Vikings, Kirk Cousins Deemed Playoff ‘Pretenders’ by NFL Exec

Kevin O'Connell Vikings

Getty Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell.

HHeavy’s football mailbag series continues on Friday, December 16 — hosted by Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo — to answer questions about your favorite team(s).

The final month of the NFL season is in full swing, with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers having secured playoff berths and several teams across the league still vying for positioning.

Are the Vikings Contenders or Pretenders?

What’s the contender barometer reading for Minnesota right now? Are the Vikings pretenders, or a team that is seen as more than a one-and-done in the postseason?

Few teams have been more difficult to get a read on this season than the cardiac Minnesota Vikings.

Entering Week 15, the Vikings sit atop the NFC North at 10-3, with nine of their victories coming by a one-score margin. However, Minnesota’s 34-23 road loss to the Detroit Lions raises significant questions about whether this team is capable of anything more than possibly advancing past Wild Card weekend.

“I’ll say they’re pretenders,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy. “Remember, Kirk Cousins has only one playoff win in his career.”

Cousins is just 1-3 in the postseason, and despite currently sitting No. 7 in the NFL in passing yards and tied for 10th in touchdowns through 14 weeks, the executive is bearish that the 34-year-old is capable of leading a lengthy postseason charge.

“I hate to say it, but Kirk chokes under pressure,” the executive said. “I know, we were in the same building for a while. Minnesota also has a rookie head coach, and that’s never good going into the playoffs.”

Head coach Kevin O’Connell certainly has ignited the Vikings’ offense, but it has been since George Seifert led the 49ers to a 1982 Super Bowl win that a rookie head coach has hoisted the Lombardi.

There is certainly an argument to be made that the Vikings’ close wins establish championship character, but the metrics haven’t borne that out. According to Football Outsiders, Minnesota is ranked No. 21 in total DVOA, and dragging a defense that ranks No. 24 in Defensive DVOA into a tournament against the likes of the Eagles, Cowboys, 49ers and Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in January could prove an Achilles heel.

Who Deserves Credit in San Francisco?

Does 49ers quarterbacks coach Brian Griese deserve more credit than he’s getting, especially after working through 3 different starting QBs?

Brock Purdy’s emergence as a steadying force for the San Francisco 49ers, following Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo’s injuries, since being chosen as the final pick in April’s 2022 draft, is one of the more interesting storylines of the NFL’s second half.

Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks, Purdy clinched the 49ers’ NFC West Division championship by passing for 217 yards with a pair of touchdowns, in a hostile environment, authoring a third consecutive gutty and consistent performance.

While 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has crafted a self-driving Ferrari of an offense, it is worth noting that Purdy’s success Thursday came with playmaker Deebo Samuel sidelined. Plus, Griese’s influence in the quarterbacks room can not be ignored as far as factoring into San Francisco’s consistently high level of play at the position.

“Now that it’s been a couple games [with Purdy], Brian [Griese] definitely deserves some credit,” an NFL offensive coach told Heavy. “At least he’s been there all year, and played a lot of ball at Iowa State.”

The coach believes there’s plenty of credit to go around for what San Francisco has accomplished, including to defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and offensive line coach Chris Foerster.

Between the offense Shanahan has built, with the personnel general manager John Lynch has added to the roster, especially trading for Christian McCaffrey, it’s little wonder San Francisco is headed back to the postseason. But, Purdy and Griese certainly deserve their share of credit for steadying the ship down the stretch.

Do the Lions Have a Head Coach in Waiting?

Is Ben Johnson currently the hottest assistant coach in the hiring cycle? Any shot the Lions could actually retain him for 2023?

Ben Johnson has been one of the standout stars of the Detroit Lions‘ strong finish to the 2022 campaign.

Johnson’s ability to forge a multi-faceted offensive attack that is punishing in the run game, as well as adding an explosive element with receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and now rookie Jameson Williams, has to have executives across the NFL lining up to interview him.

Detroit enters Week 15 as the No. 4 ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 376.4 yards per game. Similarly, the Lions’ success in the red zone has been anchored by running back Jamaal Williams scoring a league-high 14 touchdowns through 14 weeks, often sprung by the offensive line dominating up front and allowing backs to charge into the teeth of opposing defenses.

While Brian Daboll had the luxury of calling plays for MVP-caliber quarterback Josh Allen, Johnson’s schematic success with a roster that lacks the Bills’ star power has been equally impressive. It would seemingly be a longshot for the Lions to be able to retain Johnson, who seems earmarked as this hiring cycle’s Daboll, as one of the hottest commodities available.

It wouldn’t be the last bit surprising if Johnson is one of the first head coaches hired.

Read More