Skol Scale Vol. 29: We’ll Take Ugly Wins

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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.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer doesn’t mind winning ugly.

In fact, he probably welcomes it because it means his defense probably played well.

Zimmer orchestrated an ugly 24-16 win against the San Francisco 49ers to open the 2018 season on Sunday. The Vikings are 1-0.

The Vikings got used to winning ugly in 2017 — it happens by default often when the defense is as dominant as Minnesota’s. And winning ugly isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that it didn’t take a 300-yard passing performance from the starting quarterback and likely doesn’t require a lot of offensive production at all.

Winning ugly means your team is so talented that there’s a wider room for error. The Vikings made a few mistakes during Sunday’s win over the 49ers that would cost most teams the game. 49ers tight end George Kittle got open on blown coverages multiple times. Minnesota’s offense mismanaged the clock in the final possession of the first half, which likely cost the team three points and potentially seven points. Additionally, Dalvin Cook managed only 40 rushing yards on 16 carries — and 45 of those yards were after contact.

The Vikings clearly have some areas that need to be cleaned up. However, they still won rather comfortably over an opponent that many predict to battle for a playoff spot this season.

You see, this team is just so freaking talented that it can afford to make a few key mistakes or have a few lackluster performances here and there and it won’t result in a loss. In particular, Zimmer’s defense made play after play to ensure that San Francisco wouldn’t get back in the game. The 49ers reached deep in Vikings territory thanks to a coverage breakdown? No problem, let’s just stuff them a couple of times and then force and recover a fumble.

But wait, the offense is struggling to sustain drives put the game away in the second half? No problem, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith will just pick off a pair of passes to seal the win.

The Vikings flashed some moments of brilliance on Sunday, there’s no doubt about it. Both of Cousins’s touchdown passes were totally unfair. Sheldon Richardson played out of his mind, and that only paved the way for the pressure generated by Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter that resulted in three combined sacks (by the way, the foursome of Griffen, Richardson, Hunter and Linval Joseph is absolutely ludicrous and it showed against San Fran). First-round rookie Mike Hughes tallied a pick-six in his professional debut.

But they also made several key mistakes that would result in a loss for many other NFL teams. That’s the thing about really, really good football teams — they don’t need their ‘A’ game to win each week. And I think that’s true about these Vikings.

Reasons for Optimism

  • The Vikings are undefeated. 1-0. One and oh. That’s reason for optimism.
  • (Denny Green voice) Kirk Cousins was who we thought he was on Sunday. He made about four or five elite throws that had me jumping out of my recliner with pizza flying through the air. He also made a couple of mistakes and the offense stalled considerably down the stretch. At one point, he had eight straight incompletions as the Vikings were trying to put the game away.
  • The defensive line. All of it. The starters. The rotational guys. All of them. They’re all good and this unit is incredible.
  • Xavier Rhodes has been thrown at one time this season by an opposing quarterback. That pass was intercepted by Xavier Rhodes.
  • Harrison Smith is a freaking superhero. He can actually play all three levels of defense at a high level and I’m not really exaggerating here. He’ll cover and read the quarterback’s eyes like a defensive back. He’ll line up in the box and stuff the run like a linebacker (or perfectly time a blitz for a sack like a linebacker). And, apparently, he’ll stonewall 330-pound nose tackle fullbacks at the goal line to stop would-be touchdown like he did on Sunday. Monster.
  • Daniel Carlson made his kicks.

Reasons for Pessimism

  • Dalvin Cook ran for more yards after contact than he did in total. That’s 40 rushing yards on 16 carries for the day, 45 of which came after contact. It really shouldn’t be that hard for Cook to find positive yardage.
  • George Kittle (and the fullback with the insane last name) found himself wide open a few too many times for my liking. Whether it was blown coverage or bad execution, covering tight ends is a concern moving forward — especially with Jimmy Graham coming up this week.
  • The offense failed over and over to put together a couple of first downs in a row to put this game away. Cousins, at one point, had eight straight incompletions in the second half. It’s easy to understand how the complete lack of a running game can make it difficult to call plays in this situation, but John DeFilippo and Cousins will need to be better in that situation next time.

Skol Scale Rating: 9

The Skol Scale remains at 9 after the Week 1 win over the 49ers. Minnesota’s performance was about what was expected — a shutdown defensive performance and an offensive performance that did enough to score more than the opposition. It was enough to get an ugly win. We’ll take it.

Moving forward, it should be expected that the offense begins to find a better rhythm as the season continues. DeFilippo and Cousins are still working on getting in sync with not only each other but also all of the playmakers at their disposal.

Maybe one of the most important games of the season will take place this Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers. Should the Vikings lose, they’ll fall to 1-1 with road games against the Rams and the Eagles coming up in the following three weeks and suddenly a 2-3 start seems very realistic. Should the Vikings steal a road win at Lambeau, and the Vikings are looking at almost a sure-fire 3-0 start and would be riding high into that tough stretch of road games against the Rams and Eagles.

Straight up, Minnesota’s offense will have to execute better against the Packers than it did against the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers can be counted on to put up more than 16 points, whether he has one or two healthy legs. Meanwhile, the Packers defense, especially up front, has enough talent to give the Vikings offensive line fits both in the running game and in pass protection.

Let’s hope the offense can find a little bit more success sustaining drives for 60 minutes, because that will be required for a win this Sunday.

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