Quote Of The Week

Quote of the Week: Vikings No Longer a Dark Horse

It’s Déjà vu all over again for the Minnesota Vikings, who for the second time this season, will look to defeat the Green Bay Packers in their most important game of the year. The last time these two teams met, the Vikings were riding a five-game win streak, while the Packers were trudging through a three-game slide. It seemed, at last, that the Vikings were primed to dethrone the Packers from the top of the NFC North! Right? Wrong.

Minnesota lost that Week 11 game, falling 30-13 at home to their biggest rival. Since that eye-opening defeat, they’ve fallen behind the Packers in the division. But, next Sunday night, they’ll have a chance to knock Green Bay out of the top spot and secure the NFC’s third playoff seed. Whether they win or lose on Sunday Night Football, the Vikings are guaranteed a playoff spot; their victory over the New York Giants secured a postseason berth for the first time since 2012. But knowing Zimmer’s win-first mentality and steadfast approach to his franchise, the Vikings want and need to claim the division to be satisfied.

How can they do that? It starts by “righting the wrongs” from the team’s first meeting. Most notably, pressuring Aaron Rodgers and winning the turnover battle — a strategy they failed to execute in November. Yesterday, the Arizona Cardinals did just that to Rodgers and the Packers offense, sacking the quarterback nine times and creating four turnovers. The Vikings experienced similar defensive success against the Giants last night, and it’s a formula that can assuredly bring Minnesota their first NFC North title since 2009:

[quote_box_center]”When you create turnovers and you put pressure on the quarterback, good things typically happen. I thought we put good pressure on the quarterback tonight. I thought we got him to make some bad throws and we took advantage of it. The three interceptions we had were all huge.” — Mike Zimmer[/quote_box_center]

On a national stage, one they’ve historically failed on, the Vikings dominated with defense. Helped by the return of three defensive starters — free safety Harrison Smith, linebacker Anthony Barr, and nose tackle Linval Joseph — they sacked Eli Manning four times, forced two fumbles, and picked off the Giants quarterback three times. Of the trio of players making their long-awaited return to the field, none was more impactful than Harrison Smith, who extended the Vikings’ lead to 13 in the second quarter with a 35-yard pick-six.

When asked what’s helped the Vikings become so efficient, from the front-seven to the secondary, Smith pointed to Zimmer’s guidance at the helm of the defense: “I think we have a good idea of who we are now,” he told USA Today’s Tom Pelissero after the game. “We’re a tough team, and we know our identity, whereas – I’ve only been here four years – but I feel like before, we were just kind of playing.” In just two years, Zimmer’s turned the defense completely around; before he arrived, the Vikings allowed a league-worst 480 points and 6,362 yards in 2013. Through 15 games this season, they’ve significantly improved, having allowed just 289 points and 5,157 yards. And that’s with one game remaining against a struggling Green Bay offense.

This year, the Packers have the 13th-highest scoring offense in the league, yet rank 24th in total yards. They’re running the ball effectively as of late, eclipsing 100 yards in five of their past six games. But the passing game has been limited by injuries and archaic play-calling from head coach Mike McCarthy. As Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit wrote in November, the Packers rely heavily on isolation routes and one-on-one matchups for their wide receivers. That’s fine with players like Jordy Nelson, who can dominate in those situations, but not for the current group of pass catchers. Benoit, on the subject:

“It’s up to Rodgers to drop back, identify the defense, analyze the action and decipher which of these individual routes is best to target,” he wrote. “This approach is fine … as long as your receivers win one-on-one.” The receivers aren’t winning, and Aaron Rodgers is holding the ball far too long in the pocket. Against a defense like the Cardinals, who love to blitz and pressure the quarterback, that’s a problem. The Vikings can take a page from Arizona’s playbook and blitz far more than they did in Week 11. As Pat Thurman tweeted last night, Rodgers has struggled far more against extra rushers this year than he has over the course of his career:

With the Vikings getting “hot” at the right time of the year, their sights are set on the NFC North title and beyond. Though the offense is scoring at maddening rate in recent weeks — 87 combined points in the past two games — it’s the defense that has them in prime position to compete well into January and February. But ask anyone in the locker room, and they’ll echo what Zimmer has been preaching all year long; the Vikings are pleased, but not satisfied.

