[Scene: Mankato, Minnesota. Night. Late August. Haunting music plays as the camera slowly pans through the darkened dorms to an overhead shot of MIKE ZIMMER. He is asleep in his room at Vikings Training Camp, but furiously tossing back and forth in the throes of an obviously disturbing nightmare. He finally jolts awake, breathing heavily and sweating profusely.]
ZIMMER: Oh thank God. It was just a dream. But...it seemed so REAL.
[ZIMMER picks up his phone and calls RICK SPIELMAN.]
SPIELMAN (groggy, annoyed): Mike, what is it? It’s 3:30 in the morning.
ZIMMER: I...I saw something, Rick. Everyone. The entire team. It was terrible.
SPIELMAN: What on Earth are you talking about Mike?
ZIMMER: Almost all of our key players. Just gone. There was barely anyone left. Teddy, Adrian, Sharrif...the entire offensive line...they had all been taken out one by one. I was on the sideline coaching but I barely recognized anyone out there on the field. You were there, but you were on the phone with Jacksonville trying to sign their practice squad players for some reason.
SPIELMAN: C’mon, Mike. It was obviously just a bad dream. We’re getting ready for a very promising season. Our team is as deep as it’s ever been. I really think we have a shot at going all the way with you at the helm of this roster. And obviously I’d never be trying to sign anyone from Jacksonville, let alone a practice squad guy. Get some rest, Mike.
ZIMMER: Yeah I guess you’re right. Sorry. It...it just felt more like a vision than a dream. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
[Smash cut to practice the next day. A sullen SPIELMAN walks up to ZIMMER on the sidelines.]
ZIMMER: Any word on Mike Harris? Thought he was supposed to be practicing soon but I don’t see him.
SPIELMAN: Yeah, bad news about Harris. He was in the shower last night and the curtain rod fell down on his head and gave him a serious concussion. Then he bashed his head on the corner of the sink as he was falling. It doesn’t look good. The doctors are saying he might not play this year.
[ZIMMER stares at SPIELMAN as a look of fear washes over his face.]
SPIELMAN: What? I know Harris was solid last year but we have plenty of options to replace him. We’ll be fine.
ZIMMER: No, it’s not that. Harris...he was the first guy to go in my dream last night. I SAW the curtain rod hit him.
SPIELMAN: Get out of here.
ZIMMER: I swear! And after that I saw Teddy—
SPIELMAN: Stop it, Mike. Teddy’s right there, looking better than he ever has. We’re fine.
[Scene: Vikings practice facility, three weeks later. The team is running through a normal practice, but the camera pans away to an empty part of the field and zooms in. A seam in the turf inexplicably rips open. Moments later, the team moves toward that part of the field to run a play. TEDDY BRIDGEWATER drops back to pass. His cleat gets stuck in the hole, his knee twists in excruciating fashion, and he crumples to the ground in a heap.]
ZIMMER: NO! THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!
[SPIELMAN looks on, mouth agape. He is beginning to believe in the premonition.]
SPIELMAN: This...this can’t be true. Not now. Not Teddy.
[The next several scenes serve as a montage showing scores of horrific, fluky injuries that methodically pick off Vikings players.]
[ADRIAN PETERSON ruins his ankle by slipping on the spill from a faulty sewage pipe that burst because it was clogged with CLAY MATTHEWS’ hair in the visitor’s locker room shower.]
[MATT KALIL ironically gets his shoelace caught in a faulty subway turnstile, ripping his hip out of socket.]
[ANDRE SMITH suffers a paralyzing stroke during a game but nobody helps him because they thought he was doing the Mannequin Challenge the whole time.]
[SHARRIF FLOYD nearly falls off his roof because the shingles suddenly gave way while he was cleaning his gutters. FLOYD catches the ledge as he’s falling, but his short arms fail him and he falls anyway, destroying his knee.]
[JAKE LONG gets simultaneously hit in the both knees by two runaway carts going in opposite directions while golfing on his off day.]
[BLAIR WALSH is practicing extra points at Winter Park. But after his eighth consecutive kick bounces off the upright, a screw flies loose and the uprights collapse directly on WALSH.]
