After ten minutes of action at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings found themselves trailing the Carolina Panthers by a score of 10-0. The Vikings had put together one offensive drive that netted all of three yards, and reigning MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina offense had marched down the field with little resistance on their first two possessions.
There was a time in the not-so-recent past that a team in purple and gold would have wound up losing a game like Sunday’s by about 40 points. Coming off of a six-week stretch that saw them lose their starting quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), an all-time great running back, albeit one that was struggling (Adrian Peterson), their starting left tackle (Matt Kalil), and a few other important pieces, it would have been very easy for the Vikings to do just that.
But even though such a time was not that long ago when it comes to actual chronology, it seems like ages ago when you watch this current edition of the Vikings, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
The Panthers, prior to Sunday’s game, had averaged 40.4 points per game in their previous seven home contests. On Sunday, they got ten. They got them all in the first ten minutes of play, and they never really came close the rest of the afternoon. Yes, they had a long pass to Fozzy Whitaker that could have blown things open, but it got called back by a penalty. After that, Mike Zimmer and George Edwards put the clamps down.
More impressively, the setbacks on the defensive side of the ball haven’t seemed to have any effect on how dominant Minnesota’s defense has been. Sharrif Floyd is out, you say? That’s fine. . .defenses can deal with Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. Xavier Rhodes is slowed down by a knee injury? No biggie. . .Terence Newman and Trae Waynes and Captain Munnerlyn can handle things on the back end.
Everson Griffen is back in the locker room losing his pre-game meal, you say? Okay, put Danielle Hunter in his spot and let him damn near snap Michael Oher in half.
I know there was a protection error on this play, but still, how often do you see somebody do what Danielle Hunter does here? pic.twitter.com/NsTUUyhNVK— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 26, 2016
All that depth came into play on Sunday when the Panthers held the football for nearly 35 minutes of game time. If the Minnesota defense was gassed in the Carolina heat, they certainly weren’t showing it. They just kept attacking and attacking and eventually the reigning MVP and the defending NFC Champions just couldn’t handle it anymore.
The Minnesota Vikings don’t have a good defense. . .they have a great defense. If they’re not the best defense in the NFL, the list of teams that are ahead of them is very, very short. Through three games, they have allowed 13.3 points/game (third in the NFL), and have collected 15 quarterback sacks. Griffen has collected four sacks on his own. . .there are 12 entire teams that currently have that many sacks or less. They’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to pass for a composite quarterback rating of 65.9. . .no mean feat when you remember that the Vikings have faced the last two NFL MVPs in the first three games of the season and made them both look relatively foolish. Honestly, in Week 2 on Sunday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers’ most effective offensive play was “throw it up for grabs and hope that a Viking does something illegal.”
But Minnesota’s victories the past two weeks have not come as a result of Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton suddenly forgetting how to play quarterback at the NFL level. They’re still outstanding quarterbacks and outstanding football players. Those victories came as a result of the Vikings’ defense having an answer for everything that their opponents have attempted to do. Sure, they’ve had their rough stretches, such as the first half in Tennessee and the first ten minutes in Carolina, but for the most part they have been a truly dominant force.
As someone that isn’t old enough to have been around during the era of the Purple People Eaters, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a Minnesota defense like this one in all my years as a fan. This defense is like the Terminator. . .it can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and it absolutely will not stop, ever. The personnel on the field might change, but the results have been the same through the first three games of this season, including a dismantling of what might be the two best offenses the Vikings see this season.
Sure, the offense has had their role in the Vikings’ 3-0 start, and we can get to them in a separate story. But the big story of the first three weeks of the Vikings’ season has been the defense, and if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that defense still wins championships in the National Football League. The defense that Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and George Edwards have assembled is certainly capable of adding themselves to that list.