We write this with the knowledge that hindsight is 20/20, that different circumstances led to where we are now and that scoring runs hasn’t been the Twins’ problem this season.
We will even acknowledge that some of the moves the Twins made with players we are about to describe were for the right reasons — building back up a depleted minor league pitching prospect roster.
All that said, my goodness, would you look at all the former Twins, most of them on offense, who are having big years.
Three of the top eight hitters in the NL, in terms of batting average, are ex-Twins (Justin Morneau, Ben Revere and Denard Span), while Carlos Gomez is No. 25. If batting average isn’t your thing, Morneau (fifth) and Gomez (17th) are up there in OPS.
That doesn’t even get into Michael Cuddyer, last year’s NL batting champ, who is hitting .333 and has homered in his last three games but doesn’t qualify on any leaderboards because injuries have limited his at bats this season.
On the pitching side, Vance Worley is 8-4 with a 2.93 ERA after throwing eight shutout innings Sunday for the Pirates. Francisco Liriano’s win total has regressed this season with the Pirates, but his 3.45 ERA in 151 innings would look mighty fine for the Twins.
Span and Revere were traded for pitching prospects, moves that made sense for a team going nowhere. Cuddyer left as a free agent, while Morneau was traded away. Both needed fresh starts. Worley was a disaster here, while Liriano was an enigma.
Still, it’s hard to look at what those players are producing now and not wonder 1) what that would have looked like on the 2014 Twins and/or 2) why some of those players weren’t as productive here as they have been elsewhere.
With pitchers, we can say the league switch makes some difference, but that’s also a little overblown. League average ERA in the NL this season is 3.67; in the AL, it’s 3.85. We’re pretty sure the Twins would take what Worley and Liriano have given the Pirates, even with a couple tenths of a run added on.
Before rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his NFL debut, he received a quick word from quarterbacks coach Scott Turner.
“This is your time,” Bridgewater said Turner told him. “Take advantage of it. This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Just relax, have fun and play football.”
Bridgewater went 12 of 20 for 150 yards and six rushing attempts for 27 yards replacing Matt Cassel, who suffered a foot injury during the second quarter. Head coach Mike Zimmer said the team will prepare now with Bridgewater at quarterback after Cassel fractured several bones in his foot.
“I think I did pretty good for the most part,” Bridgewater said. “Missed a couple of throws, couple easy throws, but overall I thought it was a good performance. I’ve got some areas to improve on.”
It’s a similar situation that gave Bridgewater his first opportunity at Louisville as a freshman. He replaced Will Stein during the third game of the season against Kentucky. Bridgewater went on to start during the rest of his freshman season and throughout his sophomore and junior years.
When asked if he was nervous, Bridgewater immediately replied, “Not at all. No, I wasn’t nervous because this is where I always wanted to be. Unfortunately the way that it happened wasn’t the way that I expected it to, but I was just able to go out there, relax; the guys put their trust in and me and said, ‘Hey, nothing changes. The game plan isn’t going to change. We’re just going to go out there and continue playing football.”
Zimmer said once Bridgewater did enter the game, the playbook was altered a bit to fit the rookie’s strengths, such as a 30-yard catch by wide receiver Greg Jennings on a play action, rollout pass.
“I thought he was very composed with everything,” Zimmer said. “There were some issues with the headsets on both sides of the ball today, but he handled it well. I believe that he’s going to be very good.”
The biggest moment in the Vikings’ 20-9 loss to the Saints at the Superdome on Sunday was a controversial penalty that killed the second half momentum the Vikings built.
Down 13-9 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Robert Blanton sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees on 3rd and 13. Munnerlyn lifted Brees up off the ground and threw him down viciously, prompting Brees to jump up and shove Blanton in frustration.
Munnerlyn was called for unnecessary roughness, extending the drive that ended on an 18-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Marques Colston seven plays later.
“I tried to get an answer from the referees, but they really wouldn’t talk to me,” Munnerlyn said. “I know coach will turn the play in and he’ll let me know what they say. I feel like I let my teammates down because it changed the game. At the end of the day, they called the penalty. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with the penalty, but they called it.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he spoke to referee Walt Anderson after the play, and he felt Munnerlyn threw Brees down with force. Anderson also said he blew the whistle once Munnerlyn and Blanton wrapped up Brees.
They Vikings had held the Saints scoreless since the first quarter and reeled off three field goals to draw within four points before Colston scored.
“I thought we had good momentum going on,” Zimmer said. “We were frustrating them a little bit offensively. I think we would’ve had good field position. Who knows, but they were a lot better than we were today.”
