Mitch Linsley, Dump & Change Sports
EDEN PRAIRIE, MN – As you probably remember, the 2016 Vikings got off to a scorching 5-0 start despite a freak injury to the knee of QB Teddy Bridgewater just days before the team’s season opener against the Tennessee Titans. The 5-0 run can be largely credited to unbelievable defensive play (seriously, they led my fantasy team in pointS for 4 of those weeks), timely turnovers and luck.
Boasting the league’s best record at their bye week, it seemed qualifying for a playoff spot- even winning the division, was all but a certainty. Remember how good you felt after that Bradford to Diggs TD against the Packers week 2 on Monday Night Football?
What the final 11 weeks of the NFL season had in store for Vikings fans was an abysmal 3-8 finish where many components that helped the team succeed early on dissipated. Time timely turnovers stopped coming, the ‘85 Bears-esque defense proved to be more human by each week, and need for dramatic improvement at offensive line and running back became increasingly glaring.
I’m going to address these issues from multiple angles and let you decide: will the 2017 Vikings be more reminiscent of last years team before or after the bye week?
Before the bye: what was working?
For the first 5 weeks of the season, the purple were +12 in the turnover margin- taking the ball 13 times, 3 times each against the Titans, Packers and Panthers while giving up the ball just once to Green Bay on an unsurprising Adrian Peterson fumble. Winning games by taking the ball 3 or more times a game is unsustainable and unrealistic.
I don’t remember how many points exactly the defense scored but it was a lot. We had the Danielle Hunter fumble recovery vs the Titans, another one vs Carolina (I think it was Eric Kendricks) and maybe one against Houston? I don’t know. The point is, our defense was outscoring our running backs. This stellar defensive play was a convenient cover up for awful play at offensive line, running back and at times tight end.
New quarterback Sam Bradford played well in the new system, as he continued to do throughout the season. As badly as this team imploded offensively, little blame can be placed on Sam. When we were winning, he was doing everything that Norv (remember him?) and Zimm were asking of him. He protected the ball, threw it away when necessary, didn’t make stupid throws, and kept the offense on the field. Was he out there gunslinging like Brett Favre? No, but he sure as hell wasn’t out there throwing picks like Big Ben after a night at the bar either.
Perhaps the most important ingredient of the Vikings’ short-lived super bowl run, luck was on the Vikings’ side. Like when Trae Waynes got picked on all game by Aaron Rodgers and Davonte Adams then miraculously got a pick with drawing a PI in the 4th quarter; that was lucky. Or when Sam wasn’t getting sacked a ton despite a swiss cheese O-line, or when Odell Beckham jr. was held to just 22 yards (I will give my man X some credit there, might be our best overall player). Perhaps the luckiest part of all, the fact that the issues I’m about to discuss, didn’t hinder the team’s chances at winning for FIVE whole weeks, which truly is incredible when you think about the last 11 games of the season.
After the bye: what went wrong?
The biggest issue to address this offseason, bar none. Not gonna say much here because I might go on a tangent, but when you have to use like 17 different combinations at guard and tackle, something isn’t right. Sam was getting mauled all year. I’m surprised he survived the whole season without an injury, much less let it shake his confidence in the pocket. He was taking shots like Favre against the Saints week in and week out. Hopefully we’ll have some bubble wrap for him next year (pop pop pop).
Running back play:
In the final 11 weeks of the season, the team rushed for over 100 yards just ONCE. It was 124 yards in a meaningless week 17 garbage game at home vs the Bears who have spared us the burden of being the laughing stock of the NFC North, we should send them a gift basket with Trubisky’s number on it. Until that game, we averaged just over 72 rushing yards a game. A team that has used the rush as it’s bread and butter for the past 10 seasons is not gonna win football games with that weak of a rushing attack. Find me ONE explosive run play that made you stand up this season, I’ll wait. Long story short: between Dalvin, Latavius and Jet, we need to somewhat fill the void left by the absence of AP.
The Blair Miss Project (like that one?) continues. It only lost us a game or two but his play was an absolute mental liability for the team. Hope Seattle treats you well Blair, they owed you one.
Many of these issues, well all of them, were address by GM Rick Spielman in the offseason. Other than a few crappy draft picks, I like the guy. He tries to improve the team in free agency and the draft when possible instead of just sitting on his hands like some GMs, so I’ll give him credit where it’s due.
Once again, we picked up some lineman in the draft and free agency. We signed Reilly Reiff from Detroit and gave him a shit ton of money for the next five years. A hefty investment for a team that’s probably gonna switch him out for Jeremiah Sirles in week 4, but hey Rick, I’m a gambling addict so I respect the tenacity. We also signed Mike Remmers for 5 years but for significantly less money. I don’t know anything about the guy so I’m gonna assume this was mistake. We drafted Pat Elflein with our 3rd round pick. A center from Ohio State, he’s presumably interchangeable with other spots on the line. OSU is a disciplined program that plays a pro style game so we’re likely getting a player that’s ready for the NFL. Finally, Danny Isidora from Miami in the 5th round. Had literally no clue who the guy was, but it was the 5th round and Miami is a cool school so hey, I’ll say I like him. Maybe these four guys will fix the line or at least add some depth. Honestly, Elflein is the only player I see making a significant, positive impact next season.
