We’re a quarter into the season and the Vikings sit at an uninspiring 1-2-1. Looking at the opening schedule before the season, this seemed like a distant possibility, but unfortunately here we are. In the NFL all it takes is a week to get back on track and the year is far from over. Where do we stand before we head to Philadelphia?
We Lost to the Best Team in the NFL
We’ll start with the Rams. In the vacuum of one game, losing by seven to the Rams isn’t bad. The feeling of panic after this game is a result of how we lost and the lingering effects of Week 3. At the end of the day, the Vikings got the ball back in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie the game and force overtime (or go for two, if Zimmer wanted to send a message to his defense). That’s not a bad outcome on the road against what most consider to be the best team in the NFL. The overall gameplay and score of this game exhibited two playoff-caliber teams, albeit one more likely to make the playoffs than the other, and looking solely at this game, it wasn’t the outcome but how it occurred that created panic.
We Lost to the Worst Team in the NFL
The Vikings game in Week 3 is the concern, and the Packers 22-0 smackdown of Buffalo in Week 4 showed exactly why. The Bills are bad. The Vikings simply played an awful game and got stomped by one of the league’s worst. There’s no explanation here. Teams with Super Bowl aspirations don’t let this happen. This is the game we will be pointing to at the end of the season if the Vikings fail to recover.
Before this loss, and before the season started, the first five weeks were looking like this: beat the 49ers, lose to the Packers, beat the Bills, lose to the Rams and lose to the Eagles. Three of the Vikings hardest four games (the other being in New England) are in the first five weeks of the season. Luckily, the easiest game of the season (at home against the Bills) was also in there, but the Vikings blew it. Realistically, we were penciling in a 2-3 record. If the Vikings can beat the Eagles and sit at 2-2-1, they’re in a fine position to recoup their early season slip up.
Not My Defense
Yes, the loss to the Bills is unsettling, but even more unsettling might be the identity crisis this team is going through. They way this team is losing is far from the Vikings we’re accustomed to watching. Under Zimmer, the defense has been solid if not spectacular every season. With the additions of Mike Hughes, George Iloka and Sheldon Richardson this year, it looked as loaded as ever and there were early rumblings of rivaling the famed Purple People Eaters. Under Zimmer, all the offense has needed to do is score 21+ points, as coming into this season, Zimmer’s team was an outstanding 31-4 when scoring 21+ points (This year: 1-1-1).
With a new quarterback and new coordinator, it was expected that the new offense would have growing pains to start the year and we’d lean on the defense to get us some early wins. Instead, it’s our star-studded defense with all the problems, and while I’m convinced this can be fixed, something seems off. Here are the main ones I’m concerned about:
- They haven’t played a good game – One could argue that the Vikings are a George Kittle drop and a healthy Aaron Rodgers from being exposed even earlier in the season. Since the second half of the NFC Divisional Game against the Saints, they haven’t put together a strong game.
- They’re LAST against the pass – The Vikings rank LAST in the NFL against the pass despite having one of the league’s best cornerbacks and the league’s best safety. I don’t even know how that’s possible.
- They’re being outcoached – On two touchdowns against the Rams, Anthony Barr was tasked with covering a wide receiver. While Barr received a lot of blame, it’s far from his problem. Covering a wide receiver is a tall task for any linebacker. Zimmer’s defense was exposed in its scheme and a matchup like that will win 10 times out of 10.
- Is Everson Griffen the key? – The Everson Griffen story is a curious one and a sad one. For Griffen, it’s important to take his time coming back and making sure he’s mentally okay is the number one priority. This is much deeper than football, but from the Vikings standpoint, not having him hurts, and it feels like it could very well be for the rest of the season. Not only are they lacking his elite pass-rush, but without Robison or Newman on the field, they miss his leadership, too.
At Least the Offense Looks Good
This is a welcome surprise. Kirk Cousins looks great and it has been awhile (if not forever) since I’ve seen a Vikings quarterback sling the ball around the field the way he does. Cousins has thrown for 400 yards twice this year, and while that’s fun and dandy, we’d rather this not happen. Ideally, the defense plays well enough that he can manage the game instead of getting into shootouts each week. Still, though, it’s nice to know we can score if we need to. With Cousins under center, no deficit seems too large to comeback from, and that’s something that the Vikings haven’t had since Brett Favre’s run in 2009.
