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Tonights Game is a Must Win

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It’s Thursday. Three full days removed from one of the most devastating regular season upsets in Vikings history. I’ve discussed the Bills game with multiple people, all of which I really respect, and have taken those three days to calm down and reflect so I don’t end up writing something that I end up regretting once I’ve done those things (it’s also why I do pre-game shows on our “radio” station, purpleTERRITORY, and not post-game shows (shout out to the fellas over at About the Labor for doing that!)). As many of you know, I’m one of the more emotional and reactive fans/writers on our network, so I really wanted to take my time to analyze exactly what happened on Sunday to see if it was bad as I thought it was while watching it, to attempt to be as objective as possible about what happened and to see what it means for the rest of the season.

With all that having been said and done, I’m basically at the same spot I was after the game and that point is this… The Vikings could very easily fall apart and end up with a 4-11-1 record this season. COULD. But they could also come together and use the Bills game as the wake-up call Kyle Rudolph said it was. We’re basically at a wait and see approach, with tonight’s game against the Rams really showing us what the rest of the season is going to look like, whether the Bills game was some sort of fluke or whether it was the Vikings being exposed and outclassed by the “worst team in the league”.

There’s really no other way to look at that Bills game. The Vikings were 17-point favorites going into that game, which was one of the largest spreads in any game this century/millennium. The Bills are/were a team that was starting a rookie quarterback for the first time (after playing two quarters the previous week), that had a player retire at HALF TIME during their second game and that had a coach that many said could be fired depending on how badly the Vikings beat them.

We all know what ended up happening, but the question really is whether or not the Vikings simply were far too overconfident or if the Bills, again, found the hole(s) in the Vikings “super roster” and exploited them for four quarters. While neither of those explanations are good, obviously you’d rather have it be a case of the former than the latter. Unfortunately, in re-watching the game a couple times, it does seem like the actual reasons the Vikings lost were things that weren’t solely based on overconfidence but rather glaring issues that most teams should be able to exploit as they aren’t easily correctable… At least during the season.

It is true, as well, that the Vikings were outplayed in every facet of that game, but it wasn’t just a case of the team not showing up (whatever that means). But, let’s say it was! For the sake of argument let’s actually take the less awful option here and say that the Vikings just came into Sunday’s game thinking they could coast at home and win easily. While that’s better than saying that the team lost because they’ve got some huge issues at multiple positions, it still isn’t good and actually implies/shows a lot of things about this team (players and coaches) that are terrible. The worst part, though, is that the two options (the Vikes being overconfident vs. the Vikes just being bad) aren’t mutually exclusive. Meaning, it could actually be BOTH things.

In terms of overconfidence, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said that the Vikings always have a bad game each season and that they were “lucky” to have it happen this early in the season as opposed to the playoffs like it did against the Eagles. If that’s the case that implies that for whatever reason, once a season, either Coach Mike Zimmer is unable to get the entire team to focus or once a season the fellas decide to go into auto-pilot mode. If that was the only issue I’d be concerned as the Vikings do have a track record of playing like shit when it truly matters (which could mean they choke instead of them just being confidently lazy (which is basically my entire MO). That very well could be true, but unfortunately, there was a lot in that game that exposed some gigantic cracks in the “unstoppable” force that the Vikings were supposed to be this season.

It’s hard to initially blame the defense for the upset as Kirk Cousins, who came off of the best game of his career, fumbled the ball in the red zone multiple times in the first quarter. That gave the Bills amazing field position for their first few scores and for whatever reason that field position continued throughout the game (with the Vikings starting before the 8-yard line five times). Those fumbles are something Cousins is known for, as is the fact that he can panic while under pressure and make bad decisions. Cousins was clearly rattled in that game, overthrowing and missing his receivers multiple times when he was and wasn’t even under pressure. Considering the fact that he made some amazing passes while under pressure against the Packers, it was strange to see him struggle so mightily against a team that was supposed to be the worst in the league.

A lot of that has to do with the offensive line. I read that the Bills had 40 pressures… Well actually, just read this (from BuffaloNews.com):

Defensive end Jerry Hughes had an absolutely dominant performance with a whopping 13 pressures – one sack, two, hits, and 10 hurries – on 40 pass-rush snaps. Hughes is currently tied with Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack for the league lead in quarterback pressures with 20, and he’s done so on eight-fewer pass-rush snaps (80 for Hughes vs. 88 for Mack).

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander was super disruptive as well with nine pressures – all hurries.

So. I really hate to say I told you so but… AHHHHH!

