This Is Not What The Minnesota Vikings Paid For

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 11, 2018

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 10: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings walks off the field after an incomplete pass on 4th down in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 10, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings offense is awful under the supervision of John DeFilippo, and quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn't played anywhere near a level to validate his three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract.

DeFilippo and Cousins both fooled the Vikings organization. 

General manager Rick Spielman discussed the hiring of DeFilippo with NFL Network in March, via Terry Horstman of USA Today's Vikings Wire:

"The number one thing we wanted to do was get the offensive coordinator hired first. So when we were able to hire John DeFilippo, we sat down as a scouting staff, as a coaching staff and listened to what he's going to do from an offensive scheme standpoint and evaluated all the quarterbacks on our roster and felt very good about the guys we had on our roster. We just felt that Kirk was such a unique opportunity that rarely comes out, especially at that position. He's a young quarterback that's been healthy, that’s been productive in this league."

DeFilippo hasn't transitioned well from being the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach to Minnesota's offensive coordinator, and being healthy and productive doesn't automatically make someone an elite quarterback.

Minnesota entered the offseason thinking it was only one pivotal piece away from legitimate Super Bowl contention after last year's 13-3 regular-season effort and a loss to Philly in the NFC Championship Game.

The team supposedly made it that far in spite of its previous starter Case Keenum, not because of him.

Monday night's 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field exposed the flawed Vikings offense, which has fallen to 18th in scoring at 22.9 points per game (eight spots lower than in 2017). Forget the late touchdown. A garbage-time score means the team was shut out for nearly 60 minutes.

Cousins signed with Minnesota without the resume to back up his expected status. The team overlooked one simple thing through the free-agent process: Cousins has never been a top-end starter. He is a slightly above-average signal-caller who leveraged his situation in Washington like Bobby Axelrod from Showtime's Billions in order to maximize profit. 

CBS Sports HQ @CBSSportsHQ

With the Vikings' loss to Seattle, Kirk Cousins’ career record vs. teams above .500 falls to 4-24 https://t.co/4Yvc9LWKwN

The 30-year-old is what he's always been: A distributor who plays well within an offense's structure yet fails to elevate the play of those around him or extend an offense beyond its natural setup. 

Three straight 4,000-yard campaigns somehow marked him as one of the best free agents in NFL history. Why? Because he's in his prime, and organizations typically don't let quality quarterbacks hit the open market. Yet the entire process became overblown. 

Cousins is a solid quarterback, but he's not a franchise-changer. This became obvious when he was placed in a poorly constructed offense with a subpar play-caller. Monday's performance is a microcosm of bigger issues. 

DeFilippo came under fire in recent weeks when head coach Mike Zimmer called his offensive approach into question. 

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

"Same thing I have been saying all year [about wanting to run the ball more]," Zimmer said after a 24-10 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 13, per the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Andrew Krammer

An understanding of situational football is important, but the Vikings have talented backs in Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. And they are not properly using either. The pair combined for 29 carries over the last two contests, and the Vikings scored 17 total points against the Patriots and Seahawks. 

A balanced offense isn't necessary to be successful. Not a single team operates at a 50-50 run-pass ratio. The ability to recognize pre-snap reads is what places the offense in a position to maximize effectiveness. In Minnesota's case, staying ahead of the chains on early downs would have a profound effect. 

DeFilippo discussed Zimmer's desire to run the ball more prior to Monday's contest, per Fox Sports North:

"I went back and self-scouted myself. There were two or three instances where we threw the football [against the Patriots], like on that first-and-10 from around the 26, that we probably should've run the football. I made that aware to him [Coach Zimmer] and my thoughts on that. It's just like anybody, I look to go out each week and improve myself. You're always self-evaluating yourself and looking for ways to get better."

Yet poor sequential play-calling continued. Once the Vikings finally established even a slight hint of rhythm, decision-making led to setbacks. In the third quarter, on 4th-and-1 from the 40-yard line, the Vikings attempted to slam Murray behind the offensive interior, only to be rebuffed because of a stacked box. The play never really had a chance because the Vikings didn't spread the field. DeFilippo called a heavy formation, which provided the Seahawks with an advantage. 

Prior to that point, each of the Vikings' drives ended in a punt or a turnover. Cousins managed only 55 passing yards through three quarters. 

Minnesota missed its lone chance to take the lead after failures by both the coordinator and the quarterback. The Vikings ran the ball twice up the middle against a stout Seahawks front before chasing points on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal. Cousins missed an open Adam Thielen after safety Tedric Thompson slipped in the end zone and instead threw to a doubled Kyle Rudolph. Cousins' poor ball placement only exacerbated the issue. 

Thielen, who finished with five receptions for 70 yards, wasn't exactly happy. 

Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

"It's been there all f--king day," ESPN's mic heard him say after a 35-yard reception, according to CBS Sports' Will Brinson

Cousins is going to take what's given to him and nothing more. There's some value in being able to correctly assess the opening in a defense and exploit it on most occasions. But playing the position is about far more than simple pitch-and-catch. A quarterback needs to create. Cousins doesn't do this. 

He's already been sacked 10 more times than Keenum last year and crumbles under pressure. He had opportunities to create plays down the field, but he became rattled with pressure around his feet, as NFL Next Gen States noted (h/t ESPN's Courtney Cronin): 

Courtney Cronin @CourtneyRCronin

Cousins went 1-of-7 (14%) when a defender got within 2 yards of him Monday according to NFL Next Gen Stats, his worst mark of the season. Cousins has attempted 161 passes this year with a defender within 2 yards of him, most in the NFL.

Keenum may not be the most physically gifted quarterback, but he's tough in the pocket with enough mobility to make something out of nothing. This is especially important when playing behind a porous offensive line. 

Poor play-calling and Cousins' lack of playmaking Monday place a searing spotlight on a struggling front five. The team already had issues at guard. Tom Compton was playing poorly on the left side, and Mike Remmer was unable to win at the point of attack on the right. Things could get worse since second-round right tackle Brian O'Neill suffered a leg injury. 

The 6-6-1 Vikings still reside in the sixth and final playoff spot with remaining games against the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. How can Minnesota fix its offense over the next three weeks?  

"A good question," Zimmer said, per the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson

It can't. 

DeFilippo could make his play-calling less predictable by mixing up formations or situations, but that won't change who Cousins is or magically fix the team's offensive line problems.     

The Vikings took a step back when the organization had to replace Pat Shurmur, who left to coach the New York Giants, and overspent on an overhyped free agent. They'll continue to pay for both decisions. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.


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