Drew Mahowald presents the 13th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 10 38-30 win on the road against the Washington Redskins.
I’m going to do something a little bit different with this edition of the Skol Scale.
I’ll do my very best to avoid bringing up the quarterback dilemma. After all, as far as this edition is concerned, Case Keenum is the quarterback.
Let’s instead focus attention on something of more significance. Minnesota is 7-2 and currently owns the No. 2 seed in the NFC thanks to the tiebreaker over the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams and 7-2 New Orleans Saints. Meanwhile, the Vikings also have a two-game lead over the Detroit Lions for the NFC North lead.
Prior to the Week 9 bye week, the Vikings had thrived against one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. Minnesota’s opponents from Week 3 to Week 8 have a combined record of 20-34 through Week 10.
The Vikings’ Week 10 matchup was a more fierce challenge than they were used to before the bye week. Sure, Washington’s record was a mere 4-4 at the time. But the Redskins had played one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Their losses in 2017 include 8-1 Philadelphia (twice), 6-3 Kansas City, 5-4 Dallas and now the 7-2 Vikings. The Redskins also have tough road wins over the 7-2 Rams and 6-3 Seahawks on their resume.
Clearly, the Redskins are much better than their record indicates. Minnesota nonetheless controlled Sunday’s game for nearly the entire game. Washington had no answer for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s brilliant play calling. The Vikings scored a touchdown on four straight possessions at one point.
Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense were able to keep the game somewhat close thanks in part to a pair of Keenum interceptions. But from the second quarter forward, the Vikings controlled this game.
That’s a statement win.
Minnesota went on the road and rolled through a tricky NFC playoff contender to move to 7-2. That should earn some respect, right?
Apparently not. Peter King’s weekly mailbag mentioned Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Carolina and New Orleans as the main teams that have turned the NFC into the power conference of the NFL.
ESPN’s weekly power rankings actually dropped the Vikings two spots from No. 4 to No. 6 after the impressive road win against an NFC playoff contender.
NFL.com also pits the Vikings at No. 6, which is fine — except it’s behind the Saints, who the Vikings throttled back in Week 1.
National media continues to exclude the Vikings from the ranks of the NFC’s best. Minnesota’s five-game winning streak is as low-key as any five-game winning streak that I remember.
The Vikings get another chance at a statement win on Sunday against the Rams. In fact, the Vikings have statement win opportunities in the next four weeks. This invaluable stretch of games will define how good this team really is.
Now onto this week’s Skol Scale.
Case Keenum: No, I’m not bringing up the never-ending quarterback debate. If I may, I’d simply like to point out that Keenum was excellent for most of the game on Sunday. Two throws, in particular, stand out — the deep dime along the sideline into a closing window to Stefon Diggs and the touchdown throw to Adam Thielen with only minute space to work with. They were completely different types of throws, but Keenum nonetheless placed both of them only where his guy could get it. That’s exactly what you want from your quarterback.
Keenum appears to have a good command of the huddle and respect from his teammates. His pocket presence is excellent and getting better with each week. Simply, the results speak for themselves — Minnesota’s point total is growing each week and the Vikings are picking up wins with Keenum at the helm. He deserves a large chunk of credit for that.
Birthday Boy: Mackensie Alexander locked down Washington receivers for most of the game on Sunday. He allowed two completions on six targets his way for 44 yards and an interception, which equates to a passer rating of 20.83. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday, Mackensie.
Andrew Sendejo: It’s really a shame Sendejo picked up a groin injury toward the end of the game because he made key play after key play to keep Washington out of the end zone. He forced three incompletions by poking the ball out of receivers’ hands after the ball had been caught. If he can’t go on Sunday, it’ll be a big blow to the Minnesota secondary.
Dynamic Duo: Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs ran circles around Josh Norman and the Washington secondary all day long. They’re making a legitimate case as the top wide receiver duo in the NFL. I mean, 12 catches, 244 yards and two touchdowns combined? That’s elite production.
Pat Elflein: The third-round rookie put together his best performance of the season against Washington. He did not allow a pressure in pass protection, helped establish the run game through the ‘A’ gap with Latavius Murray and was superb out in space on screen plays. The Vikings got a good one in Elflein.
Pat Shurmur: This man is becoming a nightmare for defensive coordinators. That play design on the goal line is impossible to defend. He deserves a ton of credit for Minnesota’s offensive success without its starting quarterback or running back.
Case Keenum: He almost avoided the bad portion of Skol Scale but, alas, his two interceptions in the second half warrant it. The first interception was essentially a 20-yard hail mary into triple coverage off his back foot. It was similar to a “heat check” in basketball when you see Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving launch a 30-foot bomb to see how hot they really are. This one backfired.
The second interception was a very late read. Keenum was looking for Rudolph on an out route and tossed the pass a second too late without any zip and DJ Swearinger took it the other way for what should have been a pick six. I can’t imagine the Vikings getting away with a win in the playoffs if two similar interceptions happen consecutively like they did on Sunday.
Linebacker Coverage: Cousins had much of his success on Sunday throwing over the middle of the field to tight end Vernon Davis and tailback Chris Thompson. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were the main culprits, allowing a combined 12 receptions on 17 targets for 137 yards. With Todd Gurley and Co. coming to town on Sunday, this will need to be shored up.
Skol Scale Figure: 8
The Skol Scale jumps a half point from last week to get to an all-time high. The Vikings’ offensive efficiency is climbing with each week and the defense is maintaining its borderline top five performance.
Minnesota faces its most important challenge of the season on Sunday with a home bout against the Los Angeles Rams. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed in the NFC and will own several tiebreakers over a number of other NFC teams vying for playoff positions.
The Rams haven’t had a ferocious schedule by any means, but they have won fairly comfortably each week. First-year head coach Sean McVay has the offense humming like nobody expected, especially given its deficiencies a season ago.
Defensively, the Rams boast several playmakers that will give the Vikings fits. Aaron Donald is the most notable and will present Minnesota’s interior offensive line with its most vaunted task of the season.
The Vikings haven’t earned the respect of national media quite yet, and that’s okay. But a win over the NFL’s 2017 darling Rams will raise some eyebrows.
It’s another opportunity for a statement win.
More Skol Scale Figures
7.2/10. I'm frankly amazed that the Rams have been so good this year considering they have a rookie head coach. Wait…who was their coach last year? SKOL scale going to fuggin 11 after a 41-14 win on Sunday Sunday SUNDAY WHOS WITH ME pic.twitter.com/wns0FXD6mH
— Seth Toupal (@sethtoups) November 14, 2017
8/10. This year is different because they are winning with a balance of great defense and good offense. Last year's 5-0 was bolstered by crazy turnovers and defensive TDs.
— Tyler (@TangoYankee13) November 14, 2017
9. If I had to pick 1 NFC team. It would be the Vikes. With no changes. The top 4 about even. Where Vikes have potential to get better at QB and takes 2 injuries to get worse. Other 3 teams are 1 QB injury from doom.
— jack neuman (@jackviking) November 14, 2017
Hi! First time participant, long time follower. I’m going 4. Still a long way to go, next 2 games huge, LA another statement game, DET we take control of division. Plus Eagles show no signs of letting up and the Saints are rolling for the 2 spot in playoffs. Vikings can’t let up.
— Eric Thorvaldsson (@SkolSithLord) November 14, 2017
10, another TEAM Win. Everyone's showing up. It just keeps getting better!! #SKOL
— Cynthia Vance (@cindyluvsvikes) November 14, 2017
Be sure to check out Episode 132 of the About the Labor podcast, discussing Mike Zimmer’s quarterback decision, the Greg Olsen broadcast debacle and more.