The Minnesota Vikings have jumped out to a 5-2 start after winning all of five games just two years ago. Understadably, that start, coupled with the growth of QB Teddy Bridgewater and the standout rookie performances of WR Stefon Diggs, has Minnesota fans riding high in 2015.
So to get a better sense of what's helped them out to their fast start, I linked up with Ted Glover from Daily Norseman, the SB Nation community for Minnesota Vikings fans.
Let's start with the offense. Teddy Bridgewater hasn't had any overwhelming performances outside of the win over Detroit. How would you qualify his 2015 season thus far? Is the passing offense, third-worst in the NFL in yards per game, doing enough to support Adrian Peterson in general?
t's easy to look at the numbers and say Teddy is underwhelming. But...name the QB that has had the most passing yards against the Denver Broncos, undefeated and with one of the top defenses in the NFL. Yeah, it's Bridgewater. He's been efficient, and with him, the passing attack has gone from LOLWUTTHEHELLISTHIS to respectable. He isn't lighting the world on fire numbers wise, and he needs to be more consistent, but he can play in this league. For example, he shook off a terrible 55 minutes against the Bears, and led the Vikings on two scoring drives to win the game, all on his arm. Right now, he's doing enough. And having Peterson back means the Vikings can still run the ball effectively, and they don't usually need to rely on throwing the ball. And that's cut into Bridgewater's numbers, at least somewhat, as the Vikings are currently fifth in the NFL in rushing yards.
The main difference is that if they do have to throw the ball, they can. I love all the intangibles Bridgewater brings to the position--to watch him in the pocket, go through his progressions, and use his feet to keep a play alive...he just seems to possess things that you can't teach. And as any Vikings fan who's watched the team closely, we've seen QB's with no pocket presence, no ability to go through receiver progression, and none of the intangibles that make you think they could be successful.
Defensively, what's different in 2015? Is it a matter of improving on your 24th-ranked run defense a year ago? is it the impact a rookie like Eric Kendricks can have?
Mike Zimmer. In two years, he's taken a defense that couldn't stop a runaway baby carriage rolling up a slight incline into a legitimate top 10 NFL defense. Gone is the Tampa-2, in is a double A gap blitz scheme. Gone are slow and unathletic players, in are guys like Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, and Harrison Smith, who can run side to side, blow up the point of attack, and hit you so hard your distant relatives in Germany will wake up from a sound sleep with a sore jaw. The Vikings have depth along the defensive line, which allows them to rotate seven or eight quality players consistently, and the linebacking corps is as good as it's been in about seven or eight years. Other than SS Andrew Sendejo, the Vikings have a pretty good secondary as well. They cover their guys well, it allows the line and linebackers to make plays, and good things are happening. Eric Kendricks has been a huge addition as well. He still seems to be a liability in pass coverage, but there's no denying that he is an exceptional talent that is a very instinctive player against the run.
I also think a second year in Zimmer's defense has helped, too. There was still a learning curve, and both Zimmer and some of the players, like Captain Munnerlyn, said it took them awhile to fully buy in. Now that the defense is starting to really play well, the players have bought in, and it's kind of feeding off of itself.
Stefon Diggs has exploded the last four weeks. Cordarelle Patterson has imploded this season. On the balance, is it a net positive? Besides Diggs and Kendricks, what first-year Vikings are making a difference in 2015?
Yeah, it is a net positive. The thing with Patterson was that he was a raw prospect, and would need time to become a polished route runner. But his athleticism was worth the gamble, the thinking went, because he could be taught how to run routes. Three years in, and he really doesn't seem to have that explosive, natural ability that made him such a dangerous kick returner.
Contrast that with Diggs. Diggs is just as fast, just as explosive, but is already a polished receiver. He consistently gets separation from his defender, is where he is supposed to be when the ball is thrown, and if you miss him in the open field one on one, chances are you just gave up six points. He's gone from inactive for three games to the Vikings number one receiver and a guy that is on the short list for Rookie Of The Year. While Patterson gets about half a dozen snaps on offense and stands in the end zone while kickoffs go over his head.
One criticism I've seen lobbed at the Vikings which is obviously being amplified by Rams fans this week is the strength of schedule. Football Outsiders currently ranks the schedule yall have played through seven games as the easiest in the entire NFL (and ranks your remaining schedule as the hardest...). Is there any concern that the win-loss record or statistics are inflated by the opponents you've faced so far (cough...Detroit...) or is it a sense of just taking care of business and growing into the challenge of the back half of your 2015 schedule?
It's a fair criticism, as the Vikings really haven't beaten anyone...other than teams in their own division, and two of those games were on the road. Yeah, it's the Lions and the Bears, I get that, but these are games that the Vikings didn't win before Mike Zimmer got here. Heck, they lost to both the Bears and Detroit on the road last year, in Zimmer's first year. I think the Vikings gained a lot of confidence in a close loss to the Broncos in Denver, and now, games like the Bears win are games the Vikings are games they're now finding ways to win, as opposed of finding ways to lose. Before you beat the Denver's and Green Bay's of the world, you gotta beat the teams you're supposed to beat. This team was knocked for not being able to win on the road, and now they've won two straight away from home. They have been knocked for not being able to win divisional games; the Vikings are now 3-0 in the division, with two of their remaining three division games at home.
A long time ago in another lifetime, I was in an organization that had a training philosophy of 'crawl, walk, run'. Before you can run, you gotta learn to crawl and walk. The Vikings just graduated from crawling and are at the walk stage now, and starting Sunday, we'll see if they're ready to run, or if they still have a ways to go.
What's the current satisfaction level among Vikings fans with HC Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman? Are the Vikings "on the right track", whatever the hell that means?
You would be hard pressed to find fans that are unhappy with GM Rick Spielman, coach Zimmer, or the trajectory of the team in general. I mean, sure they're out there, but these are generally humorless people who dislike Christmas morning, the love of a good woman, and consider Michelob Ultra quality alcohol. This team has been the poster boy for front office and coaching dysfunction for the better part of an entire generation, and it finally seems like the Vikings have a GM that knows how to draft, for the most part, a coach that know how to coach, and a QB that knows how to QB. What a time to be alive.
Thanks to Teddy Glovewater for the time.