We’re back this week with another edition of The Norse Reporters, and there’s plenty to talk about right now, with the Vikings’ recent struggles. A Buffalo Bills team that had no business winning came into U.S. Bank Stadium and walked all over the Minnesota Vikings. Then the team travelled on a short week to face the odds-on favorite in the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams, and - while the offense held up their end of the bargain - the defense looked as beatable as any Vikings defense ever has. There are questions surrounding the team at every level as they try and bounce back. This week, the schedule doesn’t do them any favors, as the Vikings will travel to Philadelphia, where... things happened. So let’s pick the brains of our distinguished Daily Norseman staff writers, and see what we find!
Every time we think that Mike Zimmer has everything in place to have a smooth, successful season, something comes up that can’t be accounted for - Teddy’s knee explodes right before the season starts; Norv quits; The Tragic Death of Tony Sparano; Everson Griffen checks into a mental health facility; Kickers miss unmissable kicks. At some point, all of this has to wear on him. Given the struggles on defense, is it possible that Zim is suffering from burnout?
Ted: On one hand I think no, because every team has issues every season. On the other hand, though, the Zimmer era has had some really weird things happen that seem to fall way outside the normal range of what occurs to teams over the course of the season. Something is wrong, though. I don’t know if it’s burnout, or he’s pressing as a coach, but there’s definitely something off with a defense that should be much better than it has been so far.
Lucas: Things happen unexpectedly, and you have to be able to adapt. If there’s a will, there’s a way. It seems like Zimmer is just frustrated, more than being drained. You can feel his frustration when he talked about the defense after the game against the Rams, and how he was concerned. Shoot, if a defensive-minded head coach is concerned about his defense, then fans should be concerned too.
Dan: Everything about Zimmer’s demeanor right now looks just... down. His voice, his body language... And I really can’t blame him. In his most private times, he has to just shake his head and ask “what next?” It will be interesting to see if he can bring the team out of this funk. He’s done it in the past. I have faith he can do it again.
Vikings fans - along with folks in the national media - were excited when the Vikings signed Free Safety George Iloka. So far he has been absolutely nonexistent in the Vikings defensive scheme. Considering the struggles that the defense - Anthony Barr in particular - had versus the Rams over the top, were you surprised that Iloka wasn’t brought into the game in that “Coverage Linebacker” role?
Lucas: I have a feeling we’ll start seeing Iloka get some snaps on defense, especially with the current struggles. The defense is just continuously getting exposed, and it's starting to get old.
Dan: I just find it strange that there’s really been nothing from Zim about his role. Iloka was interviewed on Sirius/XM NFL Radio just after he signed, and gave every indication that he knew the defense well, and that he was in good shape physically.
Ted: Yes. I don’t understand why Iloka hasn’t played more. It’s just one more weird thing in an already weird season.
The defense is gaining another player this week, as Linebacker Kentrell Brothers returns from suspension. Does Brothers bring anything to the table that could help the defense, or do you think he will play strictly on special teams, where he played pretty well?
Ted: No, he doesn’t. Special teams guy for the most part. Now watch him play a lot of snaps on defense and the Vikes shut out Philly...because that’s how my prediction game usually rolls.
Dan: So, you’re saying there’s a chance, Ted? Brothers had a total of two tackles on defense last season, one solo, one assist. Vikings fans will need to look elsewhere for defensive help.
Lucas: Guys, if he only had a total of two tackles last season, then he has a chance to double that today. If Barr is doing trash, then throw Brothers in, brother.
In the first Norse Reporters, I asked whether you felt that the defense would be lacking leadership after Newman retired and Robison was cut. Everyone seemed to agree that there was plenty of leadership. Given the repeated defensive breakdowns during the Rams game, do you still feel the same way?
Lucas: No, I don’t. The defense is a s*%t show, I feel like Griffen was the clear-cut leader, and as you can see, his absence is being felt. Someone’s got to step up.
Dan: I agree, Lucas. The defense just looks lost right now. I see no fire - even on the rare occasion that they make a good play. Nobody stepping in and saying “not against me. Not today” That’s when leadership steps in and calms the waters. I really think Griffen, Robison, and Newman were those guys. Someone needs to step up and I’m not sure who that player is.
Ted: No, I feel much differently now. IF Griff was still there I honestly don’t think this defense plays as bad. Leadership matters, and if there’s someone there that holds everyone accountable, people step up. Lucas is right, the defense is a...shotshow...shatshow...shootshow...I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT WORD YOU ARE TRYING TO USE LUCAS.
Lucas: Ted, it's slit show, someone's getting slit.
Adam Thielen is on pace for an absolutely monstrous season. Is he the best wide receiver in football right now?
Ted: Yes. Every time I see Thielen and Stefon Diggs catch another great pass from Cousins I wonder what kind of ‘Madden on Rookie settings’ number Randy Moss would have put up if he had a guy like Cousins or Brady his whole career. Mercy.
Dan: Yes. Without even hesitating, yes. Thielen makes every catch, runs every route, takes a big hit when needed. It’s not like he just started doing it this year, either. He was fifth in the league in receiving yards last year with Case Keenum throwing him the ball. Keenum should send Thielen - and Diggs - a special thank you for the contract he got from Denver.
Lucas: I’d have to say so, I’d be a fool to say he’s not, or maybe that’s me being a little bias. He’s so exciting to watch, the energy, the will, and desire to play. You can tell this guy truly loves the game.
The Vikings running backs have gained a paltry 100 yards on the ground in the last three games. However, the offense has now averaged 373 yards gained of total offense on the season. In the world of 2018 NFL, do we even need to be worried about the fact that we can’t run the ball?
Ted: Oh my, yes. You have to have some semblance of balance in the offense. I don’t think the Vikes need to go back to the days of Adrian Peterson in terms of being that run-heavy all the time, but if you become a one dimensional offense you’re going to lose a lot of games.
Dan: I’m not as sold, Ted. I’ve seen the Vikings run the ball this year, and I prefer the passing. They do much better with it. All kidding aside, the team has to figure out a way to run the ball. It’s yet another aspect of the team that has seemingly disappeared without a trace since last season. Having said that, if the offense is clicking through the air, keep on clickin’!
Lucas: Honestly, I’m happy to see the team air the ball out more. But, we have two talented backs who should be tearing it up, so we should be worried, but at least we have a passing game to make up for the horrendous run game