I’ll give you three reasons to be encouraged and three reasons to be discouraged. Take your pick. Here goes:
Three reasons to be encouraged:
1, There couldn’t have been a more difficult situation for Teddy Bridgewater to make his NFL debut. But the kid did some really good things, and that’s saying something when he’s thrown into a game cold when a veteran, Matt Cassel, breaks his foot. The game not only was on the road, but it was in New Orleans against a Rob Ryan defense in the Saints’ home opener. Bridgewater showed some strong awareness in the red zone, pulling the ball down and taking a loss to avoid the turnover and then running for a first down on a delayed draw to set up a field goal and make the game a one-possession contest. Bridgewater posted an 83.3 passer rating, didn’t turn the ball over and ran six times for a 4.5-yard average. Overall, he looked pretty good for his NFL debut.
2, The Vikings’ defense finally showed it can stop the run again. After five quarters of being pushed around by the Patriots last week and the Saints in the first quarter today, the run defense stiffened and the Vikings were able to put Drew Brees in some long third-down situations, which made the pass rush effective again. The reason the Vikings stayed in this game after being down 13-0 in the first quarter is because the run defense got its act together.
3, The special teams were a strength again with coordinator Mike Priefer back from his suspension. Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 30 yards on four kickoff returns, punter Jeff Locke averaged 45.3 yards with an even greater net average of 46.0. He had a long of 57 and three punts downed inside the 20. The Saints didn’t have kickoff return and they had minus-3 yards on punt returns.
Three reasons to be discouraged:
1, Injuries this severe in Week 3 tear down seasons. Cassel’s broken foot, coupled with Adrian Peterson’s indefinite leave, means it’s officially a rebuilding year. And rebuilding years have a lot of growing pains, particularly when there’s a rookie QB involved. And the likelihood that Bridgewater stays healthy behind this offensive line at its current level of play is slim. Christian Ponder will play a game before the season is over. Throw in a possible serious groin injury to tight end Kyle Rudolph and a shoulder injury to right guard Brandon Fusco and, well, this season appears to be collapsing quickly.
2, The offensive line was a disappointment for the second straight week. The rushing average last week was 2.8. This week, it was 2.7. There just aren’t enough quality holes being made. And there are too many defenders coming free on pass rushes.
3, The way the defense started was a major concern. Brees completed his first nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. He was pressured only one time, and on that play, all he had to do was take a slide step to his left. The Saints had 54 yards on just nine rushes in the first quarter. That enabled Brees to feel comfortable. By the time the Vikings corrected that situation, the Saints had the points they would need.
Coming home will help this team. But it better hope Josh Robinson’s hamstring injury isn’t serious because the opponent is a Falcons team that can stretch the field with multiple elite receivers.
1) If the Vikings wanted a diversion from the “distraction” of Adrian Peterson, it arrived Sunday when Matt Cassel was carted off the field with a toe injury. In came rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, and suddenly a juicy on-field story had emerged.
How did the rookie fare in the Vikings’ 20-9 loss to the Saints? Well, it was a mixed bag. The raw numbers — 12 for 20, 150 yards, no turnovers — were quite nice, particularly for a debut. Bridgewater usually looked composed, particularly in the face of some heavy rushes. On the other hand, this is a touchdown league and call Bridgewater could produce in roughly three quarters of football were a pair of field goals.
Maybe some of that falls on offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who looked a little conservative (again) Sunday. We get that Peterson isn’t around to carry the ball and take on the focus of a defense, but Cordarrelle Patterson and co. could still be used in more dynamic ways.
We’d say some of it falls on Bridgewater, too, though. He had the chance to make some plays and missed. It was a promising beginning for a rookie QB, but also an uneven one.
2) The biggest stat of the day came on the Saints’ third-down conversion rate. The Vikings under Mike Zimmer had been quite good in that category in the first two weeks of the season, allowing opposing offenses to convert just 9 of 28 third downs into first downs — in line with what Zimmer had consistently accomplished as D coordinator with the Bengals.
That all fell apart Sunday, though, as the Saints converted 9 of 13 third downs into first downs. That detracted from what was, at times, an impressive defensive effort (particularly after a terrible start).
The NFL is built on three things right now: turnovers (neither team had any), converting on third down (the Saints trumped the Vikings on Sunday) and cashing in scoring chances for TDs instead of FGs (the Saints had three TDs, the Vikings had three FGs on Sunday).
3) Speaking of third down, though, the Vikings should have been off the field on a critical third down in the second half. With New Orleans up 13-9 and facing