On Sunday, we warned everyone not to get ahead of themselves. It was one game for the Vikings, one nice win — one dominant performance against bad quarterbacks, even if that scenario had produced career days for opponents in years past.
It wasn’t the time to go make bold extrapolations about how the rest of the season was going to play out.
Well, apparently three days later the time has come to jump to conclusions because we can’t stop looking at the Vikings’ schedule and wondering, “what if?”
What if they can beat New England in their home opener on Sunday? It’s not crazy. The Patriots looked ordinary in a Week 1 loss at Miami, and the Vikings’ looked better than most of us expected.
If that happens, of course, Minnesota is suddenly 2-0 after going into the season with a stretch of games many considered daunting. Even if they could make it out of the first six 3-3 — very reasonable if they can win Sunday — it would set them up well for the rest of the season, when their schedule (at least as we think we know it based on 2013 and early results this year) softens.
If the Vikings can beat New England, suddenly a record of 9-7 feels very realistic. Of course, you’ll recall that in Brad Childress’ first season, the Vikings were 4-2 and generating all kinds of good will heading into a showdown with the Patriots, who ended up routing Minnesota 31-7 in the Dome with a smart quick-strike pass attack.
This is eight years later. Different team, different coach. But in a league in which every game is of massive importance (relatively speaking, of course), Sunday’s game could be the benchmark by which we can measure true optimism this season.
Each Wednesday, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
67 — yards on Cordarrelle Patterson’s record-setting touchdown run Sunday.
Cordarrelle Patterson did not have a big day against the Rams as a receiver, catching three passes for 26 yards. But as we saw late in his rookie season, Patterson was able to make a huge impact as a runner. Patterson rushed for 102 yards on three carries, 67 of them coming on his highlight-reel touchdown in the third quarter. The play was the longest run by a wide receiver in Vikings history, and Patterson has now produced two of the top three. Patterson, who has averaged 17.3 yards per carry in his career, has scored four rushing TD’s, tying Percy Harvin’s team record for receivers.
21 — number of the Vikings’ runs against the Rams that went right.
When I went back and watched the game last night, I couldn’t help but notice the Vikings often running to the right behind guard Brandon Fusco and tackle Phil Loadholt — and away from Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. As it turns out, 21 of the team’s 31 rushing attempts went to the right of the center, according to Pro Football Focus, with Fusco and center John Sullivan often pulling. The Vikings picked up 158 of their 188 rushing yards going to the right — all three of Patterson’s big runs went that direction — and averaged 7.5 yards per carry.
three — passes thrown beyond 10 yards downfield against the Rams.
In an effort to keep Quinn, an All-Pro pass rusher, and the St. Louis front four off of starting quarterback Matt Cassel, offensive coordinator Norv Turner installed a conservative game plan with predominantly short throws. Often tossing screen passes, quick outs or hitches, Cassel threw 22 of his 25 attempts less than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That means he attempted just three throws beyond 10 yards. He completed one of them for 18 yards.
2.77 — the Rams’ quarterback rating when targeting Josh Robinson.
Fair or not, Josh Robinson was one of Pro Football Focus’ lowest-graded cornerbacks a season ago, but he gave them good tape to critique Sunday. Robinson came off the bench as the third corner before replacing the injured Xavier Rhodes in the base. He was targeted just three times in 29 snaps in coverage, allowing just one completion for seven yards. His second-quarter interception was a game-changer. Oh, if you are wondering, PFF gave him one of the team’s highest grades.
10 — plays in which the Vikings sent more than four pass rushers Sunday.
It sure felt like the Vikings blitzed a lot Sunday, and I’m sure the Rams quarterbacks would agree. But according to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings sent more than four pass rushers on just 10 passing plays, generating pressure on six of them. Overall, the Vikings were able to get pressure on 17 of the Rams’ 41 passing plays. That’s pretty good, but there is still room for improvement there. We’ll see if coach Mike Zimmer decides to be more aggressive against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
New head coach Mike Zimmer has been experimenting with pressure packages throughout the offseason and preseason, and in the first regular season game against the St. Louis Rams continued a strategy he's favored his entire career.
Today has been a quiet day on the beat — knock on wood — but the Vikings made a minor move.
The team just announced that they have signed third-year linebacker Josh Kaddu to their 10-man practice squad. Kaddu, went played his college ball at Oregon, was a Dolphins’ fifth-round pick in 2012 and played five total games in 2012 and 2013. He spent this preseason with the Eagles.
He fills the spot left vacant when safety Ahmad Dixon joined the Bears’ active roster yesterday.
In other Vikings news that was in the newspaper and hadn’t yet made it onto the blog, the Vikings reached an injury settlement with safety Jamarca Sanford, who started for them in 2012 and 2013. The Vikings had placed him on injured reserve. He is now free to join any of the 31 other teams.