Well that was an emotional... something, huh? Even though we had a handful of W's last year, I can still say I'd almost forgot what a meaningful win felt like. Even more impressively, we had a solid TEAM win- while Cordarrelle Patterson certainly deserved the game ball IMO, it wouldn't be by the huge margin we're used to seeing a single superstar carry us. When your offense isn't actually running through AD, but instead complimenting him/ working with what his presence gives you, you've really got something special there.
Oh, before I continue- a shout out to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department, who is graciously allowing me to post this from their holding cells. Apparently, streaking naked down the streets in celebration is "frowned upon". Fun-suckers.
As I was saying, from defense, to offense, to special teams- all phases of this team had huge moments and contributed to the win. The defense was stifling, the special teams units were on point, and while the offense seemed prone to the Ram's vicious pass rush at first, it eventually found its groove and played a solid, clean, and efficient game. And while a few of the play calls offensively left me somewhat unhappy, it's still now refreshingly clear that the old regime of coaches is long gone, and guys that actually understand a thing or two about footballing are in charge.
BUT. Are we not Vikings fans? Let's not let optimism get its stinky, clammy, and very unfamiliar claws into us. For all that went right, there is blame to go around. But nobody likes a debby downer, so as I have done in the past I will use a technique called the ‘compliment sandwich'. It's a highly passive-aggressive way to tell someone who sucks that they suck and why they suck (hey, passive-aggressive! Midwesterners should love this!) by first saying something nice, then saying why they suck, then finishing with saying something nice about them. For example: "Arif is great at football analysis. But he's such a rotten human being, seeing as how he wants to exterminate the beautiful big cats on our planet. That said, his podcasts aren't the worst possible thing to listen to." See? I pointed out how he's a jerk, but in a nice way! So, everyone got it? Good. Let's get started.
Adrian Peterson: The Good
Obviously, AD had a bit of a quieter day than what we're used to, but he was still a potent and effective piece to our offense. Did we revolve around him? That's a tough question, but there is still argument to be made that the answer is "yes". While Flash stole the show, particularly with an insane run that practically went through all of St. Louis on his way to the end zone, there's still the fact that the Rams D seemed intent on two things: 1, selling out on the pass rush, and 2, containing the run. AD's presence ultimately did two things: first, with several decent carries, he forced St. Louis to begin pulling back the blitz a bit, as he was punishing them with 6, 7 yard runs at times for doing so. And second, as we particularly saw in the second half of the game, the focus on him created in the first half opened up the mid-level passing game, and Cassel was more than happy to take advantage. Remember, AD's presence impacting our offense isn't always going to be seen in his stat line alone- it's also about forcing the opposing D to play a certain way.
Peterson still, however, did not burst off any big gains (for AD anyways); and the problem isn't that St. Louis' highly respectable line was always preventing it, but that he wasn't always making the right decisions. There were several instances that he missed a clear lane or hole that he could have popped through for G-d only knows how many more yards. It wasn't a constant problem, and it's not that St. Louis didn't simply have some great plays against him, but it was noticeable and did hold his overall production back some.
But, The Good Again
I mentioned this on Twitter earlier, but it seems that the past few seasons this has been a ‘problem' for Peterson in his first few games. Is it because he just hasn't played meaningfully in a preseason game since the Carter administration? Not just possibly, the answer is ‘probably'. But that's still OK, because a.) Peterson always ends up shaking that off and having a fine, nay, elite season regardless, and b.) it's still far preferable to have Peterson have his first 1-3 games not ‘at full form' than it is to put unnecessary wear and tear on him and worse, risk injury. Peterson's raw physical talent is such that mental mistakes such as what we saw will merely limit him to an upper-tier RB status, rather than ‘the best in the league'. And as we saw today, with an offense that can still do massive damage without him needing to do 100% of the work, it's even less of a problem.
Our Offensive Line, The Good
Ooof, I'm not going to lie- writing two good things about this group as a whole will be tricky, and I might have to resort to a stretch here and there. But there were several big plays in which solid performances from the group were a big contribution, particularly when Matt Cassel lobbed a beautiful throw over to Greg Jennings for the TD. On that play, Matt Kalil had a rookie season performance, and when he does that he's almost unbeatable.
Yeah, this sadly is the easy part to write. There were several calls for Bridgewater throughout the first half, which I vehemently rejected for two reasons: a.) Cassel was by and far not fully to blame for his blunders, as quarterbacking is hard when 2-3 defenders are within two inches of you the second the ball is snapped, and b.) there is no way I wanted a rookie QB- any rookie QB- behind that line in the first half. Yes, St. Louis' defensive pass rush is top-tier in the league, potentially behind only Houston. But not only was the left side of the line an outright sieve for far too many plays, but even the normally top-tier John Sullivan botched a snap badly. (And yes, if the QB is not ready for the snap, it's 90% of the time on the center for snapping it.) While St. Louis may be the stiffest test this unit will face all year, their performance is still downright inexcusable. And if this is a unit who would be expected to bolster us through a playoff run, when you're going to be going against the best of the best (in theory), it's just not one I'd trust right now.