Weapons for Sam:
After last year’s first round pick Laquon Treadwell was an ABSOLUTE BUST, it was necessary we take a chance at pass catchers (Megaquon’s flop of a season did allow WR Adam Thielen a breakout year which I was stoked on, MN pride baby). First we picked up RB Latavius Murray from the Raiders as a RB. Murray is a solid back and got me some fantasy points last year, but our offense isn’t nearly as high octane as the Raiders. Last season he rushed for 788 yards on 195 attempts (4 yards per carry) while catching 33 passes for 264 yards (8 yards per reception) so he’s somewhat of a diverse back who can block as well. His 12 rushing TDs last season would have been much appreciated over here. I also think he was sitting next to me and Austin at MOA Hooters the other day with a blonde smokeshow, I’m just gonna say that it was him. By the way Latavius, paying with a card then tipping with a $100 bill was a POWER MOVE. We traded up from 48th to grab RB Dalvin Cook from Florida State early in the second round. I’m a fan of Dalvin’s. I watch a shit ton of college ball and I can tell you, this kid can play. Watch his highlight reels. I’m not gonna bring up the stats and get everyone all fired up, but he set some records for yards and points in Tallahassee. He can catch too, probably better than Treadwell. Don’t be surprised if he’s our biggest playmaker next year. Now when Sam’s under pressure he can just dish it to Dalvin and let him Cook the defense (see what I did there?). Our pick ups at Wide Receiver and Tight End weren’t as significant, as Diggs and Thielen have cemented themselves as our 1 and 2. There’s also a chance Laquon can crack the lineup with offseason improvements, we seriously have no idea what happened with him last year. In the draft we got we got Rodney Adams from South Florida in the 5th round and Stacey Coley from Miami in the 7th. I watched some highlights and they look good, as every draftee does on film. I don’t know much else about them except that my man Paul Allen is pulling for Coley to crack the lineup so I’ll back him up on that. Anyone warn all these draft picks from Florida what the weather is like here? Thank God we’re playing indoors. In my opinion, our most intriguing draft pick was TE Bucky Hodges from Virginia Tech. 6 foot 6 frame, 257 pounds and a 4.57 40 time are promising. Austin is super high on this guy, he said the highlights show he’s an athletic freak so maybe this pick will at the very least put pressure on Kyle Rudolph to break some tackles for once. Bucky Hodges is also a great football name so even if he’s just average next season, I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt.
We picked up some defensive players too. The defense was stellar last season so I’m not gonna spend much time on this. We lost veterans Captain Munnerlyn and Chad Greenway in the offseason which will give 2nd and 3rd year players like Jayron Kearse, Mckenzie Alexander and Trae Waynes a chance to take on a more significant role in the defense. I’m just praying one of these young guys absorbs some greatness from Xavier Rhodes, guy’s an elite shutdown corner, maybe the most underrated player at his position in the entire NFL. Do we still have Terrance Newman or did he retire? Guy has to be almost 50. We drafted a few defensive cogs in 2017 like Jaleel Johnson, DT from Iowa in the 4th round. We’ve had luck with Hawkeyes before (Chad Greenway) and that’s really my only take on this guy. We grabbed Ben Gedeon, a LB from Michigan later in that same round. Michigan is a good program so he must be a good player? Idk. Then in the 7th round (how many 7th round picks did we have by the way?), we got Ifeadi Odenigbo (DE, Northwestern), Elijah Lee, (LB, Kansas State) and Jack Tocho, CB, North Carolina State. Hopefully one of these guys will flourish into that 7th round superstar. Watch out, Tom Brady.
So that sums up the offseason. Not super splashy, but it was efficient in covering ground where we needed it most. I would be shocked if the run game and O line got worse than it already was, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they improved but not enough to help the team win a lot of games. I’m gonna grade our offseason since that’s what everyone else does even though they always end up being wrong (cough cough, Bleacher Report). I’ll give Spielman a B- on this one.
What to expect:
I’m an elite football mind and an elite gambling mind (Mystic Lake would say otherwise, Bovada wouldn’t), don’t forget that. So guessing teams records is something I’m usually good at, just not with this team. I’m gonna go through the schedule game by game and forumalte (guess) what our record will be in the 2017 season.
Week 1- Saints: Win (Monday Night Football)
Week 2- @ Steelers: Loss
Week 3- Buccaneers: Loss
Week 4 – Lions: Win
Week 5- Packers: Win
Week 6- @ Bears: Win (Monday Night Football)
Week 7- Ravens: Loss
Week 8- Brown: Win, (London Game)
Week 9- BYE
Week 10- @ Redskins: Win
Week 11- Rams: Win
Week 12- @ Lions: Win
Week 13- @ Falcons: Loss
Week 14- @ Panthers: Loss
Week 15- Bengals: Win
Week 16- @ Packers: Loss (Saturday Night)
Week 17- Bears: Win
My Official Prediction: 10-6, first wildcard spot