[Final scene: Week 17. The Vikings are one minute away from getting swept by the Bears. A sullen, half-interested US Bank Stadium crowd watches another offensive lineman carted off. A somber PAUL ALLEN can be heard saying that this is the 14th Vikings tackle to be injured in the 2016 season.]
SPIELMAN: I can’t believe this. What a mess. Your vision in August was real. Nothing will ever be the same.
ZIMMER: Yeah I can’t believe it either. We’ll just have to move on and hope this doesn’t happen again next year. At least the two of us made it to the end of the season in one piece, right?
SPIELMAN: I guess so. There’s always next year!
[SPIELMAN gives ZIMMER a reassuring pat on the back as the camera zooms out toward the top of US Bank Stadium. The haunting music from the opening scene builds again. The camera turns around to focus on one large EFTE ceiling panel. The panel suddenly loosens and starts hurtling toward the field below, directly above ZIMMER and SPIELMAN. Before the panel lands, the screen goes black and the credits roll.]
The 2016 season for the Minnesota Vikings has felt just like a movie from the Final Destination franchise. The main characters keep dropping like flies and there’s seemingly nothing they can do about it. And with a team that was probably overachieving in the first place, things seem like they’ll only be getting worse as each week brings another wave of injuries.
With injuries already having taken most of the offense out, especially along the line, it appears that it’s the defense's turn now. No less than five key defensive players were either limited or didn’t practice on Wednesday. (The good news: everyone but Floyd was practicing on Thursday.) The Vikings are in desperate need of a break to stop their four-game losing streak, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from the injury report.
Reprieve probably isn’t going to come from the running game either. The Vikings rushing attack remains historically abysmal, running with almost no consistency from the blockers or runners. The lack of execution is maddening.
From Joe Berger’s missed block to Jerick McKinnon’s indecisiveness, you can see the squandered opportunities that plague the run game far too often. I admire Pat Shurmur attempting everything he can think of with the occasional Wildcat run and jet sweep, but those types of misdirection aren’t sustainable.
Play action is a slightly more conventional method of misdirection, but it’s hard to make opponents bite on the run when they all know you can’t run. It also doesn’t help when you barely try to sell the damn play action in the first place.
To be honest, I don’t see how conventional methods are going to consistently work for this Vikings offense, especially with Jake Long being the latest Final Destination victim. What did work well against Washington last week was the no huddle. Hopefully Shurmur will implement it more this week as the Vikings host the Arizona Cardinals. If opposing defenses can get set and assess how the offense is lined up, the Vikings are consistently losing the majority of the important battles. Keeping the defense off balance with pace might be Minnesota’s only chance to consistently move the ball. I doubt that Stefon Diggs would have been this open late in the first half if the offense had given the Redskins time.
Diggs has been making catches at an incredible rate lately, but that will be tough on Sunday. With the likes of Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, and D.J. Swearinger roaming the defensive backfield, yards through the air usually don’t come easy against the Cardinals. And if nobody can get open, I’m seriously afraid to think of what Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell might do against T.J. Clemmings and whoever else lines up in the latest offensive line reshuffling.
Vikings fans should be afraid of two crucial cogs of Arizona’s offense as well: Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. Fitzgerald, Minnesota’s prodigal son, is second only to Antonio Brown in receptions in his 13th NFL season. Fitz has a banged up knee, but as long as he’s on the field Carson Palmer will look for him early and often. Fitzgerald is averaging a whopping 11 targets per game.
If you play fantasy football, you know exactly how well David Johnson is doing this season. He has been kept relatively quiet the past two weeks but is still 2nd in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with ten total touchdowns. Johnson has been targeted a ton in the passing game, catching 40 passes for 453 yards. With how the Vikings defense has been tackling in open space in the past month, Johnson could be poised for a huge game on Sunday.
With this much talent on both sides of the ball, it’s easy to see why tons of people picked the Cardinals to go to the Super Bowl before the season. So why are they only .500 just past the halfway point of the season?
The answer is two-fold: Carson Palmer’s play has declined significantly compared to his amazing 2015 season and the offensive line is really struggling to protect him. Of course the two are related—it’s hard to play quarterback at an elite level when you’re getting sacked three times a game like Palmer is. The the injury bug has hit the Cardinals’ line as well. Jared Veldheer and Evan Mathis are both on IR. Arizona actually ranks behind Minnesota in adjusted sack rate; they can look just as incompetent at times.
