"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." The age-old adage has been used countless times in prose and everyday life. The premise is simple: after being tricked once, you should be wary enough to prevent yourself from being tricked by the same thing again.
It's an adage that Vikings fans obviously don't adhere to. We have been fooled by this team too many times to count. Unfortunately, the Week 1 Santa Clara Suckfest against the 49ers was just the latest example. The Vikings showed promise for 60 days only to ruin it in 60 minutes. All the team's sore spots were exposed along with a handful of other spots we didn't even know were sore in the first place. They were dominated by San Francisco throughout and raised a lot of questions about the success of the team going forward.
The good news is that the Vikings are probably going to play better at home against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Even the most cynical fan would have to concede that it can't get worse than it was in Week 1. But just how much better is it going to get? Good enough to, you know, actually avoid an 0-2 start and a divisional home loss?
In order to find out, let's walk through some of the issues that plagued the Vikings last week (as well as a few questions that the Lions are facing) to see if they were an anomaly or a trend. If I think something probably won't happen again, I'll say "fool me once". If I think it will continue going forward, I'll label it with "fool me twice". Easy enough, right? Let's begin.
Offensive line: fool me twice
They're in trouble here. Outside of Matt Kalil and Mike Harris acquitting themselves fairly well (no really, they did--both the film and Pro Football Focus ratings agree), the rest of the line was wretched. Joe Berger proved just how much the team misses John Sullivan. T.J. Clemmings played like a rookie in his first game--because he was. His best initial contact came when he inadvertently sacked Teddy Bridgewater. The biggest surprise was Brandon Fusco, who looked lost at left guard. There were far too many "blocks" like this for someone of his caliber:
He might be able to bounce back, but the line as a whole looks like it's going to be a major issue all year. The reinforcements aren't coming, at least for half the season.
Teddy Bridgewater: fool me once
Make no doubt about it, Teddy had a very poor game Monday. Bridgewater admitted to being "too hyped up" for the first game of the season and his play reflected it. The aforementioned offensive line didn't do him a lot of favors, but even when he did have time it seemed like he was waiting for the perfect passing lane to open up before throwing the ball.
Or he was just missing open receivers altogether. Here's the first offensive play of the game. It certainly looks like he had a clear window to throw to Charles Johnson in the slot or even Mike Wallace coming across the formation. Instead he continued to roll out and force an inaccurate pass to Jarius Wright.
The only unblocked rusher was by design from the play action to the left, so you can't put that one on the offensive line. This one's all Teddy.
I'll take Bridgewater at his word and assume he'll be more accurate and composed in the home opener on Sunday. We shouldn't be concerned about him yet.
Everson Griffen: fool me once
Like Teddy, Griffen might have been too hyped up. We all know he was the main victim of Carlos Hyde's vicious spin move, but he was over-pursuing all night. When the 49ers ran one of their "3 or 4 different plays", Griffen was often far from his designated gap. Even when he made the right read, he whiffed on a bunch of tackles:
Of course Griffen has already kinda-sorta guaranteed a victory on Sunday, so he should be fine too, right? He better be.
Safety: fool me twice
Andrew Sendejo struggled most of the night outside of one big hit and the blocked field goal. Robert Blanton wasn't any better when he filled in for 20 snaps. Most of their woes came from trying to stop the run, which they obviously did not do. You'd think that a big hard-hitter like Antone Exum Jr. could have been the remedy, but it's hard to set foot on the field when Mike Zimmer's size 10 is apparently lodged in your ass. The Vikings desperately need one of these guys to step up. Instead, it's a 3-way tie for last until further notice.
Adrian Peterson: fool me once
I think Ben Goessling's article hit the nail on the head: Peterson simply isn't comfortable when he isn't getting a handoff from a quarterback under center with a full head of steam. Under Norv Turner with Teddy Bridgewater and this offensive line, getting 20-25 carries like that per game is not feasible.
Peterson couldn't find a rhythm all night--he was either dancing before the line or running into them before letting blocks develop. It makes you wonder if a handful of preseason reps would have been beneficial for Peterson to get the timing down, injury risk be damned.
Of course it's hard to find much of a rhythm when you're only carrying the ball ten times. Then again, maybe AP could stay on the field more if his blocking was better than this:
Granted, this may not be the best example of singling out Peterson's blocking. That play was doomed no matter what thanks Fusco and Berger guessing wrong on the blitz up the middle, but AP whiffed just as bad. This wasn't the only time Peterson missed a block when called upon Monday.
Either way, I expect Peterson to have a bigger workload with bigger results on Sunday. He needs to plow right through that hesitation as soon as possible.
Kicking game: fool me twice
Sorry, but I don't see this one getting better anytime soon. These are our guys, for worse and for worser. Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke need to step it up before one or both of them are the main difference between winning and losing. Sadly the yips seem to be both contagious and incurable at this point.
The Vikings' run defense: fool me twice
At least if Chad Greenway gets that many snaps again. San Francisco's play calling had about as much variety as the playbook from Tecmo Bowl and the Vikings still couldn't stop it. The 49ers' big sets forced the Vikings to stay in their base package for most of the game and San Francisco exploited the hell out of it. The linebacking corps should be Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Gerald Hodges (who would be better served playing on the outside instead of the middle). End of story. The longer the Vikings' coaching staff denies this, the more often they're going to see the back of Ameer Abdullah's uniform on Sunday as he scampers past them.
