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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Greetings from the press box at TCF Bank Stadium, where Team Strib is preparing for the Vikings-Lions game.
At the beginning of the season, I thought that if everything went right - Matt Cassel played well and stayed healthy, Adrian Peterson performed well in the Vikings' offense, Kyle Rudolph had a breakout season and Mike Zimmer's defense worked well - the Vikings might win two of their first six games.
Despite all of their problems - injuries, suspensions, turmoil - the Vikings have already won two. In a division in which there are no sure things, and with Calvin Johnson's injury short-circuiting what looked like a possibly dominant Lions team, the Vikings have a chance to jump into contention today.
They face the Lions without Johnson and Reggie Bush, at home, in the rare game at TCF Bank that will be considered an advantage for Minnesota. The Lions rarely play well outdoors, and the loss of Johnson and Bush will make them much easier to game-plan against.
Here are the two most prominent aspects of the game I'll be watching today:
-Can Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner help Teddy Bridgewater get comfortable against a surprisingly strong defense? Can he involve Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerick McKinnon, his two most talented players?
-Can Harrison Smith run well on his sore ankle? Can the Vikings stuff running back Joquie Bell, and limit Golden Tate's ability to run after the catch?
If the Vikings can do those two things, I believe they win. And if they win, they'll be in contention for a playoff spot despite all of the terrible things that have happened to them so far.
The importance of any individual NFL game becomes overblown because of scarcity. There just aren’t many games, so they all seem important.
This one might actually have been. The Vikings faced the prospects of falling to 1-3 if they lost at home to Atlanta. That would be 1-3 with an injury-depleted roster, with Adrian Peterson perhaps never carrying the ball for them again, and with under pressure being placed on key rookies.
A couple of rookies earned the Vikings a 41-28 victory on Sunday over Atlanta.
Teddy Bridgewater made his first career start and completed 19-of-30 passes for 317 yards and no interceptions, even running for a touchdown. He looked cool and comfortable until he injured his ankle in the fourth quarter, causing Christian Ponder to finish the game in relief.
Bridgewater’s longtime running partner may be rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, who for the first time was a big part of the game plan. McKinnon rushed 18 times for 135 yards.
An NFL team’s prospects change week to week, but if Bridgewater and McKinnon can remain healthy, they could have a lot more days like they had on Sunday.
Bridgewater became the first rookie quarterback this season to pass for 300 yards, while making his first NFL start. McKinnon displayed the strength and speed that made him a third-round draft pick.
This might sound strange, but it's true: The Vikings might not be missing Adrian Peterson for long.
By halftime, Vikings fans were booing. By early in the third quarter, they were chanting for the backup quarterback. This wasn't how Mike Zimmer imagined his first home game as the Vikings' head coach proceeding.
The Vikings scored on their first drive, with an impressive show of play-calling and game-planning, driving 80 yards in seven plays without Adrian Peterson (obviously) or Cordarrelle Patterson touching the ball. By early in the third period, they hadn't scored again, and Matt Cassel had thrown three interceptions, and the chants of ``Teddy!'' were raining down from the stands, as fans begged for rookie backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The final: Patriots 30, Vikings 7, with the Patriots scoring 30 straight points. Cassel finished with four interceptions, one more than Christian Ponder ever threw in a game. The last wasn't his fault, as it bounced off the hands of Matt Asiata, but the previous three were terrible decisions and throws.
Instead of spreading the Vikings out and picking on their lesser defensive backs, the Patriots played as if they knew that only a big mistake could lose this game. They remained patient, running the ball and throwing underneath, and the Vikings made enough mistakes - with four interceptions and a blocked field goal for a touchdown - to reward that approach.
So, after two weeks, the Vikings have one impressive road victory and one unsightly home loss, as they head to New Orleans for what, on paper, looks like the toughest of the first quarter of the season
Cassel had a chance to move the Vikings well ahead of expecations. Instead, he attempted throws that would have gotten a rookie benched. The Vikings' defense played better than the score indicates. One Patriots touchdown was the result of that blocked field goal attempt, and another came on a one-yard drive after one of Cassel's interceptions.
The Vikings coaching staff never seemed interested in playing Bridgewater, and certainly wouldn't bench Cassel after one bad game. Another bad performance may open up the possibility of Bridgewater making his debut sooner than expected.
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 -
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.
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