“By us coming in here tonight and getting a win, we do not have to rely on other people to get into the playoffs,” defensive end Brian Robison said, per Craig Peters of Vikings.com. “We’ve been in situations before where we’ve had to rely on people and it’s not a fun deal. You want to be able to do what we did tonight: win and in. Now we’ve got to try to move forward and get a division championship next week.”

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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ccarterhof
4 years ago

We’re not dark horses in a lot of Viking fans mind. But when you have Carolina and Arizona having great seasons, plus Seattle and GB in there…most people would consider our team underdogs in the postseason.

luvvikings
Reply to  ccarterhof
4 years ago

That is true CC, but the Vikes have dominated… crushed, their last two opponents and gave all AZ could handle in the week before the Bears game. If not for three fumbles MN would likely have beat AZ in their own yard. I find the butt kicking that they received from Seattle and GB at home disconcerting, but they have proved that they can amp up their offense with the best of them. I disagreed with you regarding Teddy after the Seahawks game, I am glad to be wrong about him. Adrian is psyched, Teddy is playing great, Wallace is involved in the game plan, Jarius and Rudy making key receptions, Walsh perfect on the long FG’s.. I don’t know CC, but I think that the Vikes are peaking at the right time while GB seems to be floundering. For crying out loud, the Lions should have beat them twice… Lambeau is a tough place to win, but I think that if the Vikes avoid turnovers and penalties that they will beat them as badly as GB beat them. I would welcome the Seahawks coming to MN for a rematch, they have proved that they are vulnerable if Wilson is contained, Baldwin and Kearse have been phenomenal, but they don’t have much of a running game without Lynch or Rawls… I think that the chances are at least fair that we will be cheering on our Vikes in the second round of the playoffs at AZ assuming that the Cards are the 2 seed and MN is the 3. Of course, if the Panthers lose and the Cards win, MN would be playing at Carolina if they win in the first round. I would prefer that match up, Panthers don’t have as good a running game and have the weaker receiving corp. Not likely that the Bucs can beat Carolina, but stranger things have happened… SKOL VIKINGS!!!

ccarterhof
Reply to  luvvikings
4 years ago

Hey luv. I will agree that the Panthers would be a better match up. Mostly because we shoulda beat those fortunate Cards on their field. (Those guys are turning into the mid 2000’s Bears, when it comes to crazy lucky stuff.) And I’m not sure it will happen again. So, we have a better shot vs Carolina.
However…our last 2 opponents suck.
I want to beat GB, then beat Seattle. And to beat AZ would be crazy great! They’re good…but maybe we could beat them because Zim has a much better haircut than Arians!

luvvikings
Reply to  ccarterhof
4 years ago

Lol!! That would be as good a reason as any.

cka2nd
cka2nd
4 years ago

80 points, Austin. The offense has scored 80 points in the last two games, not 87, the difference being Smith’s Pick 6 plus the PAT last night.

Ole
Ole
Reply to  Austin Belisle
4 years ago

Pretty sure you were admiring your latest hair cut when you that mistake Austin.

Matt Russ
Matt Russ
4 years ago

Did the Giants mail that one in? So hard to be sure if Vikes have excorcized their- Against a good team Primetime demons. None the less, this team has won on the road for the first time since ’09, is relatively healthy, runs the ball, has excellent special teams, and plays defense. With seemingly a new west coast offense that fits our QB’s stengths and o-lines’ $hortcomings [let’s invest here please(see Patriot drafts)] there is no reason to think we can’t compete with any team in NYC. Now having said that, this is not built to come back from large deficits. And we still have to see if we can be as big as the moment, but for now –Its on to Green Bay! !!

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