The Vikings were 7-2 after nine games last season compared to their current mark of 5-3-1 heading into the bye week after a 24-9 victory over the Lions on Sunday. There’s no doubt the Vikings defense finally looked as dominant as they did a year ago in that game.
At this point the Vikings rank sixth in the NFL in yards allowed per game at 322.2, compared to being second in the league after nine games last season at 294.6 yards allowed. The Vikings are 14th in points allowed per game at 22.7 after being sixth after nine games last season (18.3 ppg).
Still, there is one area in which the Vikings are dominating defensively, and you have to wonder if it’s a sign of things to come.
The Vikings lead the league with 31 sacks, compared to 25 through nine games last season. Their 10 sacks against the Lions were a Vikings single-game record and showed how dangerous they can be with Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson, Stephen Weatherly and Tom Johnson rushing the passer.
The Vikings have been trying to get healthy all year, and against Detroit they showed the blueprint for the rest of the season. They stopped the run, defended the pass well and their defensive lineman pounded Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
The Vikings held 12 of their 16 opponents under 20 points last season, but this year they have held only four of their first nine opponents under 20. The good news, however, is three of those four occasions happened in the past four games.
Yes, there might not be a Vikings team in recent history with as much talent as this squad. ESPN this week rated wide receiver Adam Thielen as the No. 2 offensive player in the NFL and Hunter as the No. 2 defensive player.
They are getting closer to being the team coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman envisioned when they signed Kirk Cousins, and the bye week couldn’t come at a better time for injured players trying to get healthy.
Purple People Eaters?
Quite a few Vikings defensive linemen have been more productive than last season.
Johnson recorded a personal-best 2½ sacks against the Lions — more than the two sacks he had in all of last season. Johnson also has two fumble recoveries this year.
The statistics for Hunter are even more lopsided. He had only four sacks and 24 tackles through nine games last season compared to 11½ sacks and 43 tackles this year.
Joseph has notched 31 tackles, including a sack and four tackles for loss, to go along with a forced fumble and a 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Eagles this season. Last year through nine contests, he did have more tackles (39) and sacks (2½).
Through nine games with the Seahawks last season, Richardson had recorded only one sack because Seattle coaches weren’t sure how to use him. He did have 23 tackles and an interception. But compare that to this season: 30 tackles, 1½ sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
The one big plus for the second half could be the return of Griffen to his excellent playing form.
The entire team was more worried about Griffen’s mental health and well-being during his five-week absence than they were about his availability on the field, but if Griffen continues to be healthy and able to play, there is no question he can be a huge difference-maker.
And who knows how differently opponents will have to block Griffen over the final seven games, now that Hunter has emerged as a dominant player and Joseph, Richardson and Johnson are playing great in their own right?
Mark Wilf honored
Vikings owner/team president Mark Wilf was given a great honor last month when he was named the new chair of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) board of trustees in a unanimous vote at the federations’ general assembly in Tel Aviv.
“Mark Wilf will be an outstanding chair,” outgoing JFNA board Chairman Richard Sandler said. “In business, his accomplishments are many. … As a philanthropist, his generosity is matched by few.”
Both of Wilf’s parents, Joseph and Elizabeth, were Holocaust survivors and committed philanthropists in their own right. That has continued with their sons, who have helped raise millions of dollars for Holocaust survivors.
Wilf, who said he was humbled and excited by the decision, added, “We have to continue finding ways to engage young Jewish people in building a community and caring for our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world and here in the United States.”
Douglas stands out
Wide receiver Demetrius Douglas was exactly the kind of player P.J. Fleck wanted to target when he became Gophers football coach.
Douglas is a legacy — both his father, Omar, and his mother, Adriane, attended the University of Minnesota. His dad was one of the Gophers’ best wideouts with 1,681 receiving yards, 130 receptions and 14 receiving touchdowns, all marks in the top 10 in school history. Omar also set a school record with five touchdown catches against Purdue in 1993.
“[Omar] has mentioned it a couple of times before,” Demetrius said. “He made sure to tell me not to do that when I got here, but we will see.”
The Gophers had to outrecruit Oregon to land Douglas, who many programs sought as a safety, but Gophers coaches wanted him as a wide receiver. Besides Oregon, Douglas had offers from Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth.
Did he feel any pressure from his family to come to Minnesota?
“Both of my parents did a great job of having it be my decision and not forcing me to pick a school, this school or that school,” Douglas said.
Does his dad still try and evaluate his play?
“He still has that inner coach in him to coach me up and teach me and tell me what I did well and things to improve,” he said.
Douglas is playing with some of the best young pass-catchers in the country. He has caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown and is also fifth in the Big Ten in kick return yards with 490.
“Our receiving core is super strong, and we learn each and every day, challenging each other,” he said. “In the wideout room, [junior] Tyler Johnson has been a great leader teaching us young wideouts, because we are a pretty young group. He has done a phenomenal job leading us, being demanding of us and teaching us how to better our game.”