Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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St. Louis -
Wrote my column on Mike Zimmer's debut. Here are a few other observations after full review of the stat sheets and highlights:
-Key stat of the game: One sack. The Vikings' offensive line didn't play all that well last year, and had rocky moments in the preseason, and was facing the strength of the Rams. The line allowed just one sack, and allowed Cassel to complete 17 of his 25 passes.
-Cassel completed 17 passes, yet hit seven different receivers. There will always be someone open in Norv Turner's offense, and Cassel is calm enough to find checkdowns.
-Peterson had 21 carries, and caught two of the three passes thrown toward him. I wouldn't be surprised if that's a median usage for him.
-I thought Turner was cautious when given poor field position but showed his creativity in the red zone. Both of Cassel's touchdown passes came after inside fakes to Adrian Peterson, freezing the middle of the defense.
-The Vikings are currently alone in first place in the NFC North, with Detroit playing on Monday night.
-This is the first Vikings game I've covered in a long, long time when I didn't come away baffled by either the usage of a key player, a play call, or a coach's explanation of the former or latter.
-Next week provides a completely different challenge. Where the Rams wanted to turn the game into a slugfest, New England will spread the Vikings out on offense, hoping to throw underneath to wideouts like Julian Edelman and find Rob Gronkowski deep down the middle. Watching Zimmer and Turner match wits with Bill Belichick will be quite entertaining.
-Personal note: Got to see The Jayhawks, the great band with Minneapolis roots, on Thursday at the Turf Club, and Saturday night at First Avenue via @Yahoolive. A great band that has never sounded better. Best wishes to Marc Perlman and Gary Louris - please keep this thing going.
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM sometime tomorrow morning with Mackey&Judd.
St. Louis - In Mike Zimmer's debut as the Vikings' head coach, he delivered.
His defense overwhelmed the St. Louis Rams.
His offensive coordinator found ways to use Cordarrelle Patterson, perhaps the most-underused player of the 2013 NFL season.
He won his debut, 34-6, and while the opponent was underwhelming, the victory remains impressive.
A year after the Vikings finished 5-10-1 largely because of defensive blunders, they earned this one the way Vikings fans had to hope it would be earned - with Zimmer getting the most out of his defensive players, and with the Vikings proving it is possible to hold a lead.
There were too many penalties for any coach's taste, but while the game was ugly, you could see signs of intelligent design in Zimmer's defense.
A guy recovering from a gunshot - Linval Joseph - had a sack.
A guy recovering from a season that threatened to make him the team's next cornerback bust - Josh Robinson - made a spectacular interception.
The pass rush was effective, with top draft pick Anthony Barr hitting Rams quarterback Austin Davis to cause an interception that Harrison Smith returned 81 yards for a touchdown.
Most of all, Zimmer's defense never looked confused, never broke coverage, never made it easy on the Rams.
It was an auspicious debut that was consistent with Zimmer's reputation around the league as a coach who can make his players better.
I'll be on 1500ESPN-AM at noon on Monday to recap the game with Mackey&Judd.
St. Louis -
Just got to the press box at the Edward Jones Dome (such an elegant name). And here's my pick for today:
I think the Rams are an ordinary team. Their strength on offense should be running the ball with Zac Stacy, and yet Stacy is being pushed for playing time by Benny Cunningham. If your lead back isn't really your lead back, how good are you at running the ball?
I think the key to the game will be the Vikings' offensive line, because the Rams' strength is its front seven. If Matt Kalil plays well, Vikings win, something like 23-16.
I'm placing my faith in Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner. I think he'll put the offense in position to win, whether that means helping Kalil or running plays that defuse the Rams' pass rush. The Vikings have enough talent on offense to score points against even a quality defense, and the Vikings' defense will face its most comfortable matchup of the early season.
Korzo is in studio and I'm in St. Louis for Sunday Sports Talk, 10-noon on 1500ESPN-AM. Vikings beat writer Matt Vensel and regular guest Tom Linnemann will join. Enjoy Group of Death.
