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.
The Vikings have now handily beaten two of the five best teams in the conference (Saints and Rams, both leading their respective divisions), and have a date with another (Panthers) on December 10. At 6-4, the Lions are the only other threat to win the NFC North, and Minnesota can deal their chances a crippling blow with a win in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
The upcoming month will go a long way in determining the Vikings’ playoff positioning, but with wins over Washington and the LA Rams, the team is 2-0 in the prove-it portion of their 2017 schedule. So far, so good.
The most impressive part about the 2017 Vikings is that they’re a complete, almost ridiculously well-balanced team; it’s become increasingly difficult to identify any holes on the roster or in the game plan. The defense is still the identity of the team, but the offense has become productive and, at times, surprisingly explosive. Before the season, many of us hoped the offensive could just be adequate, limit turnovers, and give the team a chance to play in close games. What we’ve seen has far surpassed that, and we’re at a point where the Vikings’ offense is a legitimate complement to their dominant defense, as opposed to the albatross it was at times last year.
The offensive line has gone from a serious question mark to a strength, and after not surrendering a sack in Sunday’s win over the Rams, they’re now tied for fewest sacks allowed in the NFL this season (10). Pat Shumur — oft questioned as the right man for the job in the offseason — has revolutionized the Vikings’ scheme and built a system that perfectly suits his players.
No one part of the 2017 Vikings weighs another part down, leaving the team with multiple legitimate paths to victory every week. Just look at where the Vikings rank in some key offensive and defensive categories, as of Sunday:
- 10th in rushing yards per game.
- 12th in passing yards per game.
- 9th in total yards per game.
- 10th in points per game.
- T-1st in sacks surrendered.
- 5th in total yards per game.
- 12th in pass yards per game.
- 3rd in rush yards per game.
- 5th in points per game.
The Bottom Line
The Vikings have a defense that ranks among the NFL’s best in every metric and just held the league’s top scoring team to seven points. There are difference-makers at every level, and six legitimate Pro Bowl candidates on that side of the ball. With the importance of defense to winning in the postseason, Minnesota is set to match up well against any of the NFC’s top teams.
Special teams have been solid at worst. While Kai Forbath struggled against the Rams, he has been extremely reliable in his time with the Vikings, and figures to continue to be. Marcus Sherels is an excellent punt returner, and Ryan Quigley has developed into a fine option at punter. The biggest hole in the Vikings special teams is the lack of a true kick returner, though that role has been rendered less important with the move of touchbacks to the 25-yard line.
The offense has been equally adept at running and passing, and rather than just sinking into a don’t-screw-up-and-hope-the-defense-wins-it role, Shurmur’s bunch has ranged from worthy to downright explosive. Adam Thielen is one of the five best receivers in the NFL this season, and Stefon Diggs, when healthy, isn’t far behind. Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have stepped up in Dalvin Cook’s absence to form a diverse and effective two-headed rushing attack. And Case Keenum, once nothing more than an afterthought, has seized the starting job following Sam Bradford’s injury and elevated his play from mediocre to impressive en route to six straight wins. It’s time to stop talking about Keenum as a good backup quarterback, and admit that he has simply been a good NFL quarterback.
This team is really good, and it’s going to be a blast to watch the rest of the way.