How crazy has this season been? I mean, besides going down to fourth string offensive linemen at three of five o-line spots today, or losing Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson, or Mike Zimmer's four eye surgeries, or Harrison Smith's injury, or the inability to run the ball?
Well how does this grab you? The Vikings won 25-16 today, and Fox mentioned that there have only been three 25-16 final scores in NFL history. And the Vikings have been involved in two of them.
This year. They beat Tennessee 25-16 in week one, as well.
In the grand scheme of things, it's not a crazy weird that can blow your season up, like the things we mentioned earlier can, it's more of an unusual oddity that's interesting to note. Something to make you scratch your head; chuckle even.
Like the Vikings running game can make you chuckle, only in a 'I have to laugh or I'll get a migraine headache' kind of way. Back in the late 1990's the Vikings had a great short yardage back named Leroy Hoard, who was a bruising, between the tackles back that complemented Robert Smith well. Hoard also had one of the greatest quotes in the history of football. I'm not sure when, or after what game, but someone asked Hoard to describe his running style, and he said 'if you want four, I'll get you four. If you want seven, I'll get you four.'
The Vikings do not have that type of running back today. They have a running game that is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. They cannot consistently run the ball, they are unable to get tough yards to sustain a drive, or score a touchdown, and today, the Vikings finally seemed to realize that. Towards the end of the game, with the Vikings needing a drive to kill the clock and put a dagger in to Jacksonville, they threw the ball for two first downs and then the ever elusive touchdown to seal the game. It seemed like Mike Zimmer finally said 'I'm not runnin' anymore', didn't he Mr. Mellencamp?
Well I look in the mirror - what the hell happened to me?
Whatever I had has gone away
I'm not the young kid that I used to be
So I push the hair back out of my face
That's O.K., I knew this would happen
But I was hopin' not today
Hey Baby, I'm not running anymore
But I'm on my way
I'm on my way
I'm on my way
I'm on my way
And I'm not running anymore
I'm on my way
I'm on my way
I'm on my way
And I'm not running anymore
Your 'if you need a field goal, I'll get you a field goal, but if you need a TD, I'll get you a field goal' SMR follows. (Thanks to my buddy Ron Mitchell Jr for that gem)
Blue Chip Stocks:
Sam Bradford, QB: If you can't run, you better be able to protect the quarterback and throw the ball. Today, the Vikings did that very well. Sam Bradford led a balanced passing attack, and one that took several deep shots. Bradford was rewarded with 292 yards, a touchdown, and a rating of 106.5. He wasn't sacked once, and at times, it appeared he had days to throw the ball. The Vikings offense still has a ways to go with a lot of things, but when Bradford has time in the pocket, he can consistently make good throws and move the Vikings offense.
Adam Thielen, WR: One of the reasons the Vikings pass game was so good today was because of Thielen. He had 101 yards on just four catches, and every catch was huge in terms of the Vikings sustaining a drive and eventually winning. Thielen has really emerged as a threat this year, and is a guy that I can see as integral part of the Vikings offense for years to come.
Everson Griffen, DE: Griffen was a force on defense today, netting two sacks and creating havoc for most of the afternoon. He led a defensive line that harassed Blake Bortles all day, and this kind of performance will be required for the final three game playoff push.
Kyle Rudolph, TE: Rudolph set the tempo for the day on the first play, juggling but hauling in a Bradford pass and rumbling for 44 yards. He book ended that in the fourth quarter by catching a Bradford three yard pass for the game clinching touchdown.
Danielle Hunter, DE: Hunter had a sack on the day, and it essentially ended the game. He absolutely steam rolled the RT and about killed Blake Bortles, dropping him for an eight yard loss and forcing the Jags to try a 61 yard field goal to try and get within a touchdown. The field goal was blocked...although the ESPN update I got said otherwise...
...and the Vikings went into Victory formation
Zac Kerin and Jeremiah Sirles, guys you never knew existed until about a month ago or so. It was never supposed to get down to these guys. They are basically guys 51 and 52 on the roster, and in a normal year, Kerin and Sirles probably wouldn't even be active. But this is far from a normal year, and these guys aren't only active, Sirles is starting. And when Brandon Fusco went out in the fourth quarter with a concussion, Kerin came in and finished the game. And I gotta say, they did okay. The Vikings are going to need to address the offensive line in a major way in the off-season, but for guys that weren't expected to contribute much, Kerin and Sirles are holding their own.
Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, RB: This is probably a bit unfair, considering the offensive line issues the team has this year. But the Vikings have reached a point where running the ball is essentially a wasted down. A lot of times there's not a lot of running room, but there were several times today that it seemed like McKinnon and Asiata left yards on the field, especially McKinnon, McKinnon made some nice plays as a pass receiver, but as a runner he's completely ineffective.
It's weird to say that the Vikings running game is so bad that they should essentially abandon it, and throw the ball 50 times a game...but the Vikings running game is so bad they should abandon it, and throw it 50 times a game.
Mackensie Alexander, CB: Every time Alexander needs to come in the game, opposing teams notice it, and immediately throw on him. Until he can make a play, and that play doesn't involve a pass interference, teams are going to continue to single him out. And it's going to continue to cost the Vikings.
Buy: The Vikings pass protection. Coming into the game, the Jaguars had the second best pass defense in the NFL, and a pretty good pass rush. Today, the Vikings offensive line protected Sam Bradford well all game, and they were able to pass the ball effectively most of the day. It felt like a milestone of sorts for the line, as they haven't been able to do anything well at all for an entire game, and today they did. If the o-line can at least pass protect this well for the rest of the season, the offense has a chance. And if they can put 21 points or more on the board with this defense, they'll probably win. Because under Zimmer, the Vikes are pretty impressive if they can score 21 points. How effective?
#Vikings are now 19-2 when scoring 21 points under Mike Zimmer.— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) December 11, 2016
Sell: The Vikings run blocking. The run blocking as as bad as the pass protection was good, and although we've mentioned it a couple times already, it needs it's own 'sell' category. It's been a season long issue, and it's not going to get better. They seem to have marginal success running off tackle and on sweeps, but up the middle is a level of ineptitude that's become comical. At one point today, I can't remember if it was the lost fumble at the goal line or the 4th and one stop at the goal line, my Dad and I just looked at each other and started laughing. I mean, you almost have to try to be this bad at running the ball from guard to guard.
Buy: Cutting Blair Walsh was the right move. It's been almost a month since the Vikings cut ties with Walsh and signed Kai Forbath. In that time, Forbath has gone 10/10 in his field goal attempts, including hitting all four against Jacksonville. If Walsh had been the kicker today, he probably misses two of those field goals, and that last drive that put the Vikings up two scores is now to take the lead, and hope the Vikings defense can hold on for dear life. Having a kicker that makes field goals is nice, isn't it?
Sell: LOL that Kai Forbath extra point though. As good as Forbath has been, that extra point was a duck hook that never had a chance. I initially thought it had been blocked or deflected, but no, he just mishit it. Bad.
Buy: The Vikings can move the ball by throwing it. I like the Vikings quarterback and receivers, a lot. There's good chemistry between Bradford and the receivers, and Stefon Diggs and Thielen have emerged as legitimate threats. If Bradford has time, he has multiple guys to throw it to, and it's tough to defend all of them on the field.
Sell: The red zone/short yardage offense. Yeah, the Vikings scored on a one yard touchdown run...but when scoring or getting a first down from one yard out is the exception and not the rule, you really need to re-assess. The Vikings had five trips into the red zone, and they had two touchdowns and a field goal, which is good. But they were also stopped on 4th and one at the Jacksonville one, and then Matt Asiata lost a fumble. A game that should have been a blowout was uncomfortably close for 58 minutes, and a game the Vikings were in serious danger of losing.
Look, if the Vikings are insistent on running the ball, do something...anything...other than Matt Asiata up the middle. Run it off tackle, throw a triple option wishbone out there, put McKinnon in the Wildcat, a QB sneak...literally ANYTHING other than Asiata up the middle. Please. Pretty please. I'm begging you, with tears in my eyes, don't run up the middle. The
Don Glover Quotes of the Week:
I've got two for today, as Dad was having a good day, and had a few good ones. When I picked him up, I asked him what he thought was going to happen, like I do every week.
Dad: I have a good feeling about this game. If Barroom is on, we're gonna win.
Me: Barroom? You mean Bradford? Sam Bradford?
Dad: Yeah, Barroom.
As were watching the game, we were kind of frustrated for most of the day like you guys were, I would imagine. Yet we noticed one thing about the Jaguars, that had been kind of a trademark for the Vikings offensive line so far this year, and that was untimely penalties. It seemed that ever time the Jags started to get a little momentum, someone would get flagged for a false start. After about the fourth or fifth time that happened, my Dad looks over at me and says:
"Son. these guys have more false start penalties than the Vikings do. I didn't think that was possible."
So the Vikes move to 7-6, and are still alive in the wildcard race. They have to win out, and they'll need some help, but what could have been a disaster in Florida today turned out okay, all things considered.