I'll be running Garage Logic and co-hosting Sports Talk today on 1500ESPN, 1-4. Hoping to have two friends from the great band The Jayhawks, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, in studio at some point.
On to football...
My NFL predictions: This year, I’m going to be right on at least 3 percent of them, I promise…
MVP: Drew Brees.
Aaron Rodgers might be set up for a great season, but he’ll have to share credit with Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson, two exceptional players. Peyton Manning will face a tougher schedule and probably not be in position to chase any records, so he could play brilliantly without matching his 2013 statistics.
Brees is set up to be just as productive as either, and he won’t have to share as much credit. He relies on only one exceptional skill-position player, and that player is a tight end – Jimmy Graham, who won’t produce as much as a great wide receiver. Brees should have an exceptional season and receive most of the credit for it.
Offensive player of the year (other than Brees): LeSean McCoy. It might be trendier to suggest Adrian Peterson in a new offense, or Eddie Lacy as an emerging star, but look at it this way: Last year McCoy led the NFL in rushing even though the Eagles changed quarterbacks while learning a new offense. Now Chip Kelly’s system is fully in place, there is no question who the quarterback will be, and Kelly will be able to spread out defenses even more with Darren Sproles as his wild card. Only an injury will keep McCoy from being the NFL’s most productive back this season.
Defensive player of the year: J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the game, and the arrival of Jadaveon Clowney will make him more difficult to game-plan for.
Coach of the year: Chip Kelly. A great, rising coach entering his second year in a weak division. It’s all set up for him.
AFC division winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver.
AFC wild cards: Cincinnati, San Diego.
NFC division winners: Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle.
NFC wild cards: San Francisco, Detroit.
AFC champ: New England
NFC champ: Seattle
Super Bowl champ: Seattle
I wish I could pick someone else. But I can’t. Seattle won the Super Bowl in a route while facing a record-setting offense last year, and I think Seattle will be better this year. Better at quarterback, better at receiver, and perhaps even deeper on the defensive line, with Kevin Williams joining a fierce unit. San Francisco looks vulnerable, and the 49ers are the only team that seems capable of standing up to Seattle physically. Russell Wilson is primed to have a great season.
Vikings record: 8-8. I think this will be a well-coached team that will have people excited by the end of the season, but this team will also face a brutal early-season schedule that could end its playoff hopes early.
Checking in from TCF Bank Stadium on a rainy night…
-Let me get this straight: A college football player told a lie, and everybody went nuts?
Many college football coaches lie for a living. Between recruiting improprieties and academic mischievousness, college football might be almost as corrupt as Congress. I can’t think of a worse insult.
Josh Shaw told a silly lie, and the school publicized it to make the school look good. Shaw will pay for his mistake with a tarnished reputation, and years of jokes.
USC, the athletic director and the coach will continue to get rich even, as was the case for Pete Carroll and probably a majority of USC coaches through the years, the school or its employees broke the rules to win football games.
Give me the kid who made a mistake any day.
-What should you watch for in the Gopher game?
Last year, the Gophers earned their biggest victories by making big plays on defense.
They earned their most important losses by failing to make big plays on offense.
While they’ve lost key defensive starters, I expect them to be sound defensively. I expect them to be able to run the ball. The big question is whether Mitch Leidner and his young receivers make big plays in the passing game.
-I guess we should congratulate Roger Goodell on belatedly getting it right, on belatedly strengthening punishments for NFL players who are guilty of domestic violence.
What’s sad is that Goodell responded not after watching a tape of Ray Rice dragging his wife out of an elevator, but after he was pilloried in the media.
I’m glad he reacted. I just wish he would have reacted to the right thing.
I’ll be on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 a.m. on Friday, and on 1500ESPN-AM at 12:15. We’ll run Sunday Sports Talk from the fair on Sunday, 10-noon, at the 1500ESPN porch, near Sweet Martha’s.
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