After the final seconds clicked off the clock Sunday at the mostly empty US Bank stadium in downtown Minneapolis, there was a wide range of opinions that constituted the Minnesota Vikings online zeitgeist.
From those that are in a complete panic after the Vikings’ offense managed 34 points at home and still lost (the first time these Vikings have posted over 21 points on offense and lost at home since US Bank Stadium opened), to those that found a moral victory considering the fact that the Vikings youth movement had no pre-season and still… only… gave up over 500 yards of offense. Let’s just hope none of those people were of the betting variety, unless they are ready to flee the country and do the rest of their sports gambling by betting in Spain.
Anyway, that lead to some responses on Twitter like:
Football guys: “Pass Rush>Coverage”
Nerds: “Coverage>Pass Rush”
Vikings: “hear me out, what if we try neither?”
— Forester93 (@Forester932) September 13, 2020
I think giving up 43 points is mostly on the lack of talent across the defense. Pass rush can't get home, DTs can't hold the point of attack, corners can't tackle or cover.
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) September 13, 2020
I’ll be talking about those in the former group, or at least some of those that fall in said group. I want to focus on the fans that were surprised by today’s embarrassment of a season opener, the group that had the Vikings pegged as an “at least” 11-5 team this season despite the fact that the Vikings arguably has their best position-by-position roster in my lifetime last season and only managed a 10-6 record.
I’m talking about the group that was surprised that a team that had Mike Hughes and Holton Hill as their starting corners would be unable to stop ANYTHING. Sure, Xavier Rhodes was atrocious last season, and Hill was suspended for the first eight games of the season, but he also didn’t really contribute at all after he was eligible.
Mile Hughes did, if you could call it that. Sure, he had a big play or two, but those plays were few and far between and in-between them? Blown coverages and a second too late tackles that were explained away by his ACL ended 2018.
Well, it’s 2020 and if this is the best we can expect from the 2018 first round pick, then I can finally say that I was right to be angry when the team drafted Hughes in 2018 instead of trading down and taking one of the four plug and play interior offensive lineman that were drafted between Hughes and Brian O’Neill.
Apparently there’s a reason that neither Hughes nor Hill started in place of Rhodes last season. That reason? They were worse than Rhodes, which is saying something. I suppose we will see where Rhodes is when he comes to town next week, but considering that he just turned 30 this summer, let’s hope he doesn’t revert to form in Indy… For Zimmer’s sake.
Speaking of first-round picks, the starting corners had a game that was on par with the infamous Hall of Fame Game that former Viking Trae Waynes had that seemed to mar his reputation for the rest of his time in Minny. Beyond that, this season’s first rounder Jeff Gladney and star of camp Cameron “The Needle” Dantzler, both played poorly as well.
Or rather, Gladney didn’t even play and Dantzler played poorly. Where was Gladney? We all know about his meniscus injury from 2019 that flared up recently, but no one seems to know where he was Sunday.
Mainly the corners though, Dantzler was getting smoked out there and I didn’t see Gladney at all
— Vincent Cianicullo (@vinniec901) September 13, 2020
Many people on Twitter are blaming this from partially to wholly on the lack of a pass rush Sunday. Sure. Danielle Hunter was out, and newly acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue had like three days to learn the Vikings’ system (which apparently is different than the Jags’ system of… TRY TO SACK THE QB (I’m kidding… kinda)), but this issue won’t fully abate when Hunter returns as the Vikings have issues on the interior of their line with Jaleel “Everyone called for me to get cut before Pierce opted out” Johnson and Shamar Stephen having a ceiling of subpar at best.
So, if you’re surprised by today’s outcome, you were just lying to yourself. Because this is a defensive system predicated on every man doing their job so everyone can focus on their job. When one link in that chain fails, as we saw with Rhodes last year, the entire thing fails.
Well, one could argue we had seven failed links (with the safeties and linebackers being the only ones doing their job well) Sunday. That’s how the Packers ended up with 3:1 time of possession. That’s how Davante Adams ended up with 14 grabs, and Aaron Rodgers almost lazily moved the Packers up and down the field with impunity.
I saw on my social media a comment that said I shouldn’t overreact because the Vikings played a Hall of Fame QB and a good receiver. Well, that’s a relief! It’s not as if the Vikings got that out of the way with Rivers, Brady, Brees, Stafford, etc. on the docket this season.
That’s not to say that these players are all terrible forever. But, as I said all off-season, it’s folly to expect a team that went 8-7-1 and 10-6 with that roster to improve when they lost players they didn’t or couldn’t replace like Stefon Diggs, Linval Joseph, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, etc.
Especially when the positions of corner and wide receiver are harder to acclimate to in Zimmer’s system and the pros respectively (especially when the latter isn’t used to contact off the line a la Justin Jefferson).
So, as I’ve said this off-season, this season should’ve been looked at as what it is. A rebuilding year because the team clearly rebuilt this off-season. People will point to the season opener against the 49ers a few years back, and how the team bounced back from that.
But this wasn’t that, it was a team that is either too young/inexperienced or too untalented at core positions to overcome that with an offense that yet again spent the off-season ignoring the interior of the offensive line.
Zimmer is a good regular season coach and he might whip this team into shape enough for them to win a stretch of games, but it certainly feels like this year is the 2014 of the Zimmer/Spielman 2.0 that started this off-season, with the exception that this team could have an elite offense if they spent a non-7th round pick on the offensive guard spot.
The only surprise here is that people are surprised by any of this.