When Mike Zimmer was hired as the ninth coach in the history of the Minnesota Vikings, he brought with him a reputation for fixing defenses and getting players to play up to their potential. Vikings fans expected to see a lot of changes.
They just might not have expected to see them this quickly.
The Vikings' defense held the St. Louis Rams to 318 yards on Sunday, and I say "held" because the Rams racked up quite a few yards after the game had long been decided. They collected five sacks. They intercepted two passes, including a big 81-yard pick-six from Harrison Smith. They generally made life miserable for the St. Louis offense, as the Rams had just 72 yards rushing at a 3.3 yards/carry clip and went just 4/14 on third downs.
And yes, I realize that this was a St. Louis offense that a) started their second-string quarterback, Shaun Hill, and b) went to their third-string quarterback, Austin Davis, to start the second half. How many second-string quarterbacks have we seen come in and light up the Vikings' defense like a Christmas tree over the years?
I don't think that's going to happen with a Mike Zimmer defense.
The Vikings' offense, for the most part, was fairly pedestrian on the day. Sure, there was the big 67-yard touchdown run for Cordarrelle Patterson (and, man, I wish that I had come up with "Flash Dance" before NFL.com did), but up until Josh Robinson turned things around with an interception of Hill near the end of the first half, the offense was busy shooting itself in the foot with penalties, bad snaps, and other weirdness.
Matt Cassel put in a solid performance, completing 17-of-25 passes for 170 yards and two scores. Adrian Peterson had his lowest rushing output in a season opener in his career, gaining just 75 yards on 21 carries. Patterson was the star on offense, actually topping the 100-yard rushing mark (102 on just three carries), and throwing in three catches for 26 yards. Greg Jennings led the Vikings in receiving with six catches for 58 yards and a score, and Kyle Rudolph was held to just two catches, though one resulted in a touchdown. And for all the Rams' third down woes, the Vikings only managed to convert three of their eleven third down opportunities. The Vikings didn't even win the time of possession battle. Then again, this team isn't going to see a lot of opponents with better front sevens on defense than this St. Louis Rams team has.
But today was all about the defense for Minnesota. Any time you hold an NFL team to six points, it's an impressive performance. It was the first time the Vikings had held a team without a touchdown since a 23-6 victory over the Houston Texans late in the 2012 season. . .which, coincidentally, was the last time they had won on the road prior to today's victory.
Honestly, after years of the "bend but don't break but eventually wind up exploding like a bad batch from Walter White's laboratory" philosophy of defense, what we saw from the Vikings' defense today was tremendous. There were defensive backs in position to make plays on receivers or balls in the air. There were guys blitzing from all over the place. . .there were even defensive backs coming in on blitzes. (Smith had a sack to go along with his interception.) This is the sort of defense that Minnesota Vikings fans have wanted to see for a long time.
Now, is this sort of thing going to be sustainable against the aerial attacks that this team is going to see over the next four weeks? A stretch that will see them take on the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Green Bay Packers? It might be. . .then again, it might not be. That I don't know.
But what I do know, for now, is that the Minnesota Vikings are 1-0, and they're 1-0 on the back of a defense that fans of this team haven't seen the likes of in a long, long time. And I like it. . .and I bet you like it, too.
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