Skol Scale
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Do you remember when Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur told all of us that his offense would be more explosive in 2017 and none of us believed him? We all laughed at him. He was hammered for religiously operating a dink-and-dunk offense in 2016 while quarterback Sam Bradford attempted passes further than 20 yards downfield at an alarmingly small rate.

He said this in February before the Vikings acquired new tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to give the quarterbacks more time to throw. He said it before the Vikings drafted Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein to provide a running game and another reliable starter on the offensive line. He also said it before he knew Bradford would miss two (and counting) games and Case Keenum would be his starting quarterback.

And he was still right (so far).

The Vikings offense has been the definition of explosive through three games. Despite employing two different quarterbacks, the Vikings have the third-highest rate of explosive plays in the NFL.

The Vikings also boast the following ranks:

  • 6th in the NFL in yards per play (6.2)
  • 2nd in total yards per game (400.3)
  • 3rd in passing yards per game (285.3)
  • 5th in 20-yard (or more) plays (15)
  • 2nd in 40-yard (or more) plays (4)

Additionally, Bradford and Keenum rank second and fourth respectively in the NFL in deep ball rate (a pass traveling more than 15 yards).

Shurmur is backing up his claim. And he’s doing it with Case Keenum as his quarterback. This might shock you, but maybe, just maybe, the offensive line had way more to do with Sam Bradford’s check down tendencies and Shurmur’s play calling habits last season than some of us originally thought.

A revamped offensive line and a first-round talent carrying the ball on the ground is certainly helping Shurmur’s cause. It also begs the question — with the right talent in place, can Shurmur operate an elite offense? It appears as if we’re in the midst of finding out.

Shurmur and Keenum teamed up to shred a depleted Tampa Bay defense last week in a 34-17 win. Keenum recorded 369 yards passing and three touchdowns, two of which went to Stefon Diggs who now ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards (and he doesn’t even lead his team!).

Cook fell just shy of 100 yards on the ground, but he added 72 receiving yards on a number of well-designed quick screen passes in the flat.

Minnesota’s next three-game stretch might be its most important of the season as three divisional opponents take up the slate. If the Vikings can continue the offensive onslaught, I like their chances against the unproven defenses of Detroit, Chicago and Green Bay.

Now onto this week’s Skol Scale.

The Good

Case Study: My heavens, man. I figured you would play well enough to get a home win, but I didn’t know you would torch the Buccaneers with heat unknown to mankind. He was poised, he maneuvered the pocket well and he stepped into throws — all things he didn’t do against Pittsburgh in Week 2. Pro Football Focus placed him on their “Team of the Week”, which now makes two different Vikings quarterbacks to make the PFF team of the week this season.

Side Note: The Vikings are on pace to have over 10 different quarterbacks be named to the PFF Team of the Week just this season.

Rush Defense: Once again, Linval Joseph and company stuffed anything the opposition tried. Tampa Bay totaled 26 yards on the ground and didn’t gain more than four yards on any carry. The Vikings have now surrendered 188 yards on 62 carries in three weeks, slightly over three yards per carry.

Remember when run defense was the Vikings’ Achilles heel? Yeah, me either.

Stefdam Diglen: Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are slowly gaining recognition as one of the elite wide receiver duos in the NFL, ranking third and second, respectively, in the NFL in receiving yards through Week 3. The switch to move Thielen to the slot and Diggs outside is paying huge dividends, as Thielen’s size creates mismatches in the middle while Diggs’ quickness, acceleration and contested catch ability allow him to win on the outside.

Pass Protection: The entire offensive line deserves a tip of the cap for this game. Keenum was pressured on just six of his dropbacks and was not sacked once. Mike Remmers played his best game as a Viking and Riley Reiff continues to be reliable on the blind side. All we wanted was some improvement from last season, and what we’ve seen thus far has supremely exceeded those expectations.

 Rhodes Closed: Xavier Rhodes has arguably faced the toughest competition of any cornerback in the NFL after three weeks. And each week, he has shut down the star receiver across from him. If Michael Thomas (two catches on four targets for 22 yards), Antonio Brown (three catches on eight targets, 28 yards) and Mike Evans (four catches on nine targets for 36 yards) aren’t a match for Rhodes, then I’m not sure who would be.

The Bad

Tramaine Brock’s debut: The circumstances were difficult for sure, but it was a rough debut for Brock. On consecutive plays, he allowed a catch, incurred a penalty and gave up a long touchdown to DeSean Jackson in hilarious fashion. There’s not too much reason for concern, yet, but his stint in Minnesota definitely isn’t off to a flying start.

Nick Easton: ‘Bad’ is probably the wrong word here, but Easton repeatedly fails to gain correct leverage on blocks and tends to make things more difficult than they need to be for Cook. On the bright side, though, there was noticeable improvement against Tampa Bay.Skol Scale

Skol Scale Figure: 7

The Skol Scale dipped 2.5 points to 5 after last week’s embarrassment in Pittsburgh. But an offensive revival led by Shurmur and Keenum and a three-takeaway performance from the defense have this team looking like a playoff contender once again.

The Skol Scale reading of 7 isn’t a pun in relation to Keenum’s jersey number, though it does have a lot to do with him. He was phenomenal against the Bucs, undoubtedly. But his career record does not indicate he will able to sustain that play. However, he also has not led an offense with a running back and a pair of receivers as talented as Cook, Diggs and Thielen.

Minnesota’s Week 4 opponent, Detroit, presents the toughest test of the season. Matthew Stafford’s late-game heroics were the Vikings’ kryptonite, all but preventing a playoff berth for the purple and gold last season after he led two fourth-quarter comebacks on Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Detroit doesn’t boast an array of weapons that Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay does, but they just find ways to score. They’ll get little contributions from Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Marvin Jones each game while Golden Tate consistently produces in the slot.

Defensively, Vikings fans need no introduction to Big Play Darius Slay and Co. Glover Quin and Miles Killebrew are one of the NFL’s most underrated safety duos and Ezekiel Ansah is still applying pressure off the edge.

This Lions team was quite literally inches from upsetting the defending NFC Champions last week and moving to 3-0. Minnesota will need another stellar performance out of Keenum to keep up with Stafford.

Buckle up, the NFC North is about to take shape.

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