After six years of grooming the Vikings defense into one of the league’s best, coach Mike Zimmer’s challenges of re-tooling a defensive group that will introduce at least five new starters to the lineup just got even tougher.
The Athletic’s Mike Sando compiled a quarterback rankings list voted on by NFL coaches and evaluators and found that the Vikings have to the toughest schedule against opposing quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Vikings are tied in facing the most Tier 1 quarterbacks this season with five: No. 2 Russel Wilson, No. 3 Aaron Rodgers (twice), No. 4 Drew Brees and No. 5 Deshaun Watson. Six games this season will be against Tier 2 quarterbacks in No. 6 Tom Brady, No. 9 Matt Stafford (twice), No. 10 Matt Ryan, No. 12 Dak Prescott and No. 13 Phillip Rivers.
Those 11 games against top-two tier quarterbacks are the most in the NFL. The Bears have nine games in that same category, levied by two meetings with Rodgers and Stafford.
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Vikings, Kirk Cousins At Disadvantage In Majority of Games
Applying the quarterback rankings Sando collected, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings will be at a disadvantage in the quarterback battle in 11 of 16 games this season.
Cousins’ 2.70 rating (15 Tier 2 votes, 35 Tier 3 votes) was a bit enigmatic as several coaches felt he doesn’t quite fit in Tier 2 or Tier 3. A case could be made that Cousins is better than the Tier 2 quarterbacks he faces this season as he led the Vikings to wins over every Tier 2 QB he’ll face this season — besides Brady — in 2019.
Cousins is coming off his best season as a pro, setting career bests in games won (10), touchdown-to-interception ratio (26:6), interception rate (1.4 percent) and passer rating (107.4), but he did have a much easier schedule against opposing quarterbacks. He could be put in more difficult situations this season.
Cornerbacks Will Be Tested Early
An all-new starting cornerback group will face an early gauntlet facing three Tier 1 QBs in their first five games in Rodgers (Week 1), Watson (Week 3) and Wilson (Week 5). Between those three games, the Vikings face Ryan Tannehill and the Titans and Rivers, who is now starting for the Colts. All five teams made the playoffs and won a postseason game in 2019.
While this could be discouraging, the Vikings starting cornerback trio in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander weren’t the most serviceable group. Rhodes had a notoriously poor season, allowing a 132.7 passer rating when he was targeted in 2019, which ranked 76th among active corners. Waynes allowed a 117.3 passer rating that ranked 57th in the league, while Alexander allowed an 88.5 passer rating in the slot.
This year’s projected starting group — Holton Hill and Cameron Dantzler outside and Mike Hughes in the slot — could be better if they catch on quickly. Safeties Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith will look to anchor the secondary group. Harris allowed the lowest passer (39.6) rating among all NFL safeties last season while Smith allowed a 50.3 passer rating.
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Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.