In Minnesota, the usual suspects continue to carry the Viking ship. Adrian Peterson’s 372 rushing yards lead the league, Mike Zimmer’s defense is holding teams to less than 20 points per game, and Anthony Barr is making spectacular plays on a weekly basis, both against the run and in coverage.
On Thursday, the Vikings Territory staff will answer Lindsey’s Question of the Week and share our pick for the team’s most impressive player through the first four games of the season. A few obvious choices — Peterson, Barr, Harrison Smith — stand out, while a number of newcomers like Linval Joseph and Terence Newman could potentially make the list.
Today, I want to ask fans a similar question. As spectators, we expect greatness from the Vikings’ best players. It’s a given that Peterson can score whenever he touches the ball, or, that Xavier Rhodes will likely shut down an opponent’s number one receiver. But which players have exceeded expectations at the quarter mark of the season, and who is surprising you with their play?
When Mike Wallace joined the Vikings this offseason, many believed his deep speed would open opportunities underneath for wide receivers like Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright. The vertical ability is still there, but Wallace has been a revelation in the passing game, catching nearly every ball thrown his way (24 targets, 20 catches) and making plays at every level of the secondary. Through four games, he has just one touchdown, but leads the team in targets, receptions, and yards.
Against the Broncos, he won the battle with 2014 Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris, taking advantage of his deep speed to keep Harris off balance. His stat line (8 catches, 83 yards, and a touchdown) doesn’t jump out on paper, but it was clear that Wallace wasn’t just the Vikings’ best receiver on Sunday; he’s also become Teddy Bridgewater’s most trusted target.
Once the veteran leader of the defense, Chad Greenway is now the team’s elder statesman. Against the Chargers, he played just 19 of 72 defensive snaps, and has been replaced by rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks in Nickel situations. Still, Greenway has taken advantage of his limited time on the field, most recently with a 91-yard interception return touchdown that sparked the Vikings to a win over San Diego.
“I know my role now is to play against certain personnel groups and come in and out in the base defense, and I’ve tried to just make that my own and be the player I’ve always been in that position,” Greenway said after the victory. He may never be the player he once was, but Greenway is contributing on the stat sheet and in the locker room with his veteran experience.
The Vikings’ offensive line has been a problem all season, but one player continues to defy expectations. A year ago, you couldn’t have told me that Matt Kalil would be the Vikings’ best offensive linemen after four regular season games. I would’ve called you crazy. But as we head into the bye week, that’s very much the case, with Kalil playing some of his best football since his 2012 rookie year.
Finally healthy and motivated to prove his worth as a first-round draft pick, Kalil has thrived protecting Teddy Bridgewater’s blindside. He allowed just one pressure against the Broncos and is making an impression on his quarterback. “Matt [Kalil], he understands Coach Zimmer’s mindset and Coach Zimmer’s message, Bridgewater said before Sunday’s game. “Coach Zimmer wants to be a tough, physical football team. Matt is doing that right now.”
Everson Griffen is the Vikings’ best, most productive defensive end, but Brian Robison has quietly put together a solid season opposite his running mate. Though he has just one sack through four games, Robison has been a force, showing up positively against the run and as a pass rusher. His three quarterback hurries trail only Griffen, and he had one of his best games in recent memory against the San Diego Chargers.
With Griffen and Robison both playing at a high level, Mike Zimmer can call a number of A-Gap Blitzes with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks to harass opposing quarterbacks. It’s worked the past two weeks, as the Vikings sacked Peyton Manning three times and consistently put Philip Rivers on the ground with suffocating pressure.