Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Defense

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good
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

I wrote last week how the Week 10 win over the Redskins seemed like a defining moment for the 2017 Vikings; a convincing road win against a solid NFC team, and confirmation that Minnesota does indeed belong in the upper echelon of their conference.

And in the Week 11 win over the Rams, the Vikings made an even stronger statement. They held the league’s best scoring offense, averaging 32.9 points coming in to the game, to just seven points, and shut down the Rams’ vaunted rushing attack led by Todd Gurley. Offensively, they dominated time of possession (37:22 – 22:38) and grew stronger as the game wore on, rushing for 171 yards and making enough plays in the passing game to move the ball down the field and continue to create scoring opportunities.

With a balanced and ultimately dominant win over one of the NFL’s best and most explosive teams, the Vikings improved to 8-2, and showed they are legitimate contenders for the NFC’s number one seed.

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winning
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The final score was 24-16 but it wasn’t that close, with the Ravens adding a meaningless touchdown as time expired Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings trudged, slugged, and elbowed their way to a home victory in a game they were expected to win, improving to 5-2 and taking sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

No, it wasn’t pretty. Case Keenum was erratic much of the day, making more bad throws than good ones and finishing with only 188 passing yards and an interception. The Vikings ran the ball well, albeit against a bottom-feeding NFL rush defense, yet routinely stalled in Baltimore territory and were forced to settle for field goals. And yes, Kai Forbath was a perfect six for six on those field goals, but continued his troubling trend of missing extra points, which is seeming increasingly likely to rear its head at an inopportune time in the future.

And then there’s this: the Ravens are bad. On its surface, their 3-4 record indicates mediocrity, but those three wins have come against the Browns, Bengals, and Derek Carr-less Raiders, and the team the Vikings faced was dismantled by injury at numerous positions. Joe Flacco is playing the worst football of his career. It’s a team the Minnesota Vikings should — and must — beat.

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predictions
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Okay, so we’re feeling a little down about the squad lately. The preseason has been largely underwhelming for the Vikings’ starters and key players, and we’ve seen some of the issues responsible for last year’s second-half collapse linger into the exhibition games. Sunday’s game against the 49ers — despite the late heroics of Heinicke & Co. — sucked. Vikings fans are prone to worrying, and worry we will, at least until we see consistent pass blocking and defensive backs minding their assignments, among other things.

So perhaps this doesn’t come at the best time, but we here at VT are still insanely excited for the season. We’re less than two weeks away from real, meaningful football, and along with the disgruntling elements on which we love to dwell come some real signs for optimism. As it stands, the offensive line is, at the very least, improved. Dalvin Cook has the look of a feature back. And the defense has the talent to rank not only as the league’s best, but among the best units in team history.

So with the regular season right around the corner, I polled the Vikings Territory team on their record predictions for 2017:

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Five thoughts on the Vikings loss to the Redskins.

defense
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

1. So…what happened to the defense?

It’s not just a one- or two-game fluke, it’s now a legitimate problem; the defense has gone from great to average, and that’s as big a reason for the losing streak as anything else. Looking at the season split in two—the five wins versus the four losses—paints a clear picture of how dramatically this defense has lost its punch.

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More of the same, and that's a good thing.

five thoughts
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

1. This is starting to sound like a broken record.

Gathering my thoughts following the Vikings’ 31-13 win over the Texans Sunday, I realized they’re basically the same as they have been most of the season; great defense, a virtually mistake-free Sam Bradford, a big play on special teams, and another round of injuries that would seem a lot worse if they ever had an impact on the outcome of a game. The Vikings are now the lone undefeated team in the NFL, which is a nice place to be heading into a bye.

I don’t know what else to say other than this team is damn impressive. It’s gotten to the point where I expect them to score on offense, am shocked if the defense gives up points on a given drive, and I feel reasonably comfortable the team will hold leads in the second halves of games. We have to be ready for bumps in the road—at some point, the offense will turn the ball over—but the team is good enough in all three phases, it feels like they’ll be able to overcome a lot of miscues. Who knows, maybe they’ll eventually run out of offensive linemen, and maybe a missed kick will come back to haunt them. But for now? Let the good times roll. The Vikings are the best team in the NFL.

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