Five(ish) thoughts on Sunday night's win over the Packers
1. Sam Bradford is a better passer than Teddy Bridgewater.
I KNOW. I know it reads like a reactionary take, and there’s more to playing quarterback than prowess as a pure passer. I’m not trying to pick on a player who is unavailable due to injury, nor am I trying to throw out a splashy take based on one game. But I really don’t think this take is even hot; it was obvious in Bradford’s first start with the Vikings, he is a superior passer to Bridgewater at this point in their respective careers. This was an idea many astute observers floated before Bradford first took the field for Minnesota, and it was supported Sunday night. Sam Bradford is a natural passer—his arm strength is upper-echelon and his throws against Green Bay were extremely accurate. He had two beautifully placed touchdown passes, and he was decisive and poised against nearly constant pressure. And he’s been with the team for two weeks. You can see how he could be a good fit for a Norv Turner, vertical passing offense, and understand why Spielman targeted him via trade. That first round pick seems fully justified today.
This is not an indictment of Bridgewater—I am as high on him as anyone, and he will resume the starter’s role when he returns healthy. The timing of the injury was devastating, as he seemed poised to make a leap in the all-important year three, but that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to develop as an NFL quarterback. This is more a recognition of what Bradford brings to the table than anything else.
Sam Bradford—a new arrival with a shoddy offensive line—thoroughly outplayed Aaron Rodgers in primetime. It was the best single-game passing performance the Vikings have had in years, and that is not hyperbole.
2. Trae Waynes, I am proud of you.
What a beautiful, redemptive ending for the cornerback who had been picked on for entire second half. Waynes played remarkably well before halftime, then got all grabby in the latter part of the game, and drew numerous penalties that kept Packer drives alive. The flags for defensive holding and pass interference (a few were committed by Terence Newman, as well) were the Packers’ best offense of the night.
Waynes rarely gets beat. His coverage is always solid, and often airtight. But as many have noted, his ball skills need some work, and too often he resorts to grabbing and holding, even when he’s in good position to make a play. Sunday was his third NFL start, so the best is yet to come for Waynes, and despite his latter half struggles, his interception of Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ final drive was essentially the clinching play for the Vikings, and redeemed any and all negative plays that had come before it. That, combined with solid play against Jordy Nelson for much of the first half, made for an impactful, if up-and-down, night from Waynes. Watching him in coverage, it’s obvious why he was a first-round draft pick. With experience—and the confidence boost from interceptions of one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks—Waynes has the tools to be a very good corner.
3. Adrian. Knee.
I won’t write much about this, because the ramifications are obvious. We’ll await the results and hope for the best. But long before the injury, the run game was awful. So…
4. For the love of God, the run game.
Enough. Enough of the excuses and mental gymnastics trying to justify why the running game—featuring a Hall-of-Fame running back (or Asiata, or McKinnon…anyone)—has been so terrible. “They’re loading the box,” they say. “He has nowhere to go.” Sure. Fine. Still, there’s no reason it should be this bad. 1.4 yards per carry against the Packers. 2.3 YPC against Tennessee. There’s no way it should be this atrocious. Every other team with a decent running back can figure out how to gain positive yardage; I haven’t seen any squad get stopped for losses as often as the Vikings. I know the offensive line isn’t very good. I know the passing game has to show success to open up the run game. Still, the passing hasn’t been bad. It hasn’t set the world on fire, but it hasn’t been bad. It has been, at the very least, average. It was legitimately good Sunday night. A team—with or without Adrian Peterson—should be able to figure out how to run the football in a non-atrocious manner. Figure out a way to run the football. For the love of God, figure out a way to at least be average.
Which leads me to…
5. The offensive line is very bad.
Much worse than I thought it would be. There was the embarrassing miss on the Beavers pick, but even with that withstanding, I thought the Vikings did their best to address the offensive line issues from last season. Through two games, it seems even worse than last year. Lead blockers completely whiffing on their assignments, pockets collapsing faster than the Dot Com bubble at the turn of the century (keep it here for more timely Dot Com references!)…these are the rule, not the exception, so far in 2016. For the second straight game, the offensive line was a significant hindrance to the team. I don’t know how it gets better.
Still, with all this—the bad line play, the lack of a running game, and the looming Adrian Peterson injury (oh, not to mention a devastating knee injury to the starting quarterback)—the team is 2-0 and atop the division. There will always be areas to improve, but the start of the season has weighed heavily in favor of the positive for the Vikings. I don’t point out the deficiencies to be a downer, just to make honest observations about what happened on the field. That was fun Sunday night. Beating Green Bay is always fun. The bottom line: the Vikings are undefeated and, until proven otherwise, the team to beat in the NFC North.
- Every primetime NFL TV slot seems to think they need to have an opening theme song, just as every local business thinks their low-budget, standard-definition-in-2016-for-some-reason commercial needs to end with a cute jingle. In both cases, it doesn’t. Hank Williams Jr. will forever be the class of primetime football music, and all else that follows will be cheap imitations. There’s no need to force the issue, Carrie Underwood (or other blonde pop country singer that may or may not be Carrie Underwood). Just play the game.
- As mentioned above, Waynes had a sink-or-swim game that should make him better in the future. I’m excited about what we’ll see from him going forward. But it will be very nice to get Xavier Rhodes back. With Rhodes—the team’s top corner—and Waynes, Newman, and Munnerlyn, the team will be very deep at corner when healthy. That will be fun to see.