The first quarter of the season for the Vikings has been about as much of a roller-coaster as you could imagine: Riding high week one with an impressive win on national TV to start the year... then down in the dumps when Bradford is injured and Keenum looks shaky in a week 2 loss... then a big rush again as Keenum lights it up week 3... then down in the dumps again as the offense struggles at home and Dalvin Cook is lost for the season. Life as a Vikings fan isn’t easy.
But the Vikings being 2-2 after 4 games- with Detroit and Green Bay at 3-1- is kinda like being down a field goal at the end of the first quarter of a football game. Not great, but manageable and with a lot of football yet to be played.
I’ll start with the bad stuff, as it’s a pretty short list really.
- Injuries. It sucks to have Bradford out and uncertain when he’ll be back, and Cook out for the season. If not for those injuries, the Vikings might have been 4-0. Gotta roll with the punches though.
- The Tight-End group has been surprisingly underwhelming. Not just the lack of production, but also the poor blocking- both run and pass- by all of ‘em. I’m not sure what happened, but both Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan appear to have regressed as blockers. I’m not surprised Rudolph has had fewer targets this season, but not this many fewer. Overall a surprisingly poor showing so far from the Vikings TEs all-around. If the Vikings are going to have TEs that can’t block, then bring back Bucky Hodges. At least he has some big-play-making ability. Seriously. He actually had decent blocking grades from PFF in pre-season as well.
- Laquon Treadwell. Obviously Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been getting the targets- and if they’re open that’s well the ball’s going- but surprised Treadwell hasn’t had more production. I haven’t watched his tape to see if he’s been getting open, but not targeted, but I’d hoped to see more from him so far.
Happily this is a longer list, which bodes well for the future if Bradford can get back in the game and approach his week one form.
- Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. I had pretty high expectations for Thielen and Diggs after watching them in training camp. They were both really a pleasure to watch- especially how they finished their catches. Technically precise, graceful, confident. That’s showed up in real games now, but the production is a positive surprise. Who would’ve thought Diggs would lead the league in receiving yards after four weeks, and Thielen in 3rd? They have about 750 receiving yards between them, which is on pace for both of them to be not only 1,000 yard receivers, but 1,500 yard receivers this season.
- Offensive line pass protection. The Vikings have the league’s 5th best sack rate at 3.62%. And two of those sacks weren’t on the offensive linemen. One was on a TE David Morgan, and the other on QB Case Keenum for a mistaken changed blocking call.
- Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Both tackles have played well overall, particularly in pass protection, having been responsible for, I believe, just one sack between them so far.
- Quarterback play. While this has been either hot or somewhat cold each week so far, if you consider the Vikings have started their backup QB 3 of the 4 games so far, overall the results have been better than expected. Bradford and Keenum each have one top-notch game performance, and Keenum has two other roughly average games. Not great, but he didn’t lose the game either.
- MacKenzie Alexander. I didn’t have much confidence in him at all after the pre-season, where he looked completely lost. The first game against New Orleans wasn’t much better. But since then, he’s improved significantly. He doesn’t get a ton of playing time (41% of defensive plays), but he’s been getting it done in coverage since week one. He still struggles some in run defense, but overall he’s been a pleasant surprise since the Saints game.
- Anthony Barr. Not a big surprise, but Barr looks back closer to his 2015 form so far after struggling last year, in part due to injury.
- Shamar Stephen. Through four games, Stephen is playing much better than he has the past three seasons, according to PFF. Stephen has an overall PFF grade of 73.1 (average), which is significantly better than the the upper-40s average he’s had from 2014-2016. Hopefully this means he’s turned a corner.
Excellent- As Expected
In addition to the positive surprises, there are also top-notch performances for players we’ve come to expect it from- and they’ve delivered.
- Linval Joseph. He has had a very solid start to the season, even for his standards. He is the 7th highest graded interior defensive lineman according to PFF, and the highest in terms of run-stop percentage (% of runs stopped and considered a ‘win’ for the defense- i.e. 2 yards on 3rd & 3)
- Harrison Smith. He is the 3rd highest graded safety in the NFL by PFF, and while fairly balanced between pass and run defense, he is currently graded ‘elite’ against the run.
- Everson Griffen. He’s the 4th highest graded edge rusher after 4 weeks, and 4th highest overall in sacks, with 5.0.
- Danielle Hunter. He hasn’t gotten into the sack parade until last week, but he’s still been solid in generating pressure and in run defense. It’s worth noting that Hunter was up against some of the best right-tackles in the league the first four games, and better than the left-tackles Griffen has faced.
- Terence Newman. It may be a bit much to say Newman has been excellent so far, but he has been pretty good anyway, more so in coverage than against the run.
- Xavier Rhodes. He doesn’t get the high PFF grades you’d expect (only 62.4 - below average- overall grade), perhaps due to penalties, but this also doesn’t account for the degree of difficulty Rhodes faces in coverage compared to other cornerbacks. Rhodes typically gets handed shadow coverage on the top WR the Vikings face each week, and basically takes away that offensive weapon. He really hasn’t given up much in terms of receiving yards or TDs, but has given up some pass interference penalties- and a personal foul for taunting. But he has been very effective overall in taking away what typically is there biggest weapon on offense, and that is all you can ask for from your top cornerback.