The vaunted defensive line didn't do the defense any favors against the run either. This was supposed to be the strongest unit on the team and they got shoved around for most of the night.
We miss you, Williams Wall.
The Lions secondary: fool me twice
The Lions have plenty of questions to answer themselves after faltering down the stretch against San Diego last week. They squandered a 21-10 halftime lead largely because they couldn't stop the Chargers' aerial attack.
If Bridgewater gets enough time to throw (a ginormous if), he should be able to dissect Detroit's secondary. Philip Rivers went 35/42 for 402 yards and Keenan Allen hauled in fifteen passes for 166 yards. The Lions secondary failed to slow down Allen, Stevie Johnson, and Ladarius Green at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers allowed pass after pass from Rivers over the middle. Thirty of Rivers' 35 completions were between the numbers and traveled less than 20 yards in the air.
The Chargers had a lot of success out of the "11" package (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) last week, which should be familiar personnel for Vikings fans since they have run it so much in the preseason. Here is San Diego's go-ahead touchdown last week. The play action out of the shotgun to Danny Woodhead draws the linebackers up and Rivers is able to find Green over the middle for an easy touchdown.
Plays like this could be easily replicated with Bridgewater, Peterson, and Kyle Rudolph. AP has more catches against Detroit than any other team in his career, so watch for that as well.
The demise of the Lions' run defense: fool me once
They won't be as great as they were with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but they're still fine. New edition Haloti Ngata is still a force to be reckoned with and Ezekiel Ansah can blow up plays in the backfield like this:
Detroit held Melvin Gordon and Woodhead to a respectable 3.5 yards per carry last week. Their run defense isn't the problem.
Calvin Johnson isn't the weapon he used to be: fool me once
Megatron had a very quiet day in San Diego, hauling in only two receptions for 39 yards. San Diego had bracket coverage on Johnson most of the day regardless of where he lined up. Of course bracket coverage on an elite wide receiver requires quick and precise reads by a safety along with strong initial coverage by the corner. I can see Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith pulling this off. Captain Munnerlyn and Sendejo? I have my doubts.
It will be interesting to see how the Vikings choose to cover Johnson, which could in turn determine the success of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. No matter how Minnesota defends Megatron, I would expect Matthew Stafford to find him more than he did last week.
No matter how bad it looked in Week 1, remember that the first game isn't always a great barometer for future successes or failures. Mark Craig recalled the 2001 Panthers and 2003 Patriots to illustrate that all is not how it seems after the first game. Even last year's Super Bowl champion Pats started with a clunker on the road that raised all sorts of red flags. And then they summarily destroyed the Vikings at TCF the following week.
I think the Lions will come ready to play with a team that's still very talented and desperate to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start. But the Vikings know that they are much better than what we saw in San Francisco, and I think they'll show it at home on Sunday. I will be there in person to watch the team we thought we had before Monday.
Vikings 27, Lions 24
(And if I'm wrong, shame on all of us for getting fooled into thinking this year would be different.)
And now for the rest of my Week 2 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
CHIEFS over Broncos
2015 Peyton Manning looks way too much like 2010 Brett Favre. Maybe Manning's fingers are numb because the giant fork in his back is pinching a nerve.
GIANTS over Falcons
I think New York pulls this out in a close one and wins by the number of fingers remaining on the right hand of Jason Pierre-Paul. So anywhere from one to four.
Patriots over BILLS
Giving Bill Belichick three extra days to
spy on prepare for a first year starting quarterback should be enough to give New England the win.
Cardinals over BEARS
Because Cutler gonna Cutler.
Chargers over BENGALS
Cincinnati isn't going to be ready for a tough team like San Diego. They need to quit scheduling cupcakes like Oakland to start the season.
Titans over BROWNS
How could I go against the first place Titans and surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Marcus Mariota? (I love Week 1 hyperbole.)
Rams over REDSKINS
Don't worry, Washington. You'll probably be favored in that Week 7 game against the Bucs. The rest of the season? Not so much. But hey, this week you get the Gratuitous Picture of the Week!
SAINTS over Buccaneers
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, 1-0 on the season after the Packers beat the Bears like they always do. There's no so such thing as a sure bet in the NFL, but betting against Lovie Smith with a Leslie Frazier defense on the road is pretty damn close.
STEELERS over 49ers
Not every team is going to make San Francisco look that good.
Texans over PANTHERS
STOP! MALLETT TIME! Mostly I'm making this pick because I'm so upset with the fantasy performance of Greg Olsen last week. YOU'RE THE ONLY RELIABLE TARGET CAM NEWTON HAS! HOW DID YOU ONLY GET 11 YARDS?!
Ravens over RAIDERS
I actually picked Oakland to win last week. Like I said: fool me once...
Dolphins over JAGUARS
Watching Gus Bradley, formerly a coach for my beloved North Dakota State Bison, toil in Jacksonville must be what it feels like when the coach sticks your kid in right field in Little League. You're always going to root for him but you're mostly just sad about the whole situation.
EAGLES over Cowboys
Dallas hasn't lost a regular season road game since December 9, 2013, but this is another fantasy-anger-related pick. Drafting Dez Bryant in both leagues turned out just super.
PACKERS over Seahawks
Get ready for an onslaught of "Super Bowl Hangover" articles! Also, I wish I knew 101% less than I do about Russell Wilson's personal life.
COLTS over Jets
If Indy loses this one Andrew Luck should be forced to wear his out of control beard at all times.
Last week: 8-8
Season so far: 8-8