That’s how I want to start my tenure with Vikings Territory.
For those who followed any of our work at the Vikings Entertainment Network during my time with the Club from 2005-2019, thank you.
For those who’ve wished me well since my departure from the Club, thank you. And for being here right now, reading this article and checking out Vikings Territory, thank you.
I’m excited to be on this team for 2020. I’m excited for the NFL season to begin. I’m excited to continue the conversation with Vikings Nation. Over 15 seasons with the Vikings, there’s no question that interacting with fans and exchanging opinions and ideas was one of my absolute favorite parts of the job. I’m honored to be able to continue the conversation with you, right here and right now.
I don’t think it can get much more unscientific than polling on Twitter. Nevertheless, I asked everyone for topics to cover in this first article and the results prioritize the offensive line and the Vikings somewhat new-look defense. Those two topics generated the most mentions so they will be addressed below, along with a few other topics that are top of mind for yours truly with the season now less than a week away (wow!).
Let’s get to it…
Good news/Bad news with the offensive line
It’s unusual to be excited about the offensive line. Unless you’re looking at the offensive line the Dallas Cowboys fielded in the mid-90s or a few current groups (Chiefs, Colts, Eagles), it’s just not a part of the roster you typically rave about. The Vikings are not an exception here. That’s the bad news.
You can’t look at the names of the possible starters and key depth guys and get lathered up about 2020. Garret Bradbury could be a stud and Brian O’Neill is probably already a stud, but aside from that there’s not much to write home about.
Here’s the good news, though. The Vikings offensive line, thanks to Gary Kubiak, is very sound schematically and, thanks to Rick Dennison (and Andrew Janocko), is very well coached.
Additionally, the Vikings running back stable is STACKED with talent. And enhanced performance from your backs can take a bad line and make it good, or take a good line and make it almost great.
Remember, the Vikings OL in 2009 was considered a strength. They had a second-year starter at center in John Sullivan and essentially a no-namer at right guard in Anthony Herrera. You can get by with this type of talent with enhanced performance you’re your back(s) (Adrian Peterson, anyone?) and coaching/synergy.
BOTTOM LINE: Scheme, coaching and running back talent could be enough to overcome concerns with talent level. I don’t love the talent level with this group. But I do love this group’s work ethic, coaching and potential for synergy. The whole can be greater than the sum of the individual parts.
State of the Defense
Pardon me for being a bit flippant here. And please be honest with yourself as you read these questions. Were you one who was giving up on Xavier Rhodes after 2013? Did you question Everson Griffen’s ability to replace Jared Allen’s production? Did you hate Anthony Barr’s chances of fitting in a 40-front defense?
There’s an excellent chance you answered “Yes” to one of those questions and there’s a good chance you answered “yes” to all three. Mike Zimmer is like “Hold my beer.” Ok?
Actually, speaking of Zim, I think he said it best when it comes to assessing the defense now, particularly when it comes to wondering if the loss of household names will lead to a drop in performance. Zim said this recently:
“I’ve never had a bad defense. Ever. So, I don’t anticipate that changing.”
Enough said. Thank you for coming. Please tip your wait staff on the way out.
P.S. One of the best defenders in the NFL also said this:
“I’m kind of out of the loop. I didn’t know we were supposed to be bad.”
BOTTOM LINE: Nothing to see here. Move along. Death, taxes, Mike Zimmer’s defense being good. The only guarantees in life.
Diggs is gone, and that’s not great
There’s just no other way to slice the loss of Stefon Diggs – it’s not good from the standpoint of game planning, explosiveness and point production. Rick Spielman and Co. did a great job in terms of compensation for the explosive pass catcher. But an explosive pass catcher still left the building.
We are NOT going to start a debate here about Diggs vs. Adam Thielen. Both are elite-level receivers in this League. Thielen is everything you could want in a football player, in a teammate, in a man. This conversation is all about Diggs and what was lost when he was dealt to Buffalo. In the last 30 games over the past two seasons, Diggs:
– Caught 15 TDs (same as Thielen)
– Recorded 33 receptions of 20+ yards (8 more than Thielen)
– Recorded 10 receptions of 40+ yards (6 more than Thielen)
– Caught 90 passes that resulted in 1st downs (2 fewer than Thielen)
Again, this is not a Diggs vs. Thielen conversation. This is a “Ouch, the Vikings lost some pop with Diggs’ departure” conversation. Thielen will work and he will get the job done. He will score TDs, he will move the chains and he will be a great leader in the WR room. But over the last two years he did not explode like Diggs did.
BOTTOM LINE: Can the Vikings score enough points? It’s simple, yet it’s what 2020 may boil down to when all is said and done. I used to keep track of a stat for the Vikings W/L record under Zimmer when the offense scores 24 points. I don’t know what that stat is anymore, but basically, if the Vikings score 24 points, they’re going to win. Can the Vikings average 24 points per game this year? The loss of Diggs hurts their chances to do so.
Everyone needs to be more excited about the Yannick Ngakoue addition
Let’s not overthink this, folks. The addition of Ngakoue is one of the best acquisitions any team made this entire offseason. Pure and simple. Before I explain further, please read this quote from Ngakoue:
“I just feel like that’s the biggest motivation if you really love this game and this sport,” Ngakoue told Twin Cities media members Friday. “You look to your right, and you see the John Randles, the Randy Mosses, the Cris Carters – guys like that who brought it each and every Sunday – and that’s my inspiration. That’s my aspiration, to [be] a Hall of Famer, and I’m working and striving to do that.”
Okay. In Ngakoue, you have a player with extreme talent, a player sufficiently motivated and a player who will be coached expertly. That’s the key here, for me. The presence of DL coach Andre Patterson.
Patterson helped unlock John Randle’s potential. Patterson helped unleash Elvis Dumervil. Patterson groomed Everson Griffen into one of the most explosive pass rushers in the NFL for half a decade. Patterson developed Danielle Hunter.
Patterson knows not just technique and coaching, but he knows motivation. He knows how to figure out how players are wired, what makes them tick, what they want to be known for. He’s a master motivator. He knows how to reach deep into a player’s soul and challenge him. And this is what Patterson will do with Ngakoue in Minnesota.
Patterson has undoubtedly listened to the aforementioned quote, he’s undoubtedly had his own conversation with the player and he will undoubtedly use all of this information to get more out of the player than any coach ever has. Believe me. I know how this goes. I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends.
BOTTOM LINE: NFC North offensive coordinators and QBs slammed their fits on their desks when they first heard that Yannick Ngakoue was traded to the Vikings.
Coming up next is a preview of the Green Bay Packers. Look for that on Wednesday. After that is an end-of-the-week party of an article on Friday. Your questions will be answered, so keep tweeting them to @wobbyt or @vikingterritory. Predictions, gambling angles, broadcast opinions, fun facts…all of that and more in Friday’s article. So, stay tuned!