Sure, to give credit where it’s due, the Bills are actually amazing at bringing pressure (the article also shows that they’re getting pressure on 48.8% of plays, good for second in the league), but at the same time you have to think that this offensive line is the main culprit behind… Damn near everything. It’s actually pretty infuriating, especially as you watch a player like Mike Hughes or Laquon Treadwell struggle.

Those first round picks very well could’ve (and should’ve) been offensive lineman, but because the team either felt burned by the Kalil pick (which was the highest in team history) or because they got greedy on defense, or thought that they could put together some rag-tag group of lineman that were all selected in the fourth-round or later from 2013 to 2017, they ended up neglecting a position group that is arguably the most important for damn near half a DECADE. Even after paying Cousins the most money ever they decided to draft another corner in April’s draft, assuming that they’d be able to pick up a good-to-great guard in the second round who would’ve been able to, you know, protect the pocket passer you just broke the bank to sign?

As we know, most of the guards of value were taken before the Vikings second pick, which forced them to pick up a tight end turned tackle who most said was a multi-year project. While O’Neill has played admirably when he’s been called on, and all signs point to Pat Elflein playing tonight, it feels like this team could very well end up being undone by the offensive line… AGAIN.

Like I said, the struggles on the line could be blamed for everything in that the pressure they allowed gave the defense some impossible situations, multiple times. The field position and time that the defense was on the field, is more complicated than just blaming the O-line, but you can definitely draw a direct line back to the… Line. Again, I don’t want to rub it in or anything because I don’t want to be right about most things I predict because most of those things are horrible, but I’ve been saying since the inception of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast that the line is going to make or break the team (each season).

We all know what happened in 2016. The Vikings overcame injuries and with their new quarterback Sam Bradford, ended up going 5-0 into their bye. Those injuries continued and most people chalked that up to bad luck, instead of realizing that because the team had neglected the position group they had to bring in a bunch of over the hill and injury prone players who ended up doing what old injury prone guys do. The line was better in 2017 and the team actually spent a third rounder on a great player in Pat Elflein, but a lot of that came from the fact that Case Keenum had some sort of miraculous spider sense that allowed him to avoid sacks in some sort of Tarkentonian fashion.

That spider sense ended in the playoffs, after more injuries on the line ended up forcing the Vikings to shuffle the players on the line because they had no depth at the position because, again, they ignored the position for half a decade. Like the Bills game, two early turnovers against the Eagles (that were based on pressure) ended up creating a hole that the Vikings couldn’t claw their way out of and instead of hunkering down and playing like they had all season, they seemingly panicked, leaving players wide open.
Sound familiar?

The Vikings will be facing one of the most formidable defensive lines and defenses in general tonight against the Los Angeles Rams. It’s not overstating things to say that the Vikings need to win this game or at least come very close to doing so. If they end up getting badly beaten, especially considering what’s going on with Everson Griffen, they could very easily fall apart. It’s so strange to see a team that’s predicated on responsibility and discipline have these collective mental lapses “once a year”, so really tonight will show us whether it is just a one time (a season) thing or if the team we saw against the Bills is going to be the team that we see the rest of the season.

That’s a terrifying prospect but at least we’ll know what we’re dealing with in a few hours. Sure, they could turn things around later in the season and end up winning the division (especially considering the Packers have the same record), but this season is really starting to feel a lot like 2010, or 1999, or 2002. The Vikings always have a terrible season the year after blowing an NFC Championship Game and we’ve mostly ignored that game this pre-season, focusing instead on Kirk Cousins, the new offensive coordinator, the return of Dalvin Cook, the new facility in Eagan, etc. However, that Eagles game not only exposed holes in the scheme the Vikings run, but it also showed that this team isn’t great under pressure despite the fact that they have a damn near Pro Bowler at every position on defense and a coach that is considered by many a defensive mastermind.

The team is also relatively young, and is still able to change. So, tonight will be a huge sign as to what this team is made of. Whether or not they can overcome adversity and compete with the “best”, or whether they’re yet another post-NFC Championship footnote. I am really, really hoping that they’ll show us that they’re the real deal and that last weekend was just a fluke. They did start last season 2-2, after all, and then came together to become the best defense in the league in multiple statistical categories. So, let’s cross our fingers and toes and get ready for tonight’s game.

SKOL!

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started purplePTSD.com back in May of 2015 and has talked Vikings online since the advent of the internet, namely on Reddit's /r/MinnesotaVikings section under the username p_U_c_K. He purchased VikingsTerritory.com before the 2017-18 season, used to write for VikingsJournal.com and is the host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast, as well.

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