But, The Good Again
It should, to be fair, be re-iterated that the St. Louis pass rush is nothing to just gloss over. And their plan right off the bat was clearly to tee off the QB and put as much pressure as possible on him. Other teams with lesser pass rushing units may not be able to do the same, at least not as effectively. Hopefully this can boil down to a good learning experience for the group, giving them ample things to work on and improve as the season goes on. As the now old-saying goes, "we'll look at the tape, make some adjustments".
The Defense, As A Whole- The Good
DEAR G-D DID YOU SEE THAT? THEY WERE TACKLING- LIKE, WITH JUST ONE GUY!- AND INTERCEPTING AND SACKING AND WHOA! Seriously, Mike Zimmer's decision to focus on fundamentals (again, like not needing 10-11 guys to tackle just one) has immediately paid dividends. Perhaps most notable, two of last season's whipping boys- Chad Greenway and Josh Robinson- had solid games, Robinson particularly. (You might not be able to make the club in a tub, but an interception- and a freakin' gorgeous one, I might add- will do the trick.) Everson Griffin and Brian Robison, with the other DEs rotating in, seem like they'll do just fine without Jared Allen, and dear lord that interior line was a sight to behold. This defense is absolutely night-and-day from 2013's, and frankly with less roster turnover than one would have initially figured necessary.
It's not so much ‘the bad' as just ‘but'. Look, we all knew Shaun Hill would be one of the lesser tests for us quarterbacking-wise this season, but we weren't even forced to face him the entire game. It's a little tough to go totally overboard on this defense when half the game was spent against essentially a third-string QB. Is this defense as legit as we think we saw today? We simply don't know right now. Obviously, tougher tests await us next week and the week after; actually, about two of the toughest tests the league has to offer us. We'll know more then.
But, The Good Again
Second and third string QBs or not, this team did- aside from two FGs- shut down that offense. Receivers couldn't catch a break, the O-line could not stop our D-line from spending half the game in their backfield, the LBs prevented any big runs from breaking off, and by G-d was the play calling refreshingly aggressive. Oh, and MAN is it nice to have Harrison Smith back. He bolted out in front of the pass he picked off and then straight down to the end zone like a bat outta hell. If he stays healthy, he's going to be a nightmare for every QB we face this season.
The Good- Offensive Play Calling
Our plan of attack seemed as smart as could be against what the Rams threw at us, and NORV! seemed to be fully aware that it would start with St. Louis selling out on the pass rush. We forced AD down their throats until they had no choice but to begin backing off, and then quick and steady passes began to soar out as soon as Cassel had a second to breath. It seemed like we had a legitimate plan on how we were going to win this game, and it wasn't too fancy or gimmicky for our own good, either.
The first run on third-and-long caused some head scratching and moaning, but Arif on Twitter did point out that the goal at that point was to simply improve field goal positioning. OK, I'm fine with that. But there were two other instances on third-and-long where we either ran or passed simply far too short of the first down marker, and well outside of field goal range. Perhaps it was simply overly-conservative play calling revolving around a QB who can be inconsistent, but it had the vague, musty odor of Bill Musgrave's dreaded post-it note playbook.
But, The Good Again
I feel perhaps I'm nitpicking at bit here, seeing as how really, the offensive game plan was again very solid overall. Look, when you smoke a team 34-6, you did SOMETHING right. Even taking out Patterson's insane run, that's still a 27-6 blowout. It seems like Norv Turner is acutely aware of what he has in both Cassel as well as the offensive weapons around him, and knows exactly how to maximize production out of them. The slow-and-steady approach of putting your foot on your opponent's throat and simply crushing further and further as the game goes on is nothing to sneeze at.
So there you have it. Two concerns that really shouldn't matter yet (AD's vision and the question of whether this D is truly legit), one that's a bit of a nitpick (Norv's playcalling), and one rather glaring issue (the O-line). Will this team continue its surge against the Patriots next week? We threw a few power rankings into disarray this week, but if we beat Tom Brady in our home opener the whole NFL watching world might explode. The good news is this- while I might have failed in offering a fully detailed prediction this week (although I did totally call the win on Twitter, @KJSegall, ya know, if you wanna follow for a good time), I will have one ready come next Saturday- so you'll know exactly how to place your life savings in Vegas just in time!
SKOL MINNESOTA F****** VIKINGS, SEASON OPENER WIN ON THE ROAD! WHOOOOOOOOO!!!!!