In this weekly series of articles, I’ll be breaking down what went RIGHT or what went WRONG each game for the Minnesota Vikings. This week, the Vikings punished the San Diego Chargers behind a strong running attack and consistent quarterback pressure from the defensive line.
These Minnesota Vikings have the look of a certain team approximately 1,660 miles to the West — the Seattle Seahawks. Before you comment or tweet in outrage, hear me out, because the similarities are too obvious to ignore.
Like their counterparts in the Pacific Northwest, the Vikings are built to succeed through two fundamental concepts; a strong running game and a fast, aggressive defense. General manager Rick Spielman’s draft strategies and recent free agent signings have helped him achieve the look and feel of the Seahawks on both sides of the ball, from the secondary to depth at running back.
That starts with Harrison Smith, who through three games is already considered the league’s best safety, per Pro Football Focus. He’s this team’s Earl Thomas, a “quarterback of the defense” who can cover sideline to sideline and attack the line of scrimmage in run support. At linebacker, Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, and Eric Kendricks exemplify many of the same traits that make Seattle’s mid-level defenders so dangerous — speed, versatility to blitz or cover, and instincts.
Beyond those position groups, the Vikings’ greatest defensive strength starts at the line of scrimmage. Everson Griffen is the anchor of the group, a force against the run and an elite edge rusher. He plays a similar role to the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, who lines up across the defensive line and is by far Seattle’s most consistent rusher, having tallied seven sacks in 2014. Joining Griffen are Brian Robison, Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou, and two of the league’s best interior linemen — Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph.
With a mix of double A-Gap blitzes, suffocating coverage from the secondary, and aggressive play from the front seven, Mike Zimmer’s defense passes the eye test. Like the Seahawks, they fly to the football and are an opportunistic bunch who have forced six turnovers through three games in 2015.
On the offensive side of the football, the Vikings are taking the Marshawn Lynch approach to moving the football, and fortunately, have the running back to do so. Adrian Peterson, the original “Beast Mode,” leads the league with 291 yards on the ground and in the past two games, rushed the ball 49 times. Last season, the Seahawks ran the football 53.63 percent of the time, and this year, the Vikings are on pace to surpass that. They’re rushing on 54.88 percent of their offensive snaps, taking the football out of Teddy Bridgewater’s hands and forcing defenses to commit to the run.
Hopefully, as they did for the Seahawks during their Super Bowl runs, the defense’s loaded boxes open up opportunities in the passing game. Russell Wilson, for example, finished the 2014 season with 3,475 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in an offense tailored to the running game. When we take Teddy Bridgewater’s statistics through three games and extrapolate them to project a 16-game season, we get the following: 2,693 yards, 5 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. Underwhelming, yes, but Bridgewater is operating behind Adrian Peterson in Norv Turner’s offense, and he hasn’t been forced to win games with his arm.
As long as the formula — suffocating defense and a run-heavy offense — are leading to victories, the Vikings should stick to the plan. A similar one took the Seahawks to multiple Super Bowls, and the Vikings have a chance to get there very soon. If last week’s win over the Chargers was any indication, they’ve fully embraced this winning identity.
After the jump, Ill dive deeper into their performance and the building blocks being put into place for a successful playoff run.