The Vikings pass rush created a little more pressure last week in Washington, but they need to create lots more to get back in the win column. It would be great to hear the announcers say the names of Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, and Anthony Barr a lot more often on Sunday. We keep waiting for the “splash” plays that made this defense so explosive through the first five weeks—perhaps they’ll jump back into the pool against a shaky Cardinals line.
The shaky Cardinals line helped lead to a shaky 1-3 start; they have been playing better football since. But don’t completely rule out the “2010 Vikings” potential for Arizona just yet. (You get the reference, right? A team that almost made the Super Bowl the previous year, their aging quarterback returns for one last run, only to have the wheels completely fall off? OK good.) They barely squeaked by an awful 49ers team at home last week. Since opening the season against the Patriots, the Cardinals have played exactly one team that’s currently .500 or better. Their offense heavily relies on a quarterback and wide receiver tandem that is a combined 70 years old. If death from Final Destination has already claimed the Vikings season, the Cardinals may not be far behind on the hit list.
That said, I still can’t bring myself to pick the Vikings in this one. The Cardinals simply have more talent and are playing better football. I have no idea how the Vikings are going to run or block anyone, and now I’m not even sure how the defense is going to perform. The Cardinals definitely have their flaws but the Vikings’ deficiencies are too hard to ignore.
In each Final Destination movie there’s usually a character that makes it to the end of the movie by getting “missed” by death. Maybe this will finally be the week where we avoid that feeling of doom for the 2016 season.
But c’mon. We’re Vikings fans. It never misses us.
(Speaking of missing and death: Kai Forbath, for the love of god, please don’t miss any extra points on Sunday. That might kill us all.)
Cardinals 24, Vikings 20
And now for the rest of my Week 11 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
PANTHERS over Saints
I still can’t believe the Panthers lost that game at home last week. (Shit, I’ll probably be saying this again next week won’t I?)
BENGALS over Bills
I keep waiting for Cincy to snap out of it and finally become the team that loses in the first round of the playoffs that we have grown so accustomed to. I’ll give ‘em one more week.
GIANTS over Bears
How on God’s green Earth did we lose to Jay Cutler and this Bears team?! HOW?!?!?!
Steelers over BROWNS
I keep waiting for Pittsburgh to snap out of it and finally become the team that beats Cincy in the first round of the playoffs and then gets stomped by the Patriots in the next round. If they can’t get by Cleveland, then I think we can safely write them off.
COWBOYS over Ravens
I’m beginning to think that the Vikings and Cowboys are proof that Newton’s Third Law holds true with offensive lines. For every good O-line there is an equal and opposite bad O-line.
LIONS over Jaguars
I’m making this my Survivor Pool pick of the week (now 8-2 on the season after the Cardinals snuck by San Francisco last week) if only to jinx Detroit into an embarrassing home loss to Blake Bortles. After all, those Lions fans are letting all that crazy success of being division leaders on tiebreakers for a week go to their heads.
Titans over COLTS
Tennessee has lost ten straight games against Indianapolis. If not now, when Marcus Mariota and the offense are firing on all cylinders, when?
CHIEFS over Buccaneers
Maybe the perceived decline of the level of play in the NFL has more to do with coaching than we think. Because it seems like Andy Reid is consistently out-coaching his counterparts this year, and that just feels wrong.
Dolphins over RAMS
The Jared Goff era begins! I’m sure the Rams will finally open up the offense now and create lanes for that run game that’s currently averaging more yards per carry than only the Vikings. Right?
Patriots over 49ERS
SEAHAWKS over Eagles
According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA these are currently the best two teams in football. Even the really good analytics sites don’t get it right all the time.
REDSKINS over Packers
Washington’s incredibly easy November schedule gets a lot tougher when they head to Dallas on Thanksgiving. That’s right—the Green Bay Packers are officially a trap game!
RAIDERS over Texans
Remember those DVOA rankings I was talking about? The 6-3 Texans are ranked 30th! They’re only ahead of the Jets and Browns! The really good analytics sites get it exactly right sometimes.
Last week: 5-9 (woof)
Season so far: 83-61-2