Opening a new stadium did not provide enough drama for the Minnesota Vikings. They needed to make sure that anyone new to Vikingdom fully appreciated what it means to follow their team.
So in the past few weeks they lost a franchise quarterback, traded for a franchise quarterback, won a game with a journeyman, beat their primary rivals while unveiling their new stadium in prime time, lost their franchise running back, had another first-round pick undergo surgery, placed another first-round pick on injured reserve, and flew to a city where the home team always wins and there are protests in the streets.
The kids call this “Because Vikings,” or “Going Full Vikings,” but they were doing this long before sentence fragments became cool.
In three weeks the Vikings lost four first-round draft picks to injury — Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil and Sharrif Floyd. Three of those players play offense, already the weak link at Winter Park.
The Vikings did not score an offensive touchdown in their Week 1 victory at Tennessee. Only the immediate symbiosis between Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs allowed them to reach 17 points in a victory over Green Bay at home.
A season after ranking 29th in total offense, the Vikings rank 28th in total offense, measured by yards gained.
Their running game was abysmal even with a healthy Peterson. Their offensive line is a mess, again. Their receiving corps has yet to produce a proven No. 2 to the fast-rising Diggs. And if Diggs hadn’t made big plays in the first two games it’s unlikely that anyone else would have made them instead.
The Vikings’ lack of star power, production and depth on offense would sound prohibitive if not for the fact that this team was never supposed to set scoring records, or even rank near the top of the league in offense.
For the first time since Tony Dungy worked here in the mid-’90s, the Vikings are built to win with defense. That was the plan the moment Rick Spielman hired Mike Zimmer, and that plan has been in evidence in the Vikings’ style of play since he arrived.
Winning with defense has proved to be a pretty good approach in the NFL of late.
The presence of Peyton Manning in the huddle may have fooled casual observers into thinking he won the last Super Bowl. In fact, he was the definition of a “game manager” on his way to turning the postgame celebration into a beer commercial.
The 2015 Broncos watched their star running back slump, their star quarterback struggle and get hurt and backup Brock Osweiler create a temporary quarterback drama. While the offense provided intrigue, the Broncos won because of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and a group of defenders who shut down perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time, in Tom Brady, and the greatest quarterback of 2015, in Cam Newton.
Zimmer sounded awed by Denver’s defense on Wednesday, but his bears similarities. The Vikings rely on versatile pass rushers and cornerback depth to confuse quarterbacks and control receivers. The emergence of Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander as talented and useful young corners give the Vikings depth at one of football’s most important positions.
The Seattle Seahawks came within one play of winning two consecutive Super Bowls largely because of a superior defense. Before that, the Ravens and 49ers relied on defense to reach Super Bowl XLVII, and the New York Giants held Brady and the Patriots to 17 points the year before.
Defense wins championships? Not by itself, but in the modern NFL it is more necessary than a flashy offense.
Today, the Vikings face an almost unfair test for a new quarterback, running back and left tackle. They face a quality Carolina defense in a stadium where the Panthers haven’t lost since 2014.
The Vikings’ offense once again finds itself in shreds. Two decades after Denny Green called the Vikings’ passing game “The System,” Zimmer has made winning with defense systemic.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On