As the Vikings kept advancing to a 7-2, first place start in the NFC North, there was a lot of ‘yeah, but’-ism to the start. And…you know, with the Vikings, it wasn’t necessarily an unfair hesitation. When you lose your starting quarterback and running back, and then look at their schedule to this point, there were reasons to think this way, fair or not. Anyway, the doubts were along the lines of:
‘Yeah, but Aaron Rodgers got hurt early.’ (No offense Detroit)
‘Yeah, but is Case Keenum really ‘the guy’?’
‘Yeah, but the Vikings haven’t really played anyone.’
Yeah, but…shut up. On a day when the Minnesota Vikings had to deal with some bad calls against them, an LOLWTH day from their kicker, and a start that was colder than a January morning in International Falls, the Vikings ended up not only beating one of the best teams in the NFC, they took a sledgehammer not only to them, but to the narratives that have followed them to this point in the season.
Haven’t they, Mr. Gabriel?
You could have a steam train
If you’d just lay down your tracks
You could have an aeroplane flying
If you bring your blue sky back
All you do is call me
I’ll be anything you need
You could have a big dipper
Going up and down, all around the bends
You could have a bumper car, bumping
This amusement never ends
I want to be your sledgehammer
Why don’t you call my name
Oh, let me be your sledgehammer
This will be my testimony
Your SMR that is two games clear in the NFC North follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Latavius Murray, RB: There was a time, earlier in the season, where money spent investing in an outdoor water park in Antarctica looked like a better investment than the free agent money the Vikings gave Latavius Murray. And when Dalvin Cook went out it felt like the Vikings running game would once again be a liability. But this game, right here? This is why you signed Murray. In a game where field position and yards were at a premium, having a back that gets tough yards, move the chains, and score on the limited goal line opportunities is largely the difference between winning and losing. And as the Vikings offensive line began to impose their will on the Rams defense, Murray took over. He ended up with 95 yards rushing and two tough rushing touchdowns inside the 10, scores it’s easy to say the Vikings would not have gotten from that part of the field last year.
Adam Thielen, WR: Speaking of putting the game away, Thielen’s 65 yard catch and run TD pretty much iced this game, but it was only one of several big plays that kept the Vikings offense moving. Although he had a rare drop, he had six catches for 123 yards, and his touchdown in the 4th quarter essentially put the game out of reach for the Rams. Also, HEY DID YOU KNOW ADAM IS FROM MINNESOTA AND GREW UP A VIKINGS FAN AND WAS AN UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT DIDJA DIDJA HUH WELL DIDJA?
Case Keenum, QB: Anyone that’s read this site for more than a day knows that I’m a fan of Teddy Bridgewater. I think he is the long term answer at quarterback for the Vikings…but yeah, Case Keenum is playing lights out, and continued to do so today. His pocket presence is at another level, and is largely the reason the Vikings offensive line didn’t give up a sack today. And when he avoids the rush, more often than not he’s able to deliver the ball to a receiver and keep a drive alive. On ten opportunities to make a first down on a third down pass today, Keenum completed seven passes, and got a first down six times. The Vikings offense is doing well under Keenum, and for now, as to who the Vikings quarterback should be, well, the case is closed.
.@casekeenum7‘s 2017 stats:
300 passing attempts
65.7 completion percentage
243.8 passing yards/game
5 sacks (fewest among all qualifying QBs)
— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) November 19, 2017
The Entire Defense: All week, we heard about what a juggernaut the Rams offense was. They were the number one offense in the NFL, they had a top five rusher in Todd Gurley II, and OH MY HOW WOULD THE VIKINGS HANDLE JARED GOFF? Admittedly, it looked rocky after the first series, where the Rams went 75 yards in 10 plays for a TD. But after that? The Most Prolific Offense In The NFL had a total of…drumroll…179 yards. Basically, for every yard gained in the first drive they got three yards for the rest of the game, Gurley had a measly 37 yards on 15 carries, Goff was punished, and the Rams receivers were generally suffocated all afternoon.
The Offensive Line: As impressive as the defense has been all year, the offensive line has been even more amazing. As a team, the Vikings have rushed for over 100 yards in seven of 10 games, and they only did that once last year. Against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, they rushed for a season high 171 yards, and they didn’t allow a sack. Through 10 games Vikings QB’s have been sacked a grand total of eight times. If you take away Sam Bradford’s ill-fated comeback attempt against the Bears, where he basically took a dive on 3-4 sacks to protect himself from further injury, the Vikings offensive line has legitimately given up four sacks all year.
Ryan Quigley, P: Quigley has played well in recent weeks, and a question mark on the Vikings has been answered. He booted three kicks for a 45.7 average today, with a net of over 41 yards. Quigley has done a good job for the Vikings this year, and as the year has gone on he’s only gotten better.
Danielle Hunter, DE: Hunter and Everson Griffen brought some serious pressure from the outside today, and Hunter’s sack of Goff was a thing of beauty. He bull rushed his blocker into Goff, reached over him, and dragged Goff down as they were falling to the ground. It was an exceptional play by a guy that isn’t going to get 20 sacks, but he’s going to continue to create havoc on the outside.
