Vikings Territory writer Drew Mahowald presents the tenth edition of the Skol Scale following the Vikings’ Week 6 win over the Green Bay Packers.
The Minnesota Vikings defeating the Green Bay Packers is a time for celebration, don’t get me wrong.
The Packers have had a firm grasp on the NFC North for the better part of the last 15 years and have dominated Minnesota in that time span. When the Vikings do topple the Packers, it suggests that Minnesota has a playoff football team.
Sunday’s victory, while certainly meaningful, does not have the same implications.
Green Bay has relied heavily on its quarterback for the past 25 years. It hasn’t boasted an impressive defense. It hasn’t boasted a strong running game. It hasn’t even boasted strong coaching. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have been the key cog in the success machine in Green Bay.
When Rodgers went down on Sunday, the Packers went from favorites to win the NFC North to arguably the cellar of the division.
How much does a home win over a bad team really prove? The Packers are a bad team without Rodgers. Brett Hundley’s only snaps prior to Sunday were in garbage time. He’s virtually a rookie.
Sunday’s game showed us everything we already knew about the Vikings. We knew this defense could take advantage of an inexperienced quarterback (see Week 5 at Chicago). We knew the Vikings offense could light it up against a terribly depleted defense (see Week 3 vs. Tampa Bay). We knew Case Keenum’s inconsistent play is good enough to beat bad teams behind a strong performance from the defense and offensive playmakers.
The win over the Packers to move to 4-2 doesn’t say anything about how good the Vikings are. That did not change. But Sunday’s results across the league created a dramatic shift in the NFC standings that suddenly has the Vikings as the No. 2 team in the conference and in a terrific situation moving forward.
Minnesota has not proven that it can make a playoff run yet. What it has done, at least in each of its past three wins, is taken advantage of teams that are either dealing with several important injuries, employing a very inexperienced quarterback, or both. One could say the Vikings have simply taken advantage of some lucky breaks — pun intended.
The Vikings can prove themselves championship contenders when they reach the vaunted second half of the schedule. But for now, let’s move onto this week’s Skol Scale.
Defensive Playmakers: Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith combined to allow negative yards on four targets against the Bears in Week 5 with an interception. They allowed 40 yards on 15 targets against the Packers with an interception each. Smith now boasts the No. 2 Pro Football Focus grade among all NFL players while Xavier has kept the Rhodes closed all season long. Additionally, Linval Joseph leads the NFL in run stop percentage and Anthony Barr has returned to 2015 form. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter once again got pressure on the quarterback all game long. Mike Zimmer’s defense is suffocating on all three levels.
Good Thielen: Despite the absence of Stefon Diggs, Minnesota’s passing game churned up yards thanks in large part to Adam Thielen. The former Minnesota State Maverick now ranks third in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards. He played the chain-mover role against the Packers, finding ways to get open past the first down marker at a high rate. The Vikings offense will always have big-play potential as long as Thielen is healthy.
Offensive Line: Is Riley Reiff the MVP of the Minnesota offense so far in 2017? It’s certainly possible. The $56 million man is one of three starting left tackles to not allow a sack this season and has been as reliable as any tackle in the league to this point. Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein have also exceeded expectations and helped the Vikings mask injuries to their No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 running back and No. 1 wide receiver.
NFC landscape: Minnesota’s 4-2 record looks a lot better when you look at the NFC standings. The Vikings are the No. 2 team only behind 5-1 Philadelphia. Carolina, Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay are the NFC’s other 4-2 teams while New Orleans, Seattle, Washington and Atlanta sit at 3-2. It’s obviously very early in the season, but the Vikings have a bit of a head start on the usual NFC juggernauts.
and last but not least
Teddy’s Return: Teddy Bridgewater has been cleared and will practice Wednesday for the first time in 14 months. It will take several weeks for him to shake the rust off and be ready to replace Keenum. But his return does indicate that the Vikings will be able to replace Keenum at some point down the stretch and give the Vikings an upgrade at quarterback moving into the playoffs.
Case Keenum: Keenum’s performance against the Packers left a lot to be desired. He benefitted from a fantastic play call by Pat Shurmur on his 27-yard touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon. Despite good protection and some phenomenal help from his receivers (see: Laquon Treadwell’s one-handed snag), Keenum looked vulnerable. His play continues to be inconsistent — some really good plays and some really bad plays.
Level of competition: Look, I know teams can’t really do anything besides beat the team in front of them. So this point isn’t really the team’s fault. But, as I already mentioned, we didn’t learn anything about how good the Vikings are in the win on Sunday. The schedule doesn’t get difficult until after the bye week and until then, the Vikings won’t be able to prove their worth in the NFC playoff race.
Skol Scale Figure: 7
The Skol Scale jumps by 1.5 points thanks to the fall of the Packers and the continued dominance of Minnesota’s defense. The Vikings have put together a pretty clear formula over the past two seasons — score over 20 points to win.
The Vikings are 10-1 over the past two seasons when they score over 20 points. They are 1-8 in games when they score less than 20 and 1-1 when scoring exactly 20. This offense, despite two ugly performances, hasn’t had too much trouble getting to 20 points.
The schedule over the next two weeks is more reason for optimism. Baltimore just lost at home to Chicago in hilarious fashion while the Browns are still the Browns. A 6-2 record going into the bye week looks very realistic.
Baltimore is up first. The Ravens boast a strong defense that is not matched by their offense. Joe Flacco is on pace for one of the worst 16-game seasons by a starting quarterback in recent memory, and the last thing he needs to fix that is Zimmer’s defense.
More Skol Scale Figures:
10-they played again as a team. They all contributed. They have new found hope and will not be stopped!! Minus mistakes- just wow! #SKOL
— Cynthia Vance (@cindyluvsvikes) October 18, 2017
Everyone saying the Pack is toast with the injuries. We're one game away from that being us. Hope for the best, Prepare for Vikings.
— CVeezus (@CVeezus) October 17, 2017
8, this feels like 2015. If TB or SB can come back to form, we could make a run. I don't think we've seen the best of our D either.
— Jack Stasney (@JackStasney) October 17, 2017
I’m at like a 7. Feeling good but not ready to commit to anything more serious until this becomes a one QB relationship.
— Eli (4-2) (@SkolSees) October 17, 2017
10 because on the 3rd day of the week, our lord and savior Teddy Bridgewater rose again. Just as the rest of the division crumbled pic.twitter.com/9QDQrYI0Iw
— Seth Toupal (@sethtoups) October 17, 2017
8.5. Vikes have won two in a row, Teddy’s coming back, defense running on all cyclinders, and oh yeah, Rodgers is out
— Sean Borman (@SeanBoarMan) October 17, 2017