Now that the Vikings have eight of their 16 games behind them and boast a 6-2 record, I have an equal number of takeaways to share regarding the first half of the season…
1. Mike Zimmer is what the Vikings needed.
I know I’m echoing the masses when I say that Zimmer has been absolutely necessary for Minnesota. Although it’s only his second year as a head coach, most probably wouldn’t guess that when observing his demeanor and confidence on the sidelines. Zimmer’s years of experience with defensive backs and as a defensive coordinator primed him to transition smoothly into running the Vikings ship. The difference that Zimmer has made on Minnesota’s defense in just a season and a half is significant, and his style of leadership is invaluable. Zimmer is the type of coach who will not take less than 110 percent, and he simultaneously cares about his players and earns every bit of their respect. He’s a man of conviction, and I appreciate him more and more every week.
2. Adrian Peterson is still good.
Adrian Peterson has had a couple great games and a couple mediocre games, but he’s still averaging just under 95 rushing yards per game, good enough for No. 1 in the NFL. It may be argued that the veteran running back’s stats are a tad misleading, because he often gets several carries only adding up to a couple of yards before launching a huge 50+-yard play. That being said, however, Peterson continues to impress, putting up numbers superior to those much younger than him. The biggest frustration in regards to No. 28 has been the fumbling issue; luckily for Peterson, three of his four dropped balls were recovered. Despite missing all but one game of the 2014 season, AP doesn’t look like he’s skipped a beat.
3. Linval Joseph should be in the 2016 Pro Bowl.
When the Vikings signed nose tackle Linval Joseph last year, I was excited to see what type of impact he would make for the team. Joseph did very little to impress in 2014, but he’s made up for it in the first half of this season. The tackle finished out last year with 29 tackles over 16 games; this time around, he already has 26 tackles in the books. Joseph plays with tenacity at a position that often goes unnoticed and is all about the grunt work. He’s been hard to miss lately, though, as he plays a significant part of Zimmer’s defensive line.
4. The Vikings still have a gap at strong safety.
Harrison Smith is having another fantastic season, and I don’t think many people are surprised by that. On the other side of the field, though, the play has been under par. Although Andrew Sendejo won the starting strong safety role over Robert Blanton, his performance does not consistently stay “starter.” I really appreciate Sendejo’s aggressiveness on the field and intensity with which he tackles; however, he’s made more than a couple of errors on coverage assignments or communication on a play. It seems likely the Vikings will address this need following the season, whether through free agency or the Draft.
5. 2015 Captain Munnerlyn: Good things come in small packages.
Captain Munnerlyn came to Minnesota from Carolina surrounded by a lot of hype, but he underwhelmed during 2014. He actually recorded 51 solo tackles, not a laughable number, but there were multiple big plays for opponents last season in which Munnerlyn just wasn’t on his mark.
One thing the 5’9″ cornerback has always done is play with a chip on his shoulder—the 2015 season is no different. This time, it’s hard to miss Munnerlyn and the solid performance he’s had in the slot position. Coach Zimmer is utilizing him well there, and it seems Munnerlyn has settled into his role and found a way to be effective. Let’s hope it continues during the second half of the season.
6. Minnesota did well in the 2015 NFL Draft.
2015 was arguably one of the Vikings’ most successful Draft years, ironic considering the fact that their first-round pick, Trae Waynes, has barely even played so far. Eric Kendricks (second round) and Stefon Diggs (fifth round) have more than impressed, T.J. Clemmings (fourth round) has—for the most part—held his own after filling in as starter for Phil Loadholt, and MyCole Pruitt (fifth round) and Danielle Hunter (third round) have already shown glimpses of their potential moving forward.
It’s far too early to call Waynes a bust, but it’s clear he has a bigger corner to turn (no pun intended) than most of us expected. While it’s disappointing to see his transition take longer than anticipated, I have confidence that Zimmer will continue to develop him into an NFL-ready defensive back.
7. Has Teddy Bridgewater reached his ceiling?
I don’t think he has. We haven’t quite seen Teddy Bridgewater break through into an elite-level quarterback, and Minnesota fans are hoping that there’s more to come. There could be a number of factors affecting the situation this season, from play calling to offensive line issues, but Bridgewater hasn’t thrown many deep balls thus far. Of those he has, more than a few have missed their target. The second-year QB continues to show that he can remain calm under pressure, however, which has been hugely important over the first eight games. Plus, he has shown some chemistry with rookie receiver Stefon Diggs, which is generating plenty of excitement.
8. Stefon Diggs.
If any football fans haven’t yet noticed, Diggs is looking like the real deal. Drafted 146th overall, Diggs came to Minnesota exuding nothing but confidence on the field—and he’s backing it up. Through just five games, the rookie already has 28 receptions for 461 yards and two touchdowns. It might be early, but Diggs just may be the receiver the Vikings have been looking for. It will be interesting to see how he continues to play through the second half of the season.
Bonus Observation: Matt Kalil is redeeming himself.
After a fantastic rookie year and subsequent letdown seasons in 2013 and 2014, Matt Kalil is once again proving himself in 2015. The tackle has been exponentially better at blocking this year, and he’s made much fewer errors than have come to be expected from him. Don’t look now, but Kalil is once again a major part of the Vikings offensive line.