposite him, Hunter is primed to have another fantastic campaign. First, the 27-year-old must be ready to go.
If the Vikings want to make a run at the playoffs, Danielle Hunter needs to be well conditioned. Minnesota has yet to have a losing season when Hunter appears in at least 14 contests. In both ’20 and ’21, when Hunter was unable to achieve this feat, the Vikings finished below .500.
Keep Danielle Hunter ready to go, and you have a good chance to make the postseason. Simple stuff.
1. Offense needs to live up to potential
Minnesota has too many studs on the offensive side of the ball to not field a premium offense as a whole. Despite having a Pro Bowl quarterback, running back, and two All-Pro receivers, the Vikings finished outside of the top 10 for total yards.
The team also finished outside of the top 10 in passing yards, and in the bottom half of the league in yards on the ground. The Vikings finished the ’21 season 14th in points per game, even with such star power at offensive skill positions.
Offensive line wise, the interior could’ve played better, although the tackle duo of Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw was impressive. O’Neill shined as a pass blocker, being the only member of the Minnesota offensive line to excel in this department.
O’Neill was the only Viking with a pass blocking grade north of 65, via PFF’s grading system.
As a whole, the Vikings’ offense line placed 23rd on Pro Football Focus’ ’21 OL rankings. Both the Steelers (26) and Raiders (28) overcame worse offensive lines to make the postseason, so it’s hard to justify the offensive line as the reason four Pro Bowlers couldn’t make more magic happen together.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how you slice it. Kirk Cousins is a back-to-back 4,200-yard quarterback. Dalvin Cook is a back-to-back-to-back 1,100-yard rusher. Justin Jefferson is a back-to-back 1,400-yard receiver, and Adam Thielen has back-to-back double-digit touchdown seasons.
With such star power all on the same side of the ball, the unit needs to be more productive as a whole. There’s no reason to be outside of the top 10 in total yards, nor be only 14th in total points/ points per contest.
If the offense can live up to their potential, this team is a contender. Until that happens, though, expect Minnesota to be on the outside looking in.