The Minnesota Vikings are without offensive signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater for the entire year. That is okay, because they will rely heavily on superstar running back Adrian Peterson. Oh wait – that’s right. He’s out for the season with a torn meniscus. Adding on to all of this, the Vikings’ former Pro-Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil is out for the rest of the season due to a torn labrum in his hip. This sounds like the start of a nightmare season for Vikings fans…yet they’re 4-0, and show no signs of regression.
The Minnesota Vikings traded next year’s first round draft pick for former Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in 2010, Sam Bradford. Don’t let the past glory fool you; he’s had a less-than-impressive career so far, and become somewhat of a laughing stock around the NFL. This move made many fans scratching their heads.
So far, Sam Bradford has shown that he was worth the trade. Of the three games he’s played this season, he has a 69.5 completion percentage rating, a 105.5 quarterback rating (QBR), and he has yet to turn the ball over.
It’s hard to get any more value out of a quarterback, especially when he’s had virtually no time to prepare for the Vikings offense. Not to mention, the Vikings are currently last in the NFL at running the ball, averaging 64.3 yards per game. With all that being said, the Vikings’ offense seems to be running smoothly enough. They are not wowing fans without video game offensive numbers, and they don’t have to with one of the NFL’s best defenses on their side.
If there was one word to define the Vikings’ defense this season, it’s relentless. Not counting Monday night’s game against the Giants, the Vikings have forced turnovers on 25.7 percent of opposing drives. That’s an insane statistic. They have forced nine turnovers in the first three games. To put that into perspective, they reached nine turnovers in eight games last season. They added two more turnovers against the New York Giants, the first time this season they didn’t register three turnovers. So far, the Vikings are at the top of the league in takeaways.
It all starts up front for the Vikings. The monster defensive linemen Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Brian Robison wreak havoc amongst opposing offenses, and they continue to prove that this pass rush is for real. This group has registered 15 sacks so far this season, second only to the Super Bowl champions in the Denver Broncos.
The line-backing core for the Vikings consists of two former teammates, and roommates, in college at UCLA in Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Kendricks is a fine player who is known to stuff the run game at the line of scrimmage. However, Barr is the cornerstone of the Vikings defense. He had a Pro-Bowl selection last season, and has been a highly touted player at every level of his career. The 6’5” linebacker is a matchup nightmare for opposing running backs, and has the potential to be an all-pro caliber player.
The secondary is led by safety Harrison Smith, who is arguably the best safety in the league. Smith is an incredibly versatile player who is at the heart of the coverage schemes for the team. Beyond Smith, the two corners for the Vikings Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are morphing from decent NFL players into elite shutdown corners that can change the game. Of course, these guys’ jobs are a lot easier when the defensive line is getting to the quarterback seemingly at will, but these players are no slouches. The veteran Terrance Newman has made a solid impact on the youngsters as well.
The Vikings defense is stacked with good players, but what makes this defense really click is the amount of pressure they put on the opposing team’s quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, they do an extremely good job of disguising coverages and blitzes by stacking the players at the line of scrimmage. Putting almost everybody at the line confuses other offenses on who’s actually blitzing and who is dropping into coverage. This scheme is the reason why the Vikings rank second in the league in sacks and have the best turnover ratio.
This Vikings defense is legit, but are they as good as previous great defenses? Can they be compared to the 1985 Bears? 2000 Ravens? 2015 Broncos? That can’t be answered right now. We’ll soon find out within the next few months of the season.
Stellar quarterback plays and a stifling defense is a recipe of a winning football team, and so far the Vikings have it. If the Vikings keep up this level of football, we could be seeing them make a deep run come playoff time.