Skol Scale Vol. 17: Finishing Strong

Drew Mahowald presents the 17th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 14 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The Minnesota Vikings are facing their most important performance of the season this Sunday.

And that’s not just because it’s their next game, or whatever hardcore football guys say these days. It’s because the Vikings are being tested and their performance on this test will give a glimpse into the future.

The Vikings are coming off a devastating Week 14 loss on the road against the Carolina Panthers — which, on the surface, doesn’t appear to be such a bad thing. The Panthers are 9-4 and currently hold a playoff spot. This loss was certainly not a bad loss.

But the way in which the Vikings lost was discouraging. Uncharacteristic mistakes became the norm as Adam Thielen dropped multiple touchdown passes while other passes bounced off Stefon Diggs’ hands and into the hands of a Panther. Andrew Sendejo missed an open field tackle on Cam Newton that led to a long gain. Minnesota’s run defense allowed two runs of 60 yards or more after allowing none the prior 12 games.

Additionally, injuries piled up on the offensive line. Riley Reiff left the game with an ankle injury and Pat Elflein unexpectedly missed the game altogether, forcing Jeremiah Sirles and Danny Isidora into action.

Despite all of this, the Vikings were within one score when the clock read all zeros.

Minnesota must bounce back strongly against an inferior team in Week 15 and prove that the 2017 Vikings are in fact different from the 2016 Vikings. The Vikings have been fighting through adversity all season long, but quitting that now will get this team nowhere in the playoffs.

And fighting through adversity means taking care of inferior teams at home, despite injuries and despite what happened the week prior. A strong response would indicate a team that is focused on winning a Super Bowl in its home stadium. A weak response could indicate that the season is unraveling, especially with a trip to Lambeau Field on deck.

Now to this week’s Skol Scale.

Be sure to check out BetOnline before placing a wager on Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Bengals.

The Good

Rhodes Closed (still): Xavier Rhodes put together another fine performance on Sunday against Carolina. On one particular series, he single-handedly forced a three-and-out by Carolina, recording two pass breakups on first and second down before making a tackle short of the first down marker on third down. He is becoming one of the most complete cornerbacks in the NFL.

Linval Hungry: Sunday’s game against Carolina’s may have been Linval Joseph’s best of the season. The nose tackle isn’t a position that is supposed to produce a bunch of tackles or sacks, but this man notched 10 tackles and a sack against Cam Newton and company. It’s really a shame Joseph isn’t appreciated more across the league.

Run Defense: Look, I know the Vikings gave up two giant runs of 60 yards or more. Those were produced primarily by a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes. Outside of those two runs, though, the Vikings only allowed 94 rushing yards on 34 attempts (2.7 yards per carry). Joseph was the catalyst, but the rest of the Vikings were very disciplined against the option-oriented ground game of Carolina (for the most part).

The Bad

Drops: Adam Thielen really dropped two touchdowns and Stefon Diggs really dropped a flat pass that turned into an interception. It’s really strange to type those words because of how reliable that combo has been all season long. I wouldn’t expect those mistakes to continue in the future, but the missed opportunities for the Vikings offense were everywhere on Sunday.

Injuries: Yeah, injuries are terrible. It’s a good thing Case Keenum is extremely adept at moving in the pocket and can hide the defeciencies of this offensive line depth. Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers need to return to the starting lineup as soon as possible.

Losing: This loss reminded me of what it’s like to watch the Vikings lose — it had been almost three months since I had seen a Vikings loss. But this loss also practically eliminated Minnesota from contention for the No. 1 seed. Philadelphia now owns the tiebreaker over Minnesota thanks to the common opponents tiebreaker (Philly beat Carolina earlier this season). For the Vikings to regain the No. 1 seed, the Eagles will need to lose two of their final three games and the Vikings will have to win out. Possible, but not likely.

Skol Scale Figure: 8.5

Minnesota is still a force to be reckoned with in the NFC, there’s no doubt about it. Everything that the Vikings usually do well just wasn’t done well against the Panthers and it resulted in a loss. It’s pretty simple, really, and not much of a cause for concern.

The Skol Scale drops a full point mostly due to the No. 1 seed. Philadelphia essentially has the top spot locked up now and, regardless of who is at quarterback for the Eagles, Philadelphia is a tough place to win a playoff game. The idea of the Vikings going into Lincoln Financial Field for a playoff game does not excite me.

Minnesota’s next opponent is the lowly Bengals, who boast probably the worst offense in the NFL. They rank last in total yards, first downs and time of possession while sliding in at 31st in the NFL in rushing yards. Meanwhile, the Bengals defense ranks last against the run — partially due to the Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen duo of Chicago running stretch plays all over them last week.

The Vikings need to not just beat the Bengals, but dominate them. The recipe for this is pretty simple — get after Andy Dalton and establish Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray on the ground. They’ll move to 11-3 if they do those things.

More Skol Scale Figures

Check out Episode 144 of the About the Labor podcast for a full preview of the Vikings-Bengals matchup.