What… a… GAME!
As I’m sure you all know/are sick of hearing about, we hosted a viewing party for the game last night at the Parkway Theater on Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis. It was honestly and genuinely one of the most fun nights of my life and I want to thank everyone that stopped by and watched the Vikings absolutely dominate the Saints Monday night. It was a huge game for this Vikings team, who needed a strong start to the season for a few reasons. They had an objectively bad off-season, as I said in my “3 Keys to the Game” piece yesterday and while I’ve probably been the most vocal, and optimistic writer in the purplePTSD/VikingsTerritory realm I also understood that this game was extremely important.
Fans, that I’m sure are ecstatic and deleting their August posts about the Vikings from Facebook as we speak, had been really worried about the team. I’m saying worried because I realize that a lot of you reading this were in the same boat and I don’t want to offend you. But, let’s be honest, a lot of people were pretty much giving up on this team the past few weeks. Personally, I’ve been more excited about the 2017 Vikings than I was about the team last year pre-Bridgewater injury. I think it’s fairly obvious to anyone who watched the game last night as to why, but let me break it down while also pointing out a few thoughts on the game as a whole.
This Team has Too Much Talent to Lose to a Team like the ‘Aints
Despite the “Struggles” in the pre-season (we don’t know for sure what the team was working on during those games so it’s hard to say they were playing “bad”) this team came out firing on all cylinders. Granted, they did have a relatively slow start, but once things started gelling, especially up front on the offensive line, Bradford was essentially about as perfect as you can expect a quarterback to be as he sliced and diced through the objectively bad Saints defense. If not for multiple drops (something that needs to be addressed, I’m looking at you, Dalvin Cook) Bradford could’ve had almost a 90% completion game, and these weren’t dink and dunk plays, he was 9 for 10 on throws for over 15 yards! This Vikings offense looked DANGEROUS and that’s really, really encouraging considering the fact that Pat Shurmur has been known to be a relatively conservative play-caller, so if this Vikings offense can continue to play at this level and then get Michael Floyd back Week 5, the division could be ours!
So, when people were getting worried about the team these past few weeks I always returned to the same argument. That this team has too many returning starters and stars to really struggle that much. On top of that, coach Zimmer is one of the better coaches in the NFL and outside of some struggles in like 2015, this team comes ready to play when the games count. The defense played great and if not for a garbage time touchdown would’ve held the “explosive” ‘Aints offense to three field goals. That’s amazing. I am a bit worried about the play of Trae Waynes, who struggled mightily from time to time (but also had some nice tackles) but I do have faith in him and think that he will improve as the season goes on. Last year after the offensive line imploded the idea was that if the offensive line could only be halfway decent, this team would’ve won the division. Well, they played better than halfway decent last night and that’s extremely encouraging as it was really the first time that all five played next to one another. They’ll only get better as the season progresses and offensive line coach Tony Sparano may have just saved his job last night.
2. Bradford Really Needs an Extension
Joe Oberle, the co-host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast and Senior Writer for purplePTSD has been saying for awhile now that the Vikings needed to extend Sam Bradford this year. Now, at the time it did make sense for the Vikings to sit back and pull the wait and see and while that has essentially backfired at this point, it’s still super important that they lock down the 29-year-old franchise QB. Now, had they done it before the season they probably could’ve gotten a better deal than they would if they paid him this week, as he played like the best QB in the league last night. But, it’s important that they do lock him down for a few reasons. You really do want him to feel wanted and comfortable this year, you don’t want him to start to get upset about his contract situation, and while he doesn’t strike me as that type of guy, you still should reward him with a contract especially considering the amount of stuff he had to put up with last season and how he played despite that.
As Vikings fans know probably more than any other fanbase, when you get a good quarterback you have to lock him down. Now, people thought/believed that Teddy Bridgewater was going to be that guy and I understand the emotional attachment to the guy, but it’s time for the Vikings to establish that Bradford is their guy. Now, Teddy can still come back and even compete for the starting position next season, there’s nothing wrong with that even if it might rub Bradford the wrong way (I doubt that, though). But, really, at this point the Vikings should be thinking about trading Bridgewater (when he’s healthy, of course) perhaps after he plays a pre-season game or two next year (to show people what he can do on his robo-leg) and to drive up his price. Now, he’s not at the level a Jay Cutler was, for example, when the Bears gave up two first rounders for him but QB’s are extremely important (Breaking News!) and considering the play of multiple QB’s this past weekend, I do think that there’d be a pretty big market for Bridgewater out there. That could land the Vikings a decent draft pick and/or player(s) and that’s a net positive even if it’d be sad to see Teddy in another jersey.
