Various members of the Minnesota Vikings roster have spoken out at different points of the offseason about the big change, going from the stubborn, defensive-minded Mike Zimmer to the innovative offensive mind of Kevin O’Connell as head coach. You can add Justin Jefferson to the list of enthused players going on record about their renewed energy from the coaching change.
In an interview with Jori Epstein of USA Today, Jefferson spoke about how the new offense the team has been learning gives him even more hope for 2022, despite setting new personal bests in 2021 under the previous regime.
Minnesota Vikings’ conservative offense was a problem
If one just looks at the raw numbers, you might say Jefferson doesn’t have anything to complain about, as he does hold the record for most receiving yards in a player’s first two seasons with 3,016.
- Justin Jefferson stats in 2021-22: 108 receptions, 1,616 receiving yards, 10 TD catches
Then again, there were many instances where Jefferson had even bigger opportunities to rack up additional yardage that the Vikings just didn’t capitalize on.
Some of these areas of weakness include being all too conservative, which was coach Zimmer’s preference to establish the run to set up the pass, even though he was a coach with a defensive background. Essentially, passing is a more risky play, whether it be a turnover on downs or consecutive incompletions or sacks to set up 3rd-and-long, so Zimmer seemed to prefer the safer route, in turn helping his defense. Or at least that was the goal.
And sure, the Vikings led the NFL with the fewest turnovers as an offense turning the ball over just 13 times a season ago, but they also ranked second-worst in the percentage of offensive drives ending with a turnover, which includes turnovers on downs with a failed 4th-down conversion.
Far too often, the Vikings couldn’t convert on third downs (36.4% conversion rate, 26th in NFL), leading to a quick three-and-out, which obviously does not help the defense.
At times spectators could see the frustration either in Jefferson or in Adam Thielen, who could both be seen on the sidelines in heated conversations with Kirk Cousins, yet both receivers stuck by their quarterback, insisting they have no issues with their signal-caller.
How the Vikings plan to be different on offense in 2022
For the first time since Kirk Cousins joined the Vikings back in 2018, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback will finally have a head coach whose background is based in offense. And with coach O’Connell being a former quarterback himself, he likely has a lot of additional insight to share with his new pupil.
One of the changes football fans can expect to see from the 2022 version of the Vikes is more spread-based schemes. This likely means less of C.J. Ham taking the field, and more sets featuring three or four wideouts on the field at once.
For the Vikings, this is a big change, as they would turn to three tight end sets more often than three or four-receiver sets, but it’s part of where football is headed as several teams don’t even carry a full-time fullback on their roster. For Justin Jefferson, it’s a change he’s excited about.
Yet even though we may not see as many jumbo or heavy sets, it also will likely feature more pass-catching opportunities for Dalvin Cook, getting him out in more open space, instead of taking a beating behind the line where he’s asked to make one or two defenders miss before even reaching the line of scrimmage.
In the end, it should be a more wide-open offense, giving more playmakers more opportunities for Captain Kirk to spread the ball around, using each inch of the gridiron, creating more pressure on the defense.
The Vikings hope this new, less predictable approach can get them back to being a top-10 offense, which slipped to 14th a season ago as they missed the postseason with an 8-9 effort.
With Cousins, Cook, Jefferson and Adam Thielen, there’s no excuse for another lackluster effort in 2022.