It's time for another visit from Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, ladies and gentlemen, as he's got another GMC Playbook Question of the Week for us.
When you’re Professional Grade, you look to stay ahead of others in your field. Think about what defines your team. Maybe it’s a tough defense. Or a commitment to the ground game. What team in the league is most similar to yours in playing style or emphasis? What can your team learn from them that will help you reach the next level?
Well, I think that when you look at this Minnesota Vikings team, the one thing that defines them is their defense. The team is getting great pressure up front, and they're getting it from a lot of different players, such as Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd (when he's healthy), Anthony Barr, and even reserve defensive tackle Tom Johnson. The secondary has also made a huge improvement over last year, with players like Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson showing marked improvement and Harrison Smith making his mark as one of the NFL's premier safeties.
They're also a team that's struggling a little bit on offense, as they have a young quarterback that's dealing with inconsistency but has also shown the propensity to be the centerpiece of a franchise at times. They're young at other key positions on offense as well, and their offensive line has been an issue all season long.
So, which team in the National Football League reminds me the most of the Vikings when I see them? Well, there's one in particular, and the connection is obvious. That team is the Cincinnati Bengals.
Well, more accurately, it would be last season's Cincinnati Bengals. The one that still had Mike Zimmer running the defense.
Like the Vikings (sans Adrian Peterson, obviously) are very young at the skill positions. Andy Dalton has had plenty of ups and downs, but has still managed to lead the Bengals to the post-season every year he's been a starter. The Bengals were also very young at the skill positions last year (and still are, for the most part), with players like Giovanni Bernard, Tyler Eifert, Mohammed Sanu, and the ridiculously talented A.J. Green. The Vikings have a similar look this season, building around players like Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, and the ridiculously talented (but way, way, way, way more inconsistent) Cordarrelle Patterson.
But the step forward that the Vikings' defense has taken this season is what reminds me the most of the Bengals' teams of the past couple of seasons. The Bengals, at least last season, were very good at getting pressure from all over the place, with a group of exotic blitzes that could rattle opposing quarterbacks. The Bengals matched their pass rush with outstanding secondary play, and used that to become a top 5 NFL defense in terms of scoring and yardage.
This year's Bengals' defense has dropped off significantly, so I suppose the lesson here is obvious. Mike Zimmer is a defensive genius and knows how to get the best out of his players. He doesn't have everything he wants on that side of the ball yet, I don't think, but I have no doubt that he's working towards getting it, and that Rick Spielman will do what he can to get it. The Bengals have put together three consecutive playoff seasons, and hopefully the Vikings will be able to emulate that success as well as they've emulated Cincinnati's recent defensive prowess. If the team's development of Bridgewater goes better than the Bengals' development of Dalton has thus far, the playoffs could wind up being more of a given than a goal for this team under Mike Zimmer's leadership.