Each year, Thanksgiving provides us the opportunity to come together and reflect on what we’re most thankful for. Personally, I’m grateful for my family, my friends, and my health, among many other wonderful things. But this is Vikings Territory, and we’re here to talk Minnesota Vikings football. Forget the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, and the green bean casserole, no matter how delicious they may be — we’re focusing on our favorite players in purple and gold.
This season, the Vikings are 7-3 thanks in large part to the collective efforts of the 53-man roster. Players like Brandon Watts and Scott Crichton have stepped up in the face of injury, while household names like Adrian Peterson and Harrison Smith continue to serve as the mainstays on offense and defense. And while we’re thankful for them all, a few rise to the top of the list.
Teddy’s like the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. He’s not the most exciting, flashy dish on the plate, but he’s easily one of the most important. Without Bridgewater, the Vikings’ offense flounders, and without mashed potatoes, turkey just doesn’t taste the same. Yes, he was sacked six times against the Packers, but those six sacks could’ve easily been eight or nine without Teddy’s mobility and escapability from the pocket. He showed incredible toughness, hanging in to complete 25 of 37 passes for 296 yards and a beautiful touchdown throw to Kyle Rudolph.
Has he been perfect this season? Absolutely not, but would you rather have Shaun Hill running Norv Turner’s offense? Despite his struggles connecting with Mike Wallace or avoiding sacks, Bridgewater continues to grow in his second season. Although the stats don’t jump off the paper, Norv Turner’s a believer in his young quarterback’s progression. “In the most critical situations, when we’ve been behind, he’s put together drives,” Turner said halfway through the season. “He’s put together plays that have given us a chance to win. As coach (Mike Zimmer) says, we’re still growing in the passing game.”
Harrison Smith is “Mr. Reliable” for the Vikings, much like the gravy at Thanksgiving dinner. He’s the side that ties everything together, the defender that aligns coverages. Like gravy on a plate, he’s everywhere on the field for the Vikings’ defense, from blowing up quarterbacks on the sideline to stuffing runs at the line of scrimmage. This season, he leads the Vikings with 54 tackles and has also recorded a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception.
In every game this year, he’s made a highlight play and rarely misses the routine ones. As Andy Benoit noted in his weekly film study, Smith flashed “speed, range, and recognition” against the Packers, which has truly been the case all season. When the Vikings need a stop — like Todd Gurley’s failed two-point conversion in Week 9 — Smith is there to make the play. Without him, Minnesota’s secondary, and defense as a whole, wouldn’t be the same.
If Teddy Bridgewater is the mashed potatoes, then Adrian Peterson’s cranberry sauce — you either love it or you hate it. When he rushes for 100 yards and gashes opposing defenses, Peterson’s everyone’s favorite player in Minnesota. But when he fumbles, as he did against the Packers last week, he’s Public Enemy No. One. The sentiment seems to be somewhere in between, as many still believe Peterson is the league’s best back, while others think he’s holding Bridgewater back.
An unbiased look at Peterson’s season to-date reveals a player who’s still helping his team win football games (despite two lost fumbles). He leads the league with 1,006 yards rushing and did put points on the board with a six-yard touchdown late in the Vikings’ loss to Green Bay. His presence alone creates mismatches for defenses and has opened up opportunities in the passing game, especially through play-action. Some (like myself) would argue that the Vikings are better off with Jerick McKinnon long-term, but for now, Peterson is still the answer behind Teddy Bridgewater.
If Anthony Barr were a Thanksgiving side, what would he be? I’ll go with a dinner roll, if only for its versatility. A roll can be used to make a sandwich, can be eaten plain with butter, or can be served hot with a bowl of turkey noodle soup. Barr, in much the same way on the field, is a “jack-of-all-trades” for the Vikings. He blitzes, he drops into coverage, he rushes off the edge, and he’s an instinctive run defender. As the raw, risky 9th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, who knew Barr would become such an integral cog in Mike Zimmer’s defense?
At 6’5″ and 255 pounds, Barr has the size and strength to thrive in the trenches. But it’s his speed that sets him apart from other linebackers. Even as a rookie, he’d sniff out running back screens and sprint sideline-to-sideline to make a shoestring tackle. This season, he’s stepped up his game, recording his first career interception and improving in coverage week-by-week, even while playing with just one free hand.
Which Viking are you most thankful for this holiday season? And as a side note, Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers and fellow Vikings fans! It’s a pleasure to write and work with such an amazing group of people. Thanks for reading and thanks for following along. Go Vikings!