Hi kids, how have you been? Thanks to Chris and Eric for picking up my slack while I was out; I'm glad to be back. As this season winds to a close, and the Vikings have been officially eliminated from the playoff chase, it was interesting to me to see how this team would respond. New coach, a lot of young players, and not a lot of success could be a recipe for one of two directions:
1) Fold the tents and start making tee times
2) Man up and play hard until the final whistle, while maybe upsetting some playoff plans for opponents.
Over the last couple of seasons, I would have bet option one, and I would have made more money than I would have lost...if, you know, I gambled and stuff. But even thought the Vikings choked away a game they should have won, they put forth an effort I wasn't sure they were capable of putting forth. I mean, they got steamrolled at home by Detroit earlier in the season, and the Lions are neck and neck with the Packers for the division title. It just felt like the Vikes might get run out of Ford Field.
Only they didn't, and this is a game that, at the end of the year, you look back on and go 'if only'.
If only. As disappointing as some of these losses have been in 2014, I think this team is moving in the right direction, pretty fast, and come 2015, will be a force to be reckoned with. They still need some help at some spots, the stone has been rolled away and we've been allowed to look into the future, and I like what I see. At least I think so. Well, I hope so.
Isn't that right, Mr. Mumford...and your sons?
Roll away your stone, I'll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don't leave me alone at this time
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside
'Cause you told me that I would find a hole
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal
And all the while my character it steals
Darkness is a harsh term don't you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Your SMR that's gonna go hard until the final whistle follows.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Xavier Rhodes, CB: Think about how far Rhodes has come since his rookie season last year. He barely saw the field last season until injuries forced the coaching staff to play him, then he got hurt and missed the last few weeks. Fast forward to this past Monday, when head coach Mike Zimmer told him he would match up Rhodes one on one with Calvin Johnson. The result? Megatron had four catches for 53 yards, with a long of 23. And on that 23 yard grab, it looked like Rhodes was not the guy responsible for covering him. Richard Sherman gets a lot of press for being how good he is, and it's well deserved, but Rhodes has become the best cornerback no one has ever heard of in the NFL, and he is a true shutdown corner.
Charles Johnson, WR: Johnson has 175 yards receiving in his last two games, and it appears that the early drops that were dragging his game down have almost disappeared. If you thought Rhodes' career has progressed rapidly since last year, think about Johnson and marvel. He was a 7th round draft pick by Green Bay and made their practice squad. The Browns signed him off the Packers practice squad last October, cut him, and then re-signed him to their practice squad. The Vikings signed him from Cleveland in September, and all he has done since then is supplant Cordarrelle Patterson and become the Vikings number one receiving threat. He had a big 40 yard catch and run in the first half that led to the Vikings second touchdown, and has become Teddy Bridgewater's number one option.
Kyle Rudolph, TE: The game Rudolph had against the Lions on Sunday (7 catches, 69 yards) was the prototypical game I expected from him in the Norv Turner offense. Get open in the middle of the field, and 10-20 yards later, the Vikings are moving the chains and driving down the field.
Greg Jennings, WR: Jennings took some heat earlier in the season when fans thought he wasn't putting forth 100% effort all the time. Yeah, that seems forgotten now, especially after this catch in the first half:
Like, seriously? He also had an 8 yard TD on a very nice play design that saw him wide open for an easy score. A lot of people were ready to part ways with Jennings at the end of this season, but a strong late season surge makes me think that idea is kind of silly now.
A mostly patchwork offensive line: Earlier this season a healthy Vikings offensive line, considered to be one of the best in the NFL at the time, got steamrolled by the Lions to the tune of eight sacks, and almost got Teddy Bridgewater killed. Sunday, with a 60% turnover on that line, they did an okay job keeping Bridgewater upright. Yes, he was sacked four times, but two of those were TB holding on to the ball too long, and for the most part, he had a clean pocket to set up in. It was a solid effort against one of the best lines in the NFL.
The Vikings running game: With Jerick McKinnon sidelined for the year, the Vikings running game is absolutely not a threat to anyone, at anytime, to do pretty much anything. Other than the obligatory three or four yard carry, the Vikings are going to struggle to run the ball, other than the occasional Bridgewater scramble. Take his runs out of the equation, the Vikings ran the ball 18 times for 46 yards. If we round it up from 2.5, we get three yards a carry. Somewhere, Leroy Hoard smiles. And gets you three yards. But not seven.
