image courtesy of Vikings.com

Vikings Territory writer Drew Mahowald presents the 11th installment of the Skol Scale, looking at the Minnesota Vikings’ status through Week 7.

Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings have become comfortable flying under the radar in his tenure. In fact, there’s evidence that the Vikings perform better the radar as opposed to in the national spotlight.

In 2015, Minnesota exceeded expectations and swiped a division title from the Green Bay Packers before many NFL fans realized the Vikings were in the playoff hunt. The following season, the Vikings blazed to a 5-0 start and were deemed the best team in football before collapsing in epic fashion.

The 2017 Vikings are related to the 2015 Vikings. After falling to 2-2 thanks to a narrow loss at Denver, the Vikings rattled off five straight wins to get to 7-2. Zimmer’s 2017 team is on the same track having won three straight to get to 5-2.

But national media outlets such as ESPN, Bleacher Report and Fox Sports are hardly recognizing the Vikings. B/R’s power rankings pit the Vikings outside the top 10 at No. 12, behind teams like Los Angeles (Rams), New Orleans, Carolina and Denver.  Colin Cowherd at FS1 also left the Vikings outside of his top 10, which includes the Saints, the 3-3 Cowboys, and the…Bills?

ESPN places the Vikings eighth, just behind the Rams. With a few exceptions, most national media are discrediting the Vikings for teams in larger markets. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking or shocking in any way, but it appears as if the Vikings will fly under the radar again in 2017.

Minnesota’s style of play will never generate national hype. Nobody likes extremely effective but somewhat boring defense. Nobody likes a Case Keenum-led offense that sputters to right around 20 points each week. People want high-octane offenses that score lots of points. The Vikings aren’t that team.

But hey, I’m okay with that and I am 100 percent certain that Zimmer is okay with that. Sure, the Vikings have raced through a relatively easy schedule the past few weeks, but they’ve done so with ease. Chicago was only in the game thanks to two flukey touchdowns. Green Bay and Baltimore never had a real chance in the entirety of both games.

There’s something to be said about taking care of business against inferior teams. This doesn’t prove that the Vikings are a Super Bowl contender or anything. It shows consistency and resiliency. The Vikings have claimed a 5-2 record without many hiccups despite injuries to their top quarterback(s), running back and wide receiver.

That deserves respect. The national media hasn’t given it to the Vikings yet. Maybe they won’t for a while. But that’s just fine.

Now onto this week’s Skol Scale.

The Good

Secondary: Look, I understand that Joe Flacco is absolutely not #elite and Baltimore’s receivers were essentially picked up straight from the CFL last week. But the Vikings secondary was suffocating the entire game (until garbage time, anyway).

Trae Waynes has slowly become a reliable No. 2 cornerback, allowing a so-so 86 passer rating on throws in his direction. And that includes the garbage time touchdown on Sunday that literally meant nothing. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr have done a phenomenal job keeping running backs and tight ends in front of them and making tackles immediately after the catch.

Hitman Harry: I’m singling Harrison Smith out here because he has been in lockdown mode the past three games. That’s putting it lightly. I can’t really find the words to describe just how good Smith has been in coverage since the Week 5 Monday night win against the Bears.

In the past three games (at Chicago, vs. Green Bay, vs. Baltimore), Smith has been targeted 15 times. He has allowed six completions for 18 yards and intercepted two passes. That’s a passer rating allowed of 8.33. For reference, throwing an incomplete pass on literally every attempt nets a passer rating of 39.6. Just stupid good.

Run Defense: That’s right, the pass defense and run defense are both getting major props this week. Linval Joseph leads the rest of the NFL in run stops by a mile and is the key to Minnesota’s success stopping the run. He is Pro Football Focus’s fourth-best interior defender with a grade of 90.2, behind Snacks Harrison, DeForest Buckner and Aaron Donald. Joseph’s ability to penetrate the A gaps and take multiple blockers with him opens up opportunities for the rest of the defense to make plays.

Through Week 7, Minnesota is allowing 3.2 yards per carry, good enough for third-fewest in the NFL. The Vikings have also allowed just one rushing touchdown, second-fewest in the NFL. Joseph’s dominance doesn’t get the spotlight, but its impact is enormous.

Latavius Murray: He finally broke through in a Vikings uniform, recording over 100 yards in a game for the first time this season. Murray displayed a combination of speed and agility that I had not seen from him even during his time with Oakland. The Vikings have actually increased their rushing output after the loss of Cook, showing how effective the thunder and lightning combination of Murray and Jerick McKinnon can be behind a solid offensive line.

Kai Forbath: I guess I should put him in here for six field goals and an NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award, but those freakin missed PATs are bugging me.

The Bad

Case Keenum: I only have one complaint in the “bad” section this week. Keenum’s erratic accuracy was on full display against Baltimore and it played a large part in Minnesota settling for six (!) field goals. He missed several open throws and forced several more throws into windows that just weren’t there. Typically, his wild accuracy is erased by a couple of fantastic throws each game that defer attention from fans. But that didn’t happen against Baltimore, and the return of either Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford is becoming more desperate each week.

Skol Scale Figure: 7.5

The Skol Scale jumps by half of a point this week. A win is a win, sure, but it was an ugly one. The Ravens did not bring many of their top playmakers on offense and the Vikings took advantage. Offensively, Minnesota struggled to move the ball further than the limits of Kai Forbath’s field goal range. Sooner or later, the Vikings offense will have to find its rhythm again. That will likely come with a healthy Bridgewater or Bradford at the helm.

Minnesota’s next “test” is the Cleveland Browns in London at stupid kickoff time of 8:30 a.m. CDT. The Vikings are the superior team in about every facet of the game and really should have no problem earning a win, which makes this a classic trap game.

The Browns boast the top rush defense in the NFL only allowing 3.0 yards per carry. If they can render the Murray-McKinnon duo ineffective, it will become a DeShone Kizer vs. Case Keenum shootout. The ideal show for our international football fans.

If it turns into Keenum vs. Kizer, I’ll still take the Vikings because Cleveland’s secondary doesn’t really compare to Minnesota’s. But it won’t be pretty. And it won’t be favorably recognized by others as a good win.

And that’s fine by me. The Vikings can fly under the radar all the way to the Super Bowl for all I care.

More Skol Scale Figures:

 

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m with you at 7.5, Drew. I’d love to go up to 8, but I still have my doubts about either Sam or Teddy being able to come back this year.

    Joseph is a marvel, but let’s give credit where credit is due and note that Tom Johnson is having a solid year in run defense, too, and that Shamar Stephen had a PFF score for the year so far in the mid-70’s a week or two ago, which is 30 points higher than his previous annual PFF grades. Now, if only Eric Kendricks could stop missing run tackles…

    And DAMN, Mike Remmers made the PFF Team of the Week at right tackle, and I saw some sweet run blocking on Sunday, all across the line.

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