It’s finally time for the 2021 NFL season to begin, with the league kicking off the season on Thursday night and this weekend around the league. The new year will begin with the first game on Thursday Night Football in a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the Minnesota Vikings, their season officially gets underway on Sunday afternoon when they hit the road to open the year against the Cincinnati Bengals at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. After going 0-3 in the preseason, there are some questions still remaining for Minnesota going into the new year, although it’s hard to look too much into some of the questions that arose during preseason play with most of the Vikings starters not taking the field for those three contests.
Three Keys to Success For the 2021 Minnesota Vikings
Before the regular season tips off for Minnesota and the rest of the NFL, let’s take a look at some keys to success for the Vikings going into the new year and what areas of the team will have to step up and improve on the field in order to start the 17-game regular season schedule off strong.
3. Special Teams Has to Show Up When Called Upon
Over the last few years, basically ever since kicker Blair Walsh infamously missed wide left in the 2015 NFC Wild Card Game, special teams have been an area of inconsistency for Minnesota. Going into the 2021 season, there are still some concerns among the special teams unit going into another season, and it will be key for that group to step up when called upon in key spots week-in and week-out.
This off-season and leading up to the new year, the Vikings special teams basically saw a complete overhaul after featuring kicker Dan Bailey, punter Britton Colquitt, and kick and punt returner K.J. Osborn as key pieces. Heading into Week 1, Minnesota’s special teams unit will be led by kicker Greg Joseph, punter Jordan Berry, and kick and punt returner Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Issues on special teams haven’t just been with kicking, punting, and returning, but Minnesota’s special teams coverage over the years has been getting worse and worse as the seasons’ progress, something that the Vikings hope to turn around and fix during the 2021 campaign. Regardless, one of the keys for Minnesota will come with the little things such as fielding a solid group on special teams.
2. Offense Needs to Take the Next Step
A season ago, the Vikings offense was a fairly consistent and dominant group led by the likes of quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook, and the receiving duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. In 2021, Minnesota’s offense will have to return to that level of consistency and dominance while taking the next step in taking over games and coming out on top throughout the regular season.
The Vikings unit on the offensive side of the ball finished with a total of 4,265 passing yards (12th in NFL) with 35 touchdowns through the air a season ago (tied for 6th in NFL). On the ground, Minnesota ran for a total of 2,283 yards (5th in NFL) while finding the endzone via the running game a total of 20 times (tied for 6th in NFL).
Your weekly Justin Jefferson highlight 💪
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) December 6, 2020
With a group comprised of many returning players, at least when it comes to key contributors from a year ago, Minnesota should be able to hit the ground running on offense and return to one of the more impressive offensive units in the league. Led by the running game and counter-balanced with the potential of airing the ball out, one of the keys to success for the Vikings will be taking the next step on offense and putting games away with their offensive group at various points in the new year.
1. Defense Must Improve From Last Year
There’s no question that Minnesota’s defense struggled a season ago, with that unit flooded with injuries and missing key players throughout the year resulting in taking a step back in an area that has traditionally been a strength of the team. In 2021, that unit should be improved and if the Vikings want to succeed by the end of the and ultimately get back to the playoffs after failing to do so last season, that defensive group will have to improve from the disappointment of the 2020 season.
The biggest bright spots for the Vikings defense this season should be players such as Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland, and a few others. Most, if not all of those players, missed time last year or weren’t actually on the team that fielded one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Adding all of those players to the mix of the defense will bolster the group and make life hard on opposing offenses, which is something that was greatly missed last year.
Minnesota’s defense looks impressive on paper, but that doesn’t always translate onto the field. If the Vikings want to have success in 2021, that will have to be the case and the defense must improve dramatically like what we’ve seen from a Mike Zimmer-led defense in years past.
Embed from Getty Images