As for the pass catchers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs seemingly get open at will and have been outstanding. Behind them, there are question marks, as we see an inconsistent Laquon Treadwell, but a potential steal in Aldrick Robinson. Aside from the depth at wide-receiver, the bigger concerns are the offensive line and the running game, which go hand in hand. Dalvin Cook has no holes to run through but has still looked spry when he gets a chance. Additionally, John DeFilippo has been creative in getting Cook the ball, splitting him out wide on numerous occasions, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he starts to heat up.
Lastly, for the ever criticized offensive line, the run blocking is an issue and in Week 3 they were massacred by the Bills front seven. Still, though, I might be one of few that thought they looked fine against the Rams and have played well enough for the offense to function. Yes, there was a strip sack to end the game and Aaron Donald got in the backfield for a couple of sacks, but they gave Cousins enough time to sit back and pick apart the Rams secondary. Even with the line concerns, the offensive unit has been a bright spot this season.
Other Reasons For Optimism
It’s early. I don’t have much else to go off other than that. Last year, the Vikings were 2-2 and proceeded to win eleven of their final twelve to reach the NFC Championship Game. The Saints were also 2-2 and made the playoffs. Even the 3-1 Eagles weren’t thought to be legitimate contenders, yet. And heck, in 2015, the Chiefs started 1-5, before rattling off ten straight to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs. The NFL changes each week, and water always seems to find its level evntually. The truth is, we don’t know who the contenders and pretenders are, yet. This team is as talented on paper as any, and they just had a long week to fix their problems. The Vikings are also a 38-yard field goal from being 2-1-1, and again 2-2-1 is a fine spot to be in through five weeks.
Other Reasons For Pessimism
The Schedule – The schedule is difficult, but to be a playoff team, you need to win games against good teams. The Vikings still must go to Philadelphia and eventually New England. They still have five divisional games left and they have the Saints come to town in Week 8. It doesn’t get that much easier from here on out.
The Bears and their schedule – The 3-1 Bears are a cause for concern. Again, it’s early so you can’t overreact to a 3-1 team (Exhibit A: The Dolphins; Exhibit B: The 2016 Vikings that started 5-0), but they do have a lot of talent and Khalil Mack is an unstoppable force. I don’t think the Bears are better than the Vikings or Packers, but if you take a quick glance at their schedule, it’s easy to see them making a strong run at the division title. The Vikings have the aforementioned issues and the Packers have a difficult schedule coming up in addition to a gimpy Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, the Bears are heading into their bye and have the following distinct advantages over both teams: Instead of going to Philly (Or losing to Washington like the Packers), they go to New York to play the Giants. Instead of going to New England, they host the Patriots. Instead of going to Los Angeles, they host the Rams. Instead of playing Jimmy Garoppolo, they get a dead Niners Team in Week 16 (The Packers get this, too). The Vikings proved there are no easy games in the NFL (at least for them), but with the Bears hot start, they’ve set themselves up for playoff potential. If they continue their solid play, the Vikings will have to do their part in their two matchups against Chicago.
A revenge game in Philadelphia. Not the ideal ‘get right’ game, as the Vikings haven’t been the same since losing 38-7 in the City of Brotherly Love. However, this would be a statement win that can change the momentum of the season. Unfortunately, the oddsmakers will say it’s likely they come out of this one at 1-3-1 (the Eagles are 3-point favorites), and even more unfortunately, the Eagles are now hungry after having lost in Tennessee this past week. This is going to be a fight. Can Zimmer right the ship? Furthermore, can he take this 1-2-1 first quarter and turn it into a 5-2-1 first half (at Philadelphia, vs Arizona, in NY Jets, vs New Orleans), or will the Vikings dive further into 2018 irrelevancy, even having fans question who their head coach will be next season.
First Quarter Panic Meter
7/10. I can write all the words above to make sense of the season, but in reality, this is something we’re going to have to take week to week (look at me, with my coach speak). We can’t win four games next week, and currently, I’m very concerned because this defense is in shambles and no signs that they are the top unit we expect them to be, which is more unsettling than the 1-2-1 record. It’s not necessarly that the Vikings have been beaten, it’s how they’ve been beaten. It’s too early to worry about what other teams are doing (even though I’m worried), and it’s too early to officially cancel the season with a roster as talented as Minnesota’s. If anything, the Vikings serve as a reminder just how unpredictable any given NFL season is. The start was far from ideal and the Vikings have little, if any, room for error moving forward.