Blair Walsh, K: Over his last six field goal attempts, Walsh has missed five, including two misses and a block against the Lions. For a guy that was as accurate as a military grade GPS last year, right now he couldn't hit sand if he landed in the Sahara. It's still way too early to say Walsh is an area of concern, but when Mr. Automatic no longer is, it's mildly upsetting.
Buy: Matt Asiata as a pass catcher. As a runner, Asiata doesn't really excite me, but get him in the flat on a dump off pass, and he can make some money for the Vikings. He's done some damage as a pass catcher in 2014 (32 catches, 226 yards entering Sunday) and had another 7 grabs for 50 yards against Detroit.
Sell: Whatever the hell Asiata was thinking on that last drive. So here's the deal--the Vikings have 45 seconds to go about 50 yards to try and let Blair Walsh redeem himself, and the Vikes set up a nice screen to Asiata. He could have turned to the outside, gotten about 7 or 8 yards, and gotten out of bounds. Instead, he cut upfield, and it looked like he had a lot of open field in front of him. But, instead of what might have been a 15 or 20 yard gain...Asiata dropped to the ground, a yard short of the first down marker. The Vikings had to spike the ball, lost about seven or eight seconds, and I still have no idea what in the world Matt Asiata was thinking with that play.
Buy: Teddy Bridgewater as a fourth quarter magician. He already has several fourth quarter comebacks in his short career, and when it's all said and done I think he'll have more than just about anyone else in the NFL. He's not going to do it every time, but yeah, if the game is on the line, I'll take Bridgewater and I'll like my chances.
Sell: Teddy Bridgewater as a fourth quarter magician on Sunday. As excited as I am with the future moving forward with Teddy at the helm...Sunday's final drive was not good. After a terrible punt by Detroit that gave the Vikes decent field position (30 yard line) and a reasonable chance to win the game, everything unraveled. Bridgewater missed a WIDE open Jarius Wright on first down, which would have gone for about a 15 yard gain, and the route would have taken Wright out of bounds. The second down play was the Great Asiata Brain Fart, and the Vikings had to spike the ball on third down. Good news: On fourth down, Teddy hit Rudolph for a quick completion to get the first down. Bad news: It was in the middle of the field, the Vikings wasted 13 seconds lining up to spike the ball, and the game was over. It was a terrible drive
Buy: Bridgewater is a good passing quarterback. He's now had two straight 300 yard passing games, something I'm sure we haven't seen since Brett Favre in 2009, but I'm not going to bother to look it up. He has improved substantially since early this season--he sees the field better, is moving through his progressions faster, and consistently makes the right choice and gets his receiver a catchable ball. His deep ball has also gotten a lot better in recent weeks, and like Mike Zimmer said earlier, this is now his team.
Sell: The Bridgewater picks. Still, he's a rookie, and threw two bad picks today. The margin for error for this team is razor thin, and when you gift Detroit two turnovers, you're going to have a hard time winning...even if you already have a 14-0 lead. He also got bailed out by his receivers on about four or five high throws today, and one high throw to Wright we already talked about might have been the difference in the game. His game still isn't as consistent as it needs to be, but it's getting there.
Buy: There is enough talent on the Vikings to win a lot of games in the NFL. Minnesota has a lot of good young talent on the roster, on both sides of the ball. On offense, they seem to have FINALLY filled the black hole that is the QB position. Add in guys like Charles Johnson, Jerick McKinnon, Kyle Rudolph, and Cordarrelle Patterson (not giving up on him), and you like what the future holds in terms of a high powered offense, as long as they can fix the offensive line. On defense, guys like Shariff Floyd, Harrison Smith, Gerald Hodges, Anthony Barr, and Xavier Rhodes give the Vikings a really solid nucleus of talent, and it's gelled under the leadership of Mike Zimmer. This is going to be a really good team in the coming years, and they're young enough that they can be competitive for the long term.
Sell: They know how to win. But they haven't learned how to consistently win yet. It's getting there, and they're getting close, but good teams close out games like this. Good teams that know how to win don't go up 14-0 on the road and then let the crowd and the home team back into it with two bad interceptions. But they've also won a couple games (Tampa Bay, Washington) that in recent years they wouldn't have, and this thing takes some time. They also need to start winning on the road (2-5) and in the division (0-5), which is what ultimately killed their playoff chances this season.
Don Glover Quote Of The Week:
Dad: What did that Assinotter (Asiata) guy do that for? He just cost us the game.
Me: What about those missed field goals?
Dad: Yeah, that too. But what the hell was Assinotter thinking? Why didn't he go out of bounds?
Me: As-EE-Ott-Ah. Matt Asiata.
Dad: That's what I said. Assinotter.