3. Nit Picking…
While the game went about as perfect as you could expect, this is still purplePTSD.com and while I’m actually a pretty optimistic guy, there were still a couple areas that could be improved and really, if the team/players do improve in those areas I really think that the Vikings are a top 5 team in the NFC. Trae Waynes’ play needs to improve, big time, he’s got the physical tools (despite being pretty skinny) and showed flashes of good play last night but there were three plays I recall where he either got burned/boxed out/played too far off the ball. The double move deep ball that was both caught on him and generated a flag was something that he can improve on, definitely. He’s gotten a lot less handsy since his rookie year but he needs to understand that he’s fast enough to be able to catch up to most WR’s in the league and he doesn’t need to use his hands so much (even if he got away with it in college. Blame the owner of the Colts for that). Once his confidence improves (or if it does) he’ll probably start playing off the ball so far. I can’t imagine that Zimmer isn’t letting him play that far off the ball, I doubt he is out there just making rogue decisions and playing 10 yards off the ball. Perhaps they think he’s fast enough to fill that gap? Either way, he needs to play more aggressively and part of that comes from how much of a cushion you give the receiver. Beyond that, as he gets older and fills out a bit, perhaps he won’t end up getting boxed out by receivers as much. So, I have faith, but his play could be something that teams exploit and that’s something he needs to address, fast.
Dalvin Cook broke Adrian Peterson’s record for the most yards in a rookie’s first game for the Vikings. Now, I don’t remember the AP game specifically but I do remember how former Vikings coach/current D-Bag Brad Childress used Peterson back then. He infuriated people by essentially only using AP in the first or second half of a lot of games. AP could be on fire but for some reason, Childress would go back to Chester Taylor for extended periods of time back then. Point being, I’m not sure if AP got a ton of touches in that game, but regardless Cook had an amazing first game as a Viking. On the ground. Now, one of the reasons that the Vikings drafted him was because he was a “natural receiver” out of the backfield. He had at least three drops last night and while that can be chalked up to nerves, it’s something that needs to be fixed (especially for Bradford’s completion percentage!). The more he can catch balls out of the backfield, the better this offense will be so it’s just something that will be extremely exciting.
4. Next Week is a Real Test/Opportunity
MNF co-host John Gruden said that the Vikings looked “Unstoppable” towards the end of the game and the other host (whose name escapes me) basically told him to calm down by saying it’s the first game and… The ‘Aints. While the theory was that the Saints were going to be much improved, especially on defense, this season and the fact that they had a strong start on offense (moving the ball with relative ease on that first drive)… They may not be even a mediocre team (again especially on defense). The Vikings will be traveling to Pittsburgh to play the 1-0 Steelers. The Steelers didn’t look great against the Browns week one but even if it’s the Browns those division games are always iffy.
There’s a lot of talk about the Steelers offense and “reigniting” the running game behind La’Veon Bell. This is a team that has Ben Roethlisberger, Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant but also has had a lot of injuries and thus may be rusty. The “Big 4” as they’re known, apparently, haven’t really all played together much in the past two years so hopefully, they’ll still be a work in progress when they face the Vikings defense on Sunday. While it was great to see the Vikings dominate on the national stage, I wouldn’t be surprised if people wrote the win off on the fact that it was the Saints. Going on the road to one of the more hostile locations in the league, against a Steelers defense that just added Joe Haden, will be a great big test for the team and something that’ll elevate the Vikings to “Legit” status should they win.
While I’ll have a prediction later in the week, I really think that this Vikings team is too balanced and dangerous to not make a run this year. Bradford is playing like the #1 overall pick and they have far too many weapons on offense (Diggs and Thielen combined for over 200 yards) and defense, to not at least compete in every game. This is going to be a much greater season than people thought and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. The NFC doesn’t have a ton of elite teams (as it stands right now) so this very well could be the year that the Vikings make a run. We typically, at least in my lifetime, go to the NFC Championship about every 5-7 years, so it looks like they’re due!