The Vikings players and coaching staff have taken the approach that whatever happened last season has nothing to do with this season, but you have to wonder if the fact that they started 2-2 last season and lost the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia has them feeling like Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field is a turning point in their current 1-3-1 season.
Coach Mike Zimmer said that he hasn’t lost faith in his football team, despite its slow start.
“You know we started out 2-2 and you look at the schedule we have played and we have San Francisco who won their first five games [with Jimmy Garoppolo], Buffalo was in the playoffs [last season], Green Bay in Lambeau, Thursday night in L.A., we have had a tough schedule,” Zimmer said. “But we will get back to playing good football here.”
Zimmer thinks that the Vikings’ difficult schedule should help them in going into Philadelphia.
“Most of these places, L.A., Lambeau and now Philadelphia, they’re all tough,” he said, adding that he feels like he gained a lot from the loss in the playoffs last season. “I learned pretty good. It is tough to play at Lincoln Financial. They have a very good offensive line, very physical on defense, so yeah, we’ll have to play good.”
Maybe the biggest question mark in the game will be how Carson Wentz performs. The Vikings didn’t have a chance to face the North Dakota State product last season after he tore up his left knee, but before he went down he had led the Eagles to an 11-2 record and was the leading candidate for NFL MVP.
But in two games this season, Wentz hasn’t been quite as sharp. He has thrown for three touchdowns and one interception but has also been sacked nine times.
“We’re going to see Wentz, and he is obviously a very good quarterback,” Zimmer said. “He’s very talented, scrambles, athletic, very smart, big-time arm. I’m sure we’ll see him. They have a lot of weapons. [Alshon] Jeffrey on the outside, [Zach] Ertz at tight end and they put him all over the place, and they have a good running game, too.
“[Wentz] has been hit a few times so hopefully we can get to him. I’m sure they’ll do a lot of play-action stuff that the Rams did and keep a lot of people in, but if they spread it out, we’ll have some opportunities to hit him, yes.”
Worried about the defense
Zimmer didn’t mince words when saying he is worried about the Vikings defense, the side of the ball where he has made his name as an NFL coach.
The Vikings rank 21st in points against per game and 20th in yards against per game. Those would both be the worst marks in Zimmer’s career.
“Yeah, I am worried about it. We have given up way too many big plays. Too many big plays on first and second down, and we have to eliminate that,” he said.
Zimmer was asked about the loss of Everson Griffen and how that has affected the team. “We obviously miss him some, he’s a really good football player,” Zimmer said. “But things happen in life, and we have to adjust to them.”
While Zimmer added that he did not know whether Griffen would play again this season, he said Stephen Weatherly has stepped up in his place.
“Weatherly has been doing a good job,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s starting to exude a lot more confidence being able to play all the time, and that has been good to see.”
Mason sees improvement
Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason was the analyst for the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the team’s 48-31 home loss to Iowa on Saturday, which dropped the Gophers to 3-2 on the season heading into an almost impossible matchup with Ohio State next weekend in Columbus.
Still, Mason said he saw a big positive in this game from the Gophers.
“Today if I took one thing away about [the Gophers] I would say it’s their attitude,” Mason said. “No matter what happened in that game, they kept playing, they kept playing hard, they never gave up and they fought right down to the final whistle.”
While the Hawkeyes were able to attack the Gophers defense, it was just as impressive the way a young Gophers offense put up 31 points and 320 yards against an Iowa squad that was giving up 13.0 points and 260.5 yards per game heading into Saturday.
“I thought Minnesota did a good job of trying to exploit some weaknesses that the Iowa defense had. Iowa played two freshman corners, and they did a good job with the wide receivers that they have. Minnesota has some very talented, young wide receivers,” Mason said. “The other thing I was really impressed with was that Gophers run defense. Iowa has an awful good offensive line. They totally shut that running game down.”
The Gophers’ season has been a struggle of late with back-to-back losses by a combined score of 90-44, but Mason has seen improvement.
“They’re young, P.J. Fleck keeps talking about that, and I would agree with that,” Mason said. “You have three [wins] under their belt and you like to show improvement, I think the minimal goal is you’d like to find three more victories to get to a bowl, which would be very important, and I think that is feasible.”
• If you want my guess for the new Twins manager, look no further than bench coach Derek Shelton, who worked with Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey in Cleveland from 2007 to 2009. Shelton wasn’t Paul Molitor’s pick to be bench coach, but Falvey brought him here.
• Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes talked about shadowing Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who caught five receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game: “It’s nothing new. It’s not like the first couple of years when it was a surprise. Now you know I look forward to shadowing, but then again if the coaches change it this week, then I’m not going to shadow.”
• Vikings defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson said the team’s defensive mistakes are smaller than you would expect: “Missed step here and coverage gets beat, coverage block, whatever it may be, didn’t wrap up and tackle, and it’s small things of that nature that make you great.” Richardson went against Wentz last year with Seattle and had two tackles and a forced fumble in a 24-10 victory.
• Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings special teams unit No. 1 in the league last season. This year they are at No. 30, with this explanation: “A blocked punt for a touchdown, plus three missed field goals by fifth-round pick Daniel Carlson, basically cost them a win in Green Bay.” On the positive side, PFF wrote this about receiver Adam Thielen: “Through four games, no receiver in the league has logged more receptions as the result of being ‘open’ as Adam Thielen, who has 28 so far this year — eight more than the next closest receiver.”
• Could it be that Timberwolves coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau would rather keep Jimmy Butler and try during the season to talk him into signing here long-term? The word is that the Wolves are asking a lot for Butler in a trade, more than teams want to give.