Mediocre - As Expected
A few others are worth mentioning, not for their exceptional performance, but more mediocre or inconsistent really.
- Trae Waynes. He’s very good against the run, but still had his struggles in coverage. It’s mildly encouraging that he seems to have improved a bit particularly last week, so perhaps that is encouraging down the road.
- Andrew Sendejo. He had some nice hits and a fortuitous pick week 3, but beyond that he hasn’t looked good in coverage. He’s just not quick or instinctive enough to be there when he needs to be in over-the-top coverage, and that has resulted in some big plays given up. Also disappointing is his run defense, where he has been good in the past, but has deteriorated so far this season. He has a poor (53.1) overall PFF grade so far, roughly equally poor between pass coverage, run defense, and pass rush.
- Tom Johnson. While TJ playing mediocre overall is not a surprise, given his history as a mediocre backup, it is surprising that so far this season he’s graded higher against the run than in pass rush, which is where he has done the best in the past. He’s alternated between average and poor overall PFF grades since entering the league, and last year he was average, so hopefully he can break that pattern.
Overall the offense has been a positive surprise in productivity when it comes to yards, if not consistent in producing over 21 points a game- which is a huge influence on the win/loss record. Here are some rankings:
- Yards/Game: 371. 7th overall. That’s a roughly 20% improvement over last year’s average of 315 yards/game.
- 3rd Down Conversions: 46.15%. 5th in the NFL. A point of emphasis in the off-season, and improvement is significant so far over the 38% rate last year.
- Red Zone TD conversions: 57.14%. Tied for 14th. Not bad, and an improvement over the 46% achieved last year.
- Points/Game Offense-Only: 20.2. That’s okay as an average, and an improvement over the 17.8 average last year, but the problem is that included two games where the Vikings produced less than 10 points. That leaves a median points/game at 10, which is why the Vikings are 2-2. Consistently scoring at least 21 points has to be the goal if the Vikings are to make the post-season.
- Passing yards/game: 263. 8th overall. Once again an improvement over last season’s, 240, but it hasn’t been trending in the right direction most recently. Hopefully getting Bradford back will help in that regard.
- Rushing yards/game: 108. 18th overall. Big improvement over last season’s league-worst 75, but with Dalvin Cook out, keeping up the running game will be a more difficult task.
The defense has been very good, and getting better, but has faced some pretty good offenses in the first quarter. The points of emphasis in terms of 3rd downs, redzone, and run defense in the off-season have been paying off very well.
- Points/Game Allowed: 19. Tied for 8th best. About the same as last season’s 19.2 average, and hopefully that will continue to come down some as the season progresses.
- Yards/Game Allowed: 318. 12th in the league. Again about the same as last season’s average of 314.9, but hopefully that will come down a bit as well over the course of the season.
- 3rd Down Conversions Allowed: 25.58%. That’s #1 in the NFL. A huge improvement over the 38.83% allowed last season. If that continues, the Vikings will be in every game, and with a little more consistency on offense, win just about all of them.
- Redzone TDs Allowed: 38.46%. 4th in the NFL. That is an excellent number, and much better than the 54.55% allowed last season. Again, if that rate can be maintained, with a little more consistency in scoring points on offense, the Vikings will win a lot of games.
- Rushing Yards Allowed/Game: 71.2. 3rd best. Big improvement so far over the 106.9 yard average last season. Taking away the run game makes teams one-dimensional on offense, and so far that’s what the Vikings have done to their opponents.
- Passing Yards Allowed/Game: 246.8. 24th in the league. Much worse than the 207.9 average last season. But facing Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger in the first 4 games, along with a strong passing offense in Tampa Bay, may have affected this number a certain amount. Hopefully as the season progresses this number will decline, starting Monday night in Chicago.
Apart from notable missed (or made) kicks, turnovers or TDs, special teams doesn’t get
much notice, but the Vikings special teams unit has done a good job so far particularly in punts and punt coverage, where they have allowed -1 total punt return yards so far. Ryan Quigley has proven an upgrade over Jeff Locke so far, and the special teams units in general have been solid in not allowing much on returns. Now if only Jerick McKinnon and Marcus Sherels could break a couple returns for TDs...
While the Vikings have had a couple big games offensively in September, the offensive has not been consistent in producing enough points to win with a strong defense. Hopefully the loss of Dalvin Cook can be mitigated with good production from Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, while Sam Bradford hopefully getting back on the field will result in an offense that scores more points each and every game.
Overall there are a lot of very good stats that suggest the Vikings should be better than 2-2 at this point. The loss of Bradford is probably the main reason the Vikings aren’t 3-1 or 4-0 at this point, but the fact that 3 of these 4 games were at home, and the Vikings are only 2-2, means they need to produce some road wins to get back on track. If the Vikings defense can keep up their excellent numbers when it comes to 3rd down conversions and redzone TDs allowed, that should go a long way toward getting those wins if the offense can score 21+ points a game. Doing a better job in winning the turnover battle will help, along with some production from special teams.
What’s the most impressive Vikings stat in the first quarter?
This poll is closed
3rd Down Conversions allowed (25.85%)
3rd Down Conversion Rate (46.15%)
Yards per Game (371)
Redzone TDs Allowed (38.46%)
Redzone TD Conversion Rate (57.14%)
Points/Game Allowed (19)