The Vikings have continued to divide and conquer the NFC North. With their upcoming matchup against the former North champ Packers, they are heading into the final stretch undefeated in and on top of the NFC North. Let’s take a closer look at why Minnesota is playing so well and respect what they are accomplishing.
We all know (or you should) that the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers are the most balanced teams both offensively and as a unit in all facets of the game. But, what most don’t realize or fail to recognize is Minnesota is quietly becoming one of those teams as well.
Not showing their faces to anyone outside of the woodlands in Minnesota since their Monday night primetime matchup in week 1, the Vikings have been on a quest for greatness without notice. Until their most recent victory over the heralded Green Bay Packers. This bitter rivalry took a turn in a different direction this past Sunday, and it seems there is no looking back.
First, the offensive play calling of Norv Turner has been nothing short of genius. He is dissecting defenses and calling plays to keep his offense safe and to destroy opposing defenses with his team’s strengths. Turner has always been a fan of the vertical passing game and a 70-30 type of passing/running offense(70% pass-30% run). But, he is no longer with a QB that can execute every play to perfection. What he has now is a brilliant player ahead of his years as a leader and in the film room yet lacking the cannon arm. Teddy Bridgewater is a very skilled player yet he has a few glaring limitations. Turner has done a brilliant job leaning on the future bronze legs of Adrian Peterson and giving Teddy B plenty of roll outs and play action passes at the most opportune times. Turner has his intermediate and short pass quarterback with an exceptional football IQ playing solid football. Bridgewater is the NFL’s newest all-star game manager. He always reminds me of Super Bowl champion QBs Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. With a defense as tenacious as theirs, a stone-cold offensive line and a running back as dominant as Minnesota possesses, that is all they need him to be.
Adrian Peterson is back, and the force with which he is running is truly sensational at his age. AD is literally carrying this Vikings offense on his back and doing it with ease. Just as the great Barry Sanders always did, Peterson does lead the league in negative plays. However, that does not damper the supremacy with which he is playing. Much to Minnesota’s delight, leading the league in rushing with 968 yards it seems All Day Peterson has once again reclaimed his position as the league’s best running back.
A weapon that may go overlooked during the regular season but be a key catalyst for the postseason is, rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs. One of my sleeper candidates from this year’s NFL Draft, Diggs has emerged as the number one threat in this limited, yet at opportune times, explosive Vikings passing game. After not playing the first three games of the season Diggs was given a chance week 4 against the Broncos and looked fantastic. Since then he has been unleashed, starting 5 games and racking up 30 receptions 507 yards and two scores on the season. The 6ft 191lb speedster out of Maryland is making a valuable impact and adding a threat that otherwise would not exist for the Vikings offense. This makes not only Teddy Bridgewater’s job easier but more importantly, Adrian Peterson’s as well. Look for Diggs to be incredibly important in the post season when teams hone in on Peterson and force plays to be made in the passing game.
Lastly, we must mention the most important piece to this winning puzzle. The Vikings defense. With the majority of its cornerstone players being young players or new additions, Zimmer deserves a lot of credit for their play as a unit. Led by Harrison Smith at safety, Anthony Barr at linebacker and Linval Joseph at nose tackle the Vikings are the #1 scoring defense in football(and top 10 in virtually every other defensive category). The stellar play and versatility of this unit cannot go unnoticed. Harrison Smith is a safety that is looked at as a box defender by most but is so rangy and fantastic in coverage it’s impossible to give him a simple label. His versatility makes disguising coverages and blitz packages effortless. Anthony Barr (a former running back and linebacker in college) is too athletic to be looked at as your standard tackling machine with pass rush abilities. Not only is he still growing into his incredibly talented repertoire of pass rushing skills but he’s so athletic and quick to react that his coverage skills are on par with the likes of a Sean Lee in Dallas. He allows Zimmer to place pieces in the front 7 anywhere around him making it impossible to know where Barr will be at the snap or what his responsibility is in that spot. I’m proud to see one of my highest graded prospects rising to such challenges so young in the game and in his position.
The brute of the group, Linval Joseph at nose tackle is the #1 rated run stuffer in football this season. The newly acquired defensive tackle has been a hog up front and made Barr, Kendricks, Greenway and Smith’s jobs much easier when hunting the opposing qb and running backs. Rookie linebacker Kendricks has been excelling in his role and with Joseph’s help amassing four sacks already. Another rookie, Danielle Hunter at defensive end should see his role expand throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs as well. Hunter is a violent player with a knack for finding the backfield. The only true weakness of this defense is at corner, yet every other position is working so well together as one unit and the versatility allows for some much disguise that it makes the job of the corners (Rhodes and Newman) that much easier.
It doesn’t matter how lacking you think Bridgewater is. It doesn’t matter if you think they can’t just rely on Peterson to win every game. Regardless of schedule difficulty or matchups, the pure dominance that they have displayed within their division says enough about this team. If I know anything about the NFL, it’s that a consistent running game and a great defense can get you a lot further than any other team strength pairs you could come up with. So, if you need an underdog for the NFL playoffs this winter, I’m taking the Minnesota Vikings ALL DAY.