Five thoughts after Week 9, with a dash of optimism
1. These are the Vikings I grew to love (and loathe)
Don’t get me wrong, Mike Zimmer’s current Minnesota Vikings are a far cry from the teams I grew up watching. Long gone are the days of inept quarterback play, porous defense, and conservative coaching; or so I thought.
On Sunday, we were brutally reminded of the bumbling franchise that’s broken so many hearts over the years. The Vikings shouldn’t have lost to the Detroit Lions, and they shouldn’t have done so in such ugly fashion. A 22-16 overtime defeat wouldn’t have been so devastating it wasn’t the third in a string of embarrassing failures.
More than that, it would’ve been acceptable had the Vikings looked anything like the team that started the season 5-0. Instead, we saw many of the traits that defined the Vikings of old; the Vikings that fell short of expectations and consistently found ways to lose games.
Think about this — the Vikings were ahead, 16-13, with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. For almost every other team in the league, that’s a guaranteed win. According to NumberFire, the Vikings had a 92 percent chance to defeat the Lions following Ellison’s touchdown run. But Detroit answered, carving Zimmer’s defense on successive drives to come away from U.S. Bank Stadium with a win.
As has been the case all year, the offense couldn’t convert in the red zone, scoring on just two-of-five opportunities within the 20. The defense, for all its praise, continued to look “off,” allowing Matthew Stafford and the Lions to convert 50 percent of their third down chances. The list goes on and on; this was a game Zimmer’s Vikings were supposed to win, but the losses will continue to pile up so long as the mistakes pile up.
2. With all that said, there’s reason to be optimistic
Goodbye Norv Turner, and while I won’t say good riddance, I’ll leave you with a “thank you.” Turner’s exit from the Vikings was undoubtedly surprising, but the writing’s been on the wall from the moment Pat Shurmur stepped foot in the building.
Turner’s reasons for leaving Minnesota have been well-documented, but for those watching at home, it was clear the relationship just wasn’t working for the Vikings. Although he abruptly walked away, he did so under what’s presumed to have been his own power. He seemingly did the Vikings a favor, allowing the offense to turn in a new direction.
Enter Shurmur, who’s spent years working with Bradford, who brings a fresh perspective to Minnesota’s outdated offensive playbook. He called his first game for the Vikings yesterday, adding wrinkles we’ve yet to see through eight games this season.
— Paul Allen (@PAOnTheMic) November 7, 2016
Allen’s tweet highlights a few of the items that stuck out to me, most noticeably, the quick rhythm with which the offense operated. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford released 76 percent of his passes on Sunday in less than 2.5 seconds, and increase on his season average of 62 percent. The design of the game plan, which included an abundance of receiver screens and quick-hitting backfield throws, allowed Bradford to operate in a relatively clean pocket. He was only pressured on 27 percent of his dropbacks, giving the offense life it hasn’t seen since Week 5.
Shurmur’s offense has its own warts, but there was a definitive difference between his philosophy and Turner’s Air Coryell tendencies. If anything, yesterday’s game gave hope that Minnesota’s offense can bounce back from what’s been a terrifying collapse.
3. What’s up, Walsh?
At this point, there’s no explanation for Blair Walsh’s inconsistency. He was clearly frustrated after the game, either with the questions being asked or his own lackluster performance, but there has to be a breaking point. Was his extra point miss just that?
Since his inexplicable miss in the playoffs last year, Walsh has been a liability for the Vikings. I’m an eternal optimist — ask the Vikings Territory writer’s room — but even I get nervous when Walsh lines up for a kick. That’s not normal, especially when watching a kicker the Vikings rewarded in 2015 with $5.25 million in guarantees. This season, he’s 12-of-16 (75%) and has missed three extra point attempts; both marks lower than his career averages.
Seeing as I’m not a front office executive, I don’t know what the Vikings should do with Walsh. He’s a kicker the team trusts, but that trust fades a little more with each shanked kick. I know fans are worried he’ll miss again and ruin the Vikings’ Super Bowl aspirations (if they still exist), but the alternative options are thin, at best.
Like almost every other ailment that’s befallen the Vikings this year, we’re likely stuck with Walsh through the bitter end. Maybe it’s time to give Rhett Ellison or Linval Joseph a chance on two-point conversions.
4. Hello, Cordarrelle, it’s nice to see you again.
Forget the dropped touchdown, it’s nice to see Cordarrelle Patterson making a difference for the Vikings. He’s been a dynamite kick returner for years, but Patterson’s re-introduction on offense is a welcome sight. As the team’s third receiver, Patterson’s been a revelation, providing Bradford a surprisingly consistent target in the screen game and in the middle of the field.
Patterson finished the game with six catches and 45 yards, which wasn’t spectacular but fit within his season averages. For the oft-criticized receiver, that’s a positive; he’s finally carved a role for himself as the “catch-and-go” receiver Minnesota’s been missing since Percy Harvin left town. Add to that his stellar work as a punt gunner, and Patterson’s likely earned an extension with the Vikings.
5. In Zim We Trust
Look, I’m disappointed in the Vikings. I almost expected the ice to crack underneath our feet, but I didn’t think it’d get this bad. Losses to the Eagles and Bears were tough, but this travesty at the hands of the Lions was a complete sucker punch.
Still, the Vikings are still atop the NFC North and control their own destiny, no matter how cliché that may be. Remaining games against the Packers, Bears, and Lions will shape Minnesota’s playoff future, and there’s plenty to build on moving forward. Shurmur’s offense has a chance to take flight (please, don’t kill Sam, offensive line) and Zimmer’s defense was solid outside of the final two drives.
The NFL is a week-to-week league. Move on from the loss, focus on Washington, and silence the outside noise. The Vikings are still in this thing.