Minnesota Vikings training camp begins on Sunday, with rookies reporting for the year, followed by veterans two days later.
Oddsmakers aren’t too high on the franchise for 2022, forecasting an end-of-season win total around eight or nine games. The Vikings are also the 20th likeliest team to win the Super Bowl.
Still, Minnesota is becoming a fashionable pick for various pundits’ “sleeper” team, implying the Vikings may turn heads in 2022 — unlike the 2020 and 2021 seasons. One such analyst is Warren Sharp, who runs SharpFootballAnalysis.com.
Sharp tweeted about the 2022 Vikings upside, “[I’m} so glad the Vikings moved on to a new coach. It’s been frustrating to watch this team intentionally play below its offensive ceiling for years. I think the upside for the 2022 Vikings could be higher than it’s been in years.”
He also expanded on the topic in a brief video.
The “frustration” called out by Sharp pertains to Zimmer’s philosophy, which really didn’t change over eight years in charge. Zimmer pounded the table for defense, defense, and more defense — with a platter of running the football, plus taking shots downfield now and then. Sans a Super Bowl, the method worked for Zimmer, who guided Minnesota to the NFL’s 10th-best record from 2014 to 2021.
But the ex-Vikings head coach couldn’t close the deal — or come anything close to it in the last two seasons. The problem for Zimmer from 2020 on was the decline of his beloved defense. In his first six seasons, the Zimmer defense was phenomenal — untouchable in the league’s pecking order. Yet, in 2020, that same Zimmer defense abruptly died.
And because Zimmer wasn’t an offensive guru, the team’s offense was not up to the task of circumventing the NFL’s 10th-worst defense in 2020 and 2021. It also didn’t help that Zimmer basically employed a new offensive coordinator each season, generally watching the annual, flavor-of-the-year OC walk away for job promotion or retirement.
Accordingly, the Vikings hired an “offense-first” head coach to replace Zimmer, onboarding Kevin O’Connell from the Los Angeles Rams after his former club won a Super Bowl in February. Minnesota wants O’Connell to do for Kirk Cousins what he did in Los Angeles with Matthew Stafford. The ex-Detriot Lions quarterback could never seal the deal on consistent winning in Detroit, but one year with Sean McVay and Kevin O’Connell cemented his legacy eternally. Like Stafford, Cousins isn’t considered a passer who can “do it all on his own,” so Minnesota said “yes, please” to the Rams blueprint.
Plus, if offensive coordinators fly out the door from O’Connell’s coaching staff — as they did for Zimmer — nobody will care. O’Connell is the skipper of the Vikings offense — one that will call plays, unlike Zimmer, who left the job to an assortment of offensive coordinators.
If O’Connell can replicate some semblance of the Vikings upper-echelon defense from 2014 to 2019 and mix in some high-flying offensive theatrics a la the Rams, Sharp’s “upside” prophecy might just come true.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).