Vikings Week 8 Skol Scale: Time To Prove It

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Drew Mahowald’s Skol Scale is a tool to measure the correct amount of optimism Minnesota Vikings fans should feel toward their favorite team. The measurement is calculated on a 1 (WELP THIS SEASON IS OVER. TIME TO TANK.) to 10 (SUPER BOWL HOMEBOY) scale.

I’ll begin this week’s installment of the Skol Scale by warning my beloved readers that I have both good and bad news to share.

The good news is that the Minnesota Vikings are rolling on a three-game winning streak. Mike Zimmer’s defense appears to have regained its standard form after a couple of horrid performances in Weeks 3 and 4. Offensively, Latavius Murray has spearheaded a rushing attack that has found a rhythm and quarterback Kirk Cousins has made a habit of making difficult throws under heavy pressure seem easy (they aren’t).

Minnesota is 4-2-1 and in the NFC North lead through Week 7, despite some major absences on both sides of the ball. Not bad.

The bad news is that none of the Vikings’ four wins have come against a team with a winning record.

Obviously, the Week 5 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on the road is the most impressive win in 2018 for the Vikings. Philadelphia is always a difficult environment to play in and the Vikings managed to gut out a tough victory that potentially saved the season.

Philadelphia, however, hasn’t put together an impressive resume a season after winning the Lombardi Trophy. The Eagles’ three wins are against the 3-4 Atlanta Falcons, the 2-5 Indianapolis Colts, and the 1-6 New York Giants. So how impressive really was that win?

Minnesota’s other three wins are against two rookie quarterbacks and the 1-6 San Francisco 49ers.

The New Orleans Saints are 5-1 and have a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer running the show at quarterback. This is nothing like the 49ers, nothing like the Cardinals, nothing like the Jets, and nothing like the Eagles, at least right now.

Minnesota has an opportunity to earn a signature win Sunday night when New Orleans, winner of five straight games, storms into U.S. Bank Stadium looking for revenge for the Minneapolis Miracle from nine months ago.

It’s time for the Vikings to prove they belong among the elites in the NFL.

It’s time for the Vikings to prove that their defense is still as dominant as it was in 2017.

It’s time for Kirk Cousins to prove that he can win the games he was brought to Minnesota to win.

It’s time to prove it.

Now let’s move to this week’s Skol Scale.

Skol Scale Rating: 7.5

Despite a 20-point win on the road, the Skol Scale stays put at 7.5 on the 10-point scale. Minnesota achieved what it needed to on Sunday at the Meadowlands — a win. However, the win didn’t feel as dominant as it appeared to be on the scoreboard.

Offensively, the Vikings sputtered early and often. Third-down conversions seemed impossible. Outside of the two long touchdown throws to Adam Thielen and Aldrick Robinson, Cousins averaged only 4.55 yards per attempt through the air.

Additionally, injuries added up for the Vikings throughout Sunday’s win over the Jets. Pro Bowlers Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr along with left guard Tom Compton suffered injuries that could keep them sidelined for Sunday night’s key matchup against the Saints and beyond.

I understand that wins are difficult to come by in the NFL, especially on the road. But the Vikings’ incredibly slow start on offense and the pile-up of injuries result in a stagnant week for the Skol Scale.

Reasons for Optimism

  • Danielle Hunter is stupid good. A stat correction gave him a full sack against the Jets and extended his streak to seven games in a row with a sack and a league-leading eight for the season. The dude is 23 years old. It’s impossible.
  • Adam Thielen is still a superstar. Nothing new here. Zimmer even mentioned to the media that this is the most attention Thielen has received all season from the opposing secondary and he still put up nine catches for 110 yards and touchdown. Bananas.
  • Minnesota’s third-down defense is somehow *better* than last season — and last season’s performance was the best the NFL had seen in at least 26 years. The Vikings allowed a 25.2% third-down conversion rate last season, the lowest since the stat has been officially recorded. Zimmer’s group has dropped that number to 23.4% through seven games in 2018.
  • Everson Griffen’s return to the lineup is fantastic for a number of reasons. He’s well enough to go to work again, which is obviously awesome news to begin with. On the football field, Griffen’s presence increases Minnesota’s pressure percentage by nearly 10 percent on pass-rushing snaps. He and Hunter on opposing sides of a pass rush is definitely unfair and I think we’ll get to see it again on Sunday.

Reasons for Pessimism

  • Injuries, obviously, take the top spot in the pessimism section. Dalvin Cook’s hamstring is still an issue and it doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to go until after the bye week. Andrew Sendejo and Riley Reiff have each missed a couple of games now. Pro Bowlers Xavier Rhodes and Anthony Barr each sustained injuries against the Jets that could sideline them for the Saints game. Starting left guard Tom Compton is also banged up and may not play Sunday night. Ouch.
  • I appreciate the creativity offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is displaying to get the ball to Stefon Diggs in space, but it’s just too much. Diggs isn’t Percy Harvin. Harvin was at his most effective with the ball in his hands as a gadget player. Diggs, while effective in his own right with the ball in his hands, is an elite route runner and led the NFL in contested catch percentage in 2017. He can beat opposing No. 1 cornerbacks. I’d like to see more of that moving forward.

Key Matchup vs. Saints: Stefon Diggs vs. Marshon Lattimore

The Vikings passing game should be able to move up and down the field on the Saints secondary, but how this offense handles Marshon Lattimore could make the difference in this game. The New Orleans secondary is not excellent outside of Lattimore and the Vikings should have plus matchups on the field. But if the Vikings can also beat up Lattimore, I have little doubt they’ll outscore Drew Brees and the Saints offense.

Lattimore will likely shadow Diggs, being that Diggs will mostly line up outside and Lattimore likes to shadow the opponent’s No. 1 receiver on the outside. If I’m DeFilippo, I’m going after Lattimore early with Diggs. Win that matchup early and use that to steamroll the Saints down the stretch when things start to matter a little bit more.

You might see Lattimore on Thielen or Treadwell a few times, but you’ll see Diggs vs. Lattimore the most. If Diggs can get the best of Lattimore down the field, I don’t see how the Saints outscore the Vikings.

Fan Skol Scale Ratings: