Drew Mahowald presents the 12th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 8 win over the Cleveland Browns and their ensuing bye week.
When arriving at a crossroads, the options presented generally have different pros and cons. There are temptations, hints and emotional appeal that suggest which path is the better choice.
The Minnesota Vikings quarterback circus has placed the team at another crossroads as the second half of the season commences. Backup Case Keenum has filled in for an injured Sam Bradford in admirable fashion, tallying a record of 4-2 and leading the Vikings to a 6-2 record and a two-game lead in the NFC North. Keenum is playing arguably the best football of his career and it’s a big reason the Vikings are having little problems winning.
Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater’s reactivation onto the 53-man roster was announced on Wednesday. According to head coach Mike Zimmer, Bridgewater is ready to play now — which is truly remarkable considering his state 14 months ago. The 2014 first-round pick was drafted to be Minnesota’s franchise quarterback and, while that has been placed on hold the past season and a half, that opportunity os once again there for Bridgewater.
The crossroads the Vikings currently face involves the choice at quarterback — Keenum or Bridgewater. A valid argument can be made for both. But this crossroads doesn’t just have consequences on the 2017 season — its impact will carry into the future.
Zimmer has already announced the team’s decision to start Keenum on Sunday against Washington. And that’s fine. The best way to ride a winning streak is to change as little as possible from what has worked. Keenum has been the starting quarterback for the duration of the winning streak. Pretty simple stuff there.
But the title of “franchise quarterback” belonged to Bridgewater prior to his injury, and he deserves the right to claim that title back if he’s ready to play. He’s ready to play now, as Zimmer has said himself. Playing him now would give the team the best chance at an evaluation of his current state and his future with the organization. Avoiding that risk only reinforces the murky future of the quarterback position.
The simplest way to explain this conundrum is that Bridgewater presents the higher ceiling option whereas Keenum probably presents the higher floor option. Sticking with Keenum says that the team accepts the way things are now and thinks this level of play is good enough to win a Super Bowl, and that other options that could realistically improve the team aren’t worth trying.
Making Bridgewater the starter tells the fans and the rest of the league that the team isn’t messing around. Bridgewater’s higher ceiling and past experience leading a playoff team could make this team even more dominant than it has already been the past five weeks.
Sure, there are risks involved with plugging Bridgewater in. He hasn’t played a regular season game in nearly two years and nobody really knows how he’ll respond to getting hit for the first time. But the great part about this risk is that, if Bridgewater shows that rust, the Vikings can always go back to Keenum in relief. Remember the win against the Bears on Monday night? Keenum played an excellent second half after replacing Sam Bradford to lead Minnesota to a gritty win. It’s not as if plugging Teddy in would render Keenum suddenly defective. The backup option will be there.
So why not find out what Bridgewater’s got sooner than later? Why put off taking that risk?
Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are fully aware that the franchise has not won a ring. They’re also fully aware that the Super Bowl is being held in Minneapolis in February. The Vikings are 6-2 and right on the line between contenders and pretenders. There won’t be a better time to take that risk than as soon as possible.
Let’s hope the Vikings pick the right path before it’s too late.
Now onto this week’s Skol Scale.
The Return: Bridgewater’s return is unsurprisingly the top spot in the “good” section of this week’s Skol Scale. Whether starting or as a backup, his presence gives a solid boost to the quarterback position for the Vikings.
Sack Daddy’s Streak: Everson Griffen’s sack streak continued against the Browns when he squeaked out a sack in the final moments of the Week 8 win in London. His 10 sacks are third in the NFL and he is the only player with a sack in every game this season.
Good Thielen: Adam Thielen’s consistent production has been nothing short of phenomenal in his fifth professional season. He has at least five catches in every game this season and has posted 96 yards or better in four of eight games. His 627 receiving are sixth in the NFL and his 48 receptions are 11th. Remarkably, Thielen scored his first touchdown of the season against the Browns in London a couple of weeks ago. I’d bet on more elite touchdown celebrations from Thielen in the second half of the season.
Cleared For Takeoff: Jerick McKinnon’s production replacing the injured Dalvin Cook has been superb. He earned Pro Football Focus’s top running back grade in Week 8 after running for 50 yards and a touchdown and catching all six of his targets in the passing game. His versatility is finally being revealed thanks to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Detroit: Let me clarify by saying that I think this is bad for the Vikings, good for the Lions. Detroit’s remaining schedule is among the easiest in the NFL. There’s a good chance the Lions will be favored in every remaining game on their schedule, including the Thanksgiving rematch with Minnesota. The schedule, in order, is vs. Cleveland, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota, at Baltimore, at Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, at Cincinnati, vs. Green Bay. The Lions are by no means out of the division race.
Bradford’s Bum Knee: Sam Bradford was moved to injured reserve Wednesday to make room for Bridgewater’s activation to the roster. Bradford has now been placed on injured reserve four times in his eight-year career. It’s a freakin’ shame that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy consistently because he possesses some of the best arm talent the NFL has to offer. To make things worse, Wednesday is Bradford’s birthday. That’s just not fair.
Skol Scale Figure: 7.5
The Vikings still have to prove that they can compete with the better teams in the NFL instead of beating up on the Packers, Ravens and Browns of the world. They’ll get that chance in the next few weeks. But for now, the Skol Scale remains at 7.5 — a win over Cleveland doesn’t change anything.
Minnesota’s next five games present a real opportunity to leap into the Super Bowl contender conversation. The schedule includes this week’s matchup at Washington followed by a home game against the 6-2 L.A. Rams then three road games against Detroit, Carolina and Atlanta.
The Redskins are coming off an emotional road win at the 12th man in Seattle to move to 4-4. Kirk Cousins presents the biggest passing threat the Vikings have faced since the Week 4 loss to the Lions. In that game, however, it was Detroit’s running game led by Ameer Abdullah that got things going for the Lions. The Redskins don’t have much of a ground game to speak of and the Vikings have allowed the second-fewest yards on the ground this season.
It’ll be a big week for linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks specifically becuase of Redskins running back Chris Thompson. The former Florida State Seminole is Washington’s leading rusher and leading receiver and will likely draw either Barr or Kendricks on most plays. The UCLA duo will have to keep Thompson in front of them to give the Vikings a good chance on Sunday.