The Vikings' 1-4 start has Kirk Cousins trade rumors swirling around Minnesota and the entire NFL. The high-priced quarterback's name isn't being mentioned in these rumors because of his struggles. Cousins doesn't deserve blame for the team's weak start to the 2023 season.
Vikings' decision-makers need to look elsewhere when apportioning blame. Most of it resides on the defensive side of the football. Giving up 24.4 points per game isn't horrible, but it's a big reason why the Vikings already find themselves falling out of the race for another NFC North crown.
The higher-ups in Minnesota don't need to mash the panic button quite yet, but meaningful changes will be required to correct this poor start. Paying attention to the following four underperformers would be a good place for the Vikings to start.
4. Ty Chandler
This spot on the list could easily have gone to Cam Akers because both he and Chandler have failed to provide the Vikings' offense with a big-play option from the running back position. Alexander Mattison is getting the bulk of the carries, but he was never going to give the offense the sort of juice they previously received from Dalvin Cook.
Chandler's inability to do that early in the season led to the need to facilitate the Akers trade. Now that both backs are on the roster, Minnesota desperately needs one of them to create an explosive play or two per game from the backfield. That could be via a conventional run or a short pass into the flat.
The Vikings need more production and balance from their running back corps. That means either Chandler or Akers needs to become a big part of the weekly game plan to turn their season around.
3. Marcus Davenport
Davenport was one of the team's high-priced free agent acquisitions this offseason and his lack of availability has been a big issue for coordinator Brian Flores' defense. The good news for Minnesota is that he's healthy now and he has managed to notch one sack in each of his two games in the current campaign.
The downside to Davenport's play in 2023 is that he hasn't really contributed anything else. He's always been a bit of a feast-or-famine player as an edge rusher but Minnesota's scheme needs more balanced production from its outside linebackers. Through two games, Davenport looks like an awkward fit as that sort of all-around playmaker.
The forecast for Davenport moving forward is not hopeless. Flores is a quality coach who's proven he can help his edge guys round out their respective games. Davenport has the requisite size needed to be a quality run defender. It may just be a matter of time before he understands Minnesota's system well enough to elevate his total game.
If he remains a one-trick pony as a sack artist then he will not justify the premium the Vikings paid to sign him this summer. It might also stop the overall defense from fulfilling its full potential. Minnesota needs more production from Davenport if they're going to get back into the postseason picture.
2. Dean Lowry
The Vikings pried Lowry away from the Packers this offseason in hopes that he could help boost their run defense from the defensive end position. Instead, he's been one of the least productive defensive linemen in the NFL through five games.
Defensive ends playing in three-man fronts are never going to rack up tackles, but Lowry only has two solo stops to his name on the campaign. Combine that with his PFF average of 44 and it's easy to see just how poor he's been as a starter.
Unless Minnesota wants to flip rookie Jacqueiln Roy to the other side of the formation they may be forced to continue on with Lowry as the starter. There just isn't another reasonable option available on the current roster. It's also highly unlikely that Minnesota will be looking to add help via a trade given their current record.
One thing the Vikings' defense might try to help Lowry would be to line him up on the inside in more conventional four-man fronts on clear passing downs. That might help give him a bit more confidence when rushing the passer. He's not going to develop into anything more than an average starter but that would be a major improvement compared to his early season play.
1. Byron Murphy
Murphy showed flashes of becoming a really good starting cornerback during his tenure with the Cardinals. That caused the Vikings to gamble on him in free agency this offseason. To date, that gamble has been a massive mistake by Minnesota's front office.
He's been torched early and often through five games. Murphy has been targeted 29 times and given up an eye-popping 23 receptions. That number of catches has him tied for 10th in the NFL through five games.
The good news for the Vikings is that Murphy does have the physical talent required to improve. The coaching staff needs to pay close attention to his mental state. Trying to limit the snaps where he's required to stand up in single coverage might be a wise move for the Vikings' staff over the next several weeks.
If Minnesota is going to turn their season around they'll need better play from their secondary. That will require Murphy to make a marked improvement as the team's No. 1 cornerback. If he continues to give up chunk plays then Minnesota is headed for a high draft pick. If he starts to play up to his full potential they have a chance to claw their way back into playoff contention.