Kyle Rudolph, TE: Rudolph didn’t have a big game in term of stats, (5 catches, 58 yards) but he had a couple big plays, including an athletic 28 yard grab in the second quarter. Rudolph is still a great option for Keenum in this offense, and will make a huge, game changing play before this season is over, mark my words.
Anthony Harris, S: Anthony Harris had a nice day, but arguably the biggest play of the game. With just over four minutes left in the first half in a 7-7 game, the Rams looked like they were going to go in for a touchdown and take the lead heading in to the locker room. Jared Goff hit Cooper Kupp at about the four, and Kupp looked like he was going to go in for six. But Harris hit him at the one, stripped the ball, and recovered it. Scoring threat over, Vikings preserve a tie at halftime, and it was the biggest momentum shift in the game.
Stefon Diggs, WR: While Thielen was making a catch and run that broke the game open, Diggs was largely disappearing. And for the better part since he hurt his groin in Chaicago, he has been doing so for awhile. In three of the last four games, he’s had under 35 yards receiving, and hasn’t had a big play, other than last week in Washington, since before Halloween.
Kai Forbath, K: Just last week we were talking about Forbath turning a corner with his kicking, and this week he draws us back in to our statewide kicker angst. Today, he missed a 48 yard field goal wide right in the second quarter (not wide left woooo), and utterly doinked a 39 yarder off the left upright (still not technically WIDE left so also woooo) midway through the third. He makes those, and a closer than it could have been 24-7 score becomes a 30-7 laugher.
Buy: The Vikings have a great defense. Like we mentioned earlier, coming in to this game the Rams were the highest scoring offense in the NFL, had one of the best running games, and were the best in the NFL at converting third downs. Seven points, 45 yards rushing on a 2.6 average, and a paltry 3-11 third down conversion rate later, I think it’s safe to say that the Vikings have, without question, one of the best defenses in the NFL…if not THE best.
Sell: The Vikings have a great defense on the opening drive. As good as the Vikings defense is, three straight TD’s yielded on opening drives in the last three games is a really weird anomaly. I don’t know what it is, and it hasn’t hurt the team yet, but at some point this slow start could rear up and bite the Vikings in the rear end.
Buy: The Vikings miss Dalvin Cook. There were a couple of times today during the game where the announcers mentioned Dalvin Cook, and I got a bit melancholy about Cook being lost for the season. He also had a press conference earlier this week to update everyone on his rehab from ACL surgery. He was really starting to make an impact, and I’m excited to see him in this offense in 2018 and beyond.
Sell: The Vikings running game is is worse since Cook was lost to a season ending injury. But the Vikings running game has actually gotten better since Cook went down.
As it stands currently, the #Vikings are 1 of 2 teams in the NFL to have their RBs combine for over 1,000 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs. #Vikings RBs
1,145 rushing yards, 10 TDs#Saints RBs
1,411 rushing yards, 13 TDs
— Vikings PR (@VikingsPR) November 19, 2017
And with Murray’s two rushing TD’s today, they have one more rushing TD in 10 games than in all of last year, and today they ran for a season high 171 yards.
Buy: The Vikings have a hammer lock on a first round bye right now. With the win against the Rams today, and their win against the Saints to open the season, the Vikings have an inside track to at least a first round bye. They have Detroit, Atlanta, and Carolina coming up, and wins there about locks things up for both the division and at least a number 2 seed in the NFC.
Sell: Right now is the end of the season. But to call this thing a done deal is very premature. The Lions, Falcons and Panthers are a gauntlet, and yes, while three wins pretty much wrap things up, a couple losses puts everything in play. With a win against the Vikings already, the Lions are in a do or die fight for the division on Thursday, and another loss or two after that pushes the Vikings back to the rest of the pack in the NFC. This next three game stretch coming up is the most critical part of the season.
Buy: The Vikings exorcised some ‘same old Vikings’ demons today. As a guy that’s been a fan of this team for over 40 years, the Vikings have some long standing truths about them. They generally don’t react well to adversity, and when things go south, like some bad penalty calls or missed field goals, things generally snowball and they end up losing the game. But since Mike Zimmer was named head coach, this team has exorcised a lot of these demons, and have a mental toughness that jumps out at you like a grasshopper under a cigarette lighter. This team keeps their composure, puts the bad play behind them, and then bears down and they get the job done.
Sell: Waiting for the next shoe to drop. This is another thing about being a Vikings fan that you just sort of accept if you’ve watched this team for a long time. At some point, ‘It’ happens, and a win becomes a loss. ‘It’ can be any number of things, but you’re always waiting for ‘it’ to occur.
I’m not doing that now.
Now, I’m not saying the Vikings are going to run the table, but this sense of doom I ALWAYS have about this team is receding a little bit. When you get to 8-2 with your third string QB and your top running back out, it feels like there’s something special building in Minneapolis. There’s still a lot of football to play, and some tough opponents on the docket, but I am now starting to believe that instead of finding a way to lose games, the Vikings are finding ways to win games.
So the Vikings keep their two game lead in the NFC North, and have another big game on a short week as they travel to Detroit on Thanksgiving. A win there, and the playoffs seem like a formality. A loss, and it becomes a dogfight for the rest of the year.