All eyes on LA...
So to get a better sense of who we’re facing, I linked up with Christopher Gates from Daily Norseman, the SB Nation community for Vikings fans.
So I can’t start in on Week 4 without acknowledging Week 3. Um...what the hell was that?! How have you guys rationalized that performance given (a) how good you guys are and (b) how good the Bills are?
I still don’t have a really good explanation as to what happened. The Vikings got down 17-0 after they managed to cough up fumbles deep in their own territory on their first two possessions, which is never helpful. But even after that and things calmed down a little bit, they just couldn’t do anything offensively. Jerry Hughes whipped Riley Reiff up and down the U.S. Bank Stadium turf, and when your quarterback doesn’t get an opportunity to look down the field, bad things happen. It seems like the Vikings have a game like this every season, and I guess at this point the hope is that it doesn’t happen multiple times this season.
Where are things offensively? At 31st in the league in rushing yards per game, obviously the ground game is an issue. How much of that is systemic and how much is specific like Dalvin Cook coming back into action after last year’s ACL injury?
With the early deficit against the Bills, the Vikings only had four designed run plays against the Bills, and six rushes overall, which I believe I read is tied for the fewest rushing attempts in a game in NFL history. It’s very tough to gain rushing yards when you don’t actually run the football. I believe that Cook’s absence had something to do with this as well, and I’m still not sure if he’s all the way back from the knee injury he suffered last year, but this team has to find a way to be better balanced offensively if they’re going to have any success going forward. As we saw last week, if the Vikings find themselves in a situation where opposing defenses can do nothing but pass rush, things get ugly pretty fast.
Last year, I thought you guys had the best defense in the entire NFL. There’s hasn’t been much personnel turnover, but things seem less effective. It’s not as if things are horrible, but things don’t seem to be as dominant on that side. So what’s caused the decline?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Obviously not having Everson Griffen is a big factor (and something we’ll touch more on here shortly), but at least on paper you would have figured the Vikings’ defense to be better. They lost one starter from last year in Tom Johnson, and brought in Sheldon Richardson as his replacement, which is definitely an upgrade. I don’t know if offenses have just figured out where the weak points are or if it’s something that the Vikings are doing differently. It also appears that Anthony Barr’s level of play is continuing to decline, and they ask him to do quite a bit in this scheme. The drop-off that we’ve seen from the defense early this season has certainly been troubling, but hopefully Mike Zimmer and company can do something to fix it.
What’s the latest on the Everson Griffen story? We’re all wishing for the best for him on a personal front, so I’m hoping by the time we get through the game there’s good news here. But is it something that there were indicators of or was this seemingly out of the blue? (Get well, Griff!)
The story, to this point, is that Griffen had an incident at the team hotel on Saturday night in which he threatened to shoot somebody, although the police reports that were released said that no gun was present at the scene. Beyond that, thanks to a combination of conflicting stories from the Twin Cities media, things are a little bit murky. He may or may not have tried to break into the house of one of his teammates, cornerback Trae Waynes. He may or may not have been ordered to stay away from the team until he got a mental health evaluation. Like I said, there have been different reports from different sources over the past 48 hours, and I don’t think anyone has the real, actual story yet. Maybe we never will.
For us fans, it definitely came as a surprise. Despite the fact that he had a couple of issues as a rookie with off-field stuff, since then all reports have said that he’s been nothing but a model citizen and teammate, and has been one of the Vikings’ top defensive players since he took over for Jared Allen at the right defensive end spot. But the reports are saying that this is something that Griffen has been dealing with for a significant length of time, and I guess that it just got to the point where he couldn’t handle whatever mental stress or strain that he’s been under. I’m not a psychiatrist, so I’m not going to attempt to speculate on what, exactly, the issue might be, but the most important thing is for Everson Griffen to get whatever help or treatment that he needs and get himself better, whether that involves continuing his NFL career or not.
So obviously coming off of an NFC Championship appearance, expectations are high. And I know Mike Zimmer signed that extension a couple of years back. But where does this era stack up right now in Vikes history? Obviously the Purple People Eaters and four Super Bowl appearances are at the top. And the Jerry Burns years were pretty good, but those Dennis Green teams...whew. Obviously we’ll have to see what happens over the next few years with Kirk Cousins locked in through 2020, but where does this era sit historically for you guys?
The Mike Zimmer era has been fairly solid so far, I think, particularly when you consider the crap that he’s been through over the years. His first season saw his star running back (essentially) suspended for 15 of 16 games, he’s had a quarterback almost lose a leg, he had eight eye surgeries and almost went blind in one eye, he’s had a different opening day starter at quarterback in each of his five seasons, and now there’s the Everson Griffen issue to deal with. I think that Mike Zimmer is a hell of a football coach, and if anyone can lead his team through all of these messes, I think he can.
I think that the expectations are still incredibly high for this team, and they should be. Their roster is one of the most talented in the NFL (with the exception of the offensive line, which is probably going to be this team’s undoing again), and I definitely think that Kirk Cousins has been an upgrade over what we saw from Case Keenum last year. In the Week 2 game against Green Bay, he was making throws that Keenum would have had no shot of making to bring the Vikings all the way back. As far as a historical era, I think this has a chance to be one of the greatest eras in team history, and I think the big hope is that this team didn’t blow its best chance last season.
Thanks to Chris for the time.