The Vikings made some strange calls in the 2023 offseason. One of them was the departure of Duke Shelley, who played decent football last season (especially since the purple corner space flirts with disaster and he only signed for $1.3 million with the Las Vegas Raiders). He could have been an early starter, written into the starting lineup, until one of the young guys usurps him.
The Vikings put a lot of trust in 2 players
A more crucial, but still strange decision, however, occurred on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings somehow returned their entire offensive line. All ten o-linemen from last season are still on the team.
But why would they do that? The unit didn’t play super well, especially the pass protection. It should have been common knowledge how much the group struggled, but the recently released Netflix documentary Quarterback even highlighted their problems.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins was under constant duress during the 2022 season (and, for that matter, since the beginning of his tenure in Minnesota in 2018). No passer was hit more often last season than Cousins, according to PFF. This is unacceptable and has a few reasons.
Cousins is not a mobile quarterback who can escape pressure by scrambling out of the pocket. If he was, he could certainly avoid some of the pressures and hits, but he’s not, so the offensive line needs to protect him better. While the offensive tackle duo is quite fantastic, the interior three (Ed Ingram, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland) is a liability.
And the third main reason for the number of hits is Kevin O’Connell and his plan. Longer developing games are a problem if the pass protection isn’t good enough, and Cousins is the guy who ends up on the ground because of it.
Two of those issues could change, but Cousins won’t suddenly turn into Patrick Mahomes and play outside the pocket all the time. But O’Connell’s play calling and play design are getting better in his sophomore year, where he’s actually calling plays.
The offensive line could also be in for an improvement, primarily second-year guard Ed Ingram. Entering the league as a second rounder, the team and fans had high expectations for him, but he couldn’t meet them. His game was a real problem.
No guard in the NFL allowed his quarterback to be pressured more often than Ingram. He also allowed the second-most hits and third-most sacks, according to PFF. Additionally, most people remember the plays when he repeatedly stepped on Kirk Cousins’ foot. Such questions must be a thing of the past.
The coaching staff has massive confidence in Ingram and his upside. They expect great things from him. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips praised him during OTAs:
I couldn’t be happier with our pick and the fact that he played all year and he worked through a few growing pains as a rookie, like any rookie in this league. Especially on the offensive line, where the slightest fake step – a receiver can get away with a fake step most times – but the smallest thing when you’re inside, especially the inside three, and you’re lost. The way he handled it, he wasn’t fazed by it, he didn’t blink at any of it, he just kept trying to get better and he’s in good shape. I think he looks really good coming in and expect big things from him.
Offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw had a stellar sophomore season, and Ingram could potentially make a jump as well. Although his improvements are unlikely to be as significant.
If the offensive line can’t hold up, it will again be up to Cousins to save the franchise from the catastrophic scenario of suffering an injury as the starting QB. The four-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game due to injury in his career. That feat deserves much more respect.
He played games with rib injuries in back-to-back seasons and Vikings fans never hear a word about it. Who knows how many injuries he had over the years and still kept playing? The problem is, that can change on any given play, and the lack of reinforcements for the offensive line is concerning.
The front office and coaching staff are all pinning their hopes on Ingram’s potential improvement and that Cousins continues to show his all-time toughness. Let’s hope it doesn’t backfire because the team is playing with fire.
Janik Eckardt is a soccer fan who likes numbers and statistics. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking football encyclopedia, loves to watch sitcoms and classic rock is his favorite music genre. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt