In the wake of a slightly less than ideal preseason performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans of the Minnesota Vikings. . .as is our wont. . .have started to go about the business of freaking out about the upcoming season and declaring 2018 to be a failure before our favorite team has even taken the field in a meaningful game.
Nonsense. Balderdash. Poppycock, even.
Sure, we would obviously be much happier had Kirk Cousins and company gone out and lit it up on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I would like to take this moment, however, to remind you that in their three preseason outings last season, the Vikings’ first team offense produced a total of zero touchdowns. Sam Bradford threw zero touchdown passes in the preseason in 2017. Dalvin Cook ran for exactly zero touchdowns, and the trio of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph combined for zero touchdown receptions. All-in-all, the first-string offense played about five quarters of football in the 2017 preseason and generated a grand total of three points.
Didn’t seem to affect them as far as the regular season went, eh?
So, rather than focusing on the negatives and waiting for the other shoe to drop. . .even though, as previously mentioned, that’s what we’re conditioned to do. . .let’s talk about exactly why we should be excited about this team. Because, man, there sure are a lot of reasons. However, in the interest of time, I’ll limit those reasons to just a few.
1) This is still, arguably, the NFL’s best defense, and they may be even better
The identity of this team is still on the defensive side of the ball. As far as that side is concerned, the Vikings may have taken the best defense in the National Football League and improved it even more. The team has locked up nearly all of the most important pieces of this defense for the long term, and of the 11 starters, the only new face is a guy that not too long ago was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. As far as the starting 11 is concerned, this might be the best defense in the league, and if it’s not it’s in the Top 2.
But this defense is deep, too. How deep? On Saturday, the Jacksonville Jaguars. . .a team that was one quarter away from advancing to the Super Bowl last season. . .played their starters on offense for, essentially, the entire first half. They managed seven points. The first-string defense was pretty much done after one quarter of play, so the Vikings’ backups managed to hold the Jacksonville offense completely in check for the entire second quarter. This defense has talent on top of talent, and some lucky teams are going to be the beneficiaries of the Vikings having to cut some very good players.
Whoever makes this team on the defensive side will most certainly have earned it. They will have shown that they’re good enough to be a part of the NFL’s #1 defense.
2) The offense is going to be better
The focus of the Vikings’ offseason was the signing of Kirk Cousins, and with good reason. When you give a guy the first fully guaranteed contract in the free agency era, you’re going to be scrutinized for it. Even with the rough performance against Jacksonville, there’s no reason to be worried about the Vikings’ offense at this point.
For starters, we haven’t seen Dalvin Cook take the field this preseason. We saw in his brief time last year exactly what sort of impact Cook can have on the offense, and with all due respect to Latavius Murray, teams are going to have to defend an offense with Dalvin Cook on the field differently than they’ll have to defend one with Murray out there. Cook might play in the All-Important Third Preseason Game™ against the Seattle Seahawks on Friday. Then again, he might not. I don’t care either way. . .I want him out there against the San Francisco 49ers on 9 September.
The rest of the offense is nothing to sneeze at, either, particularly what might be the NFL’s best 1-2 receiver duo right now. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen (and the rest of the team’s receivers) spent a lot of time working with Cousins this offseason, so I don’t think that chemistry is going to be an issue. After all, Case Keenum got just about zero time with the first-team offense last season, and he did just fine.
Also, as Ted as said here recently, I’m not nearly as freaked out about the offensive line as I’m apparently supposed to be. On Saturday, when the offense looked rough, the starters on the offensive line were Riley Reiff and four guys that are, in all likelihood, not going to be starting in Week 1. Pat Elflein is going to be back soon. Mike Remmers is coming back. Brian O’Neill is showing more promise than expecte. The depth along the offensive line is better than it has been.
Last, we know that John DeFilippo is the new offensive coordinator, and that he likes to do a lot of different and creative things. There is a non-zero chance that the offense we’ve seen from the Vikings this preseason looks absolutely nothing like the offense they’ll display in the regular season. The Vikings aren’t going to be showing anything of importance over the next couple of weeks, so I’m not particularly worried about the offense.
3) There is, literally, no reason not to be excited
Seriously, folks, I’ve been a fan of this team for over 30 years. This might be, from 1 to 53 on the roster, the most talented Vikings team of my lifetime. Better than 1998, better than 2009, better than any of them. (Obviously I can’t speak to the teams of the 70s, so our older contingent will probably have something to say about that.) This team is on the short list of Super Bowl contenders. Some outlets even have this team at #1 in their preseason Power Rankings.
There’s a reason for that. This team is really, really good. The expectations for this team are really, really high. And there’s every reason to expect that this team is going to, at the very least, meet those expectations.
You may not be excited for the 2018 Minnesota Vikings right now, based on what we saw at U.S. Bank Stadium a couple of days ago. But you should be. . .and, I have a feeling that in a few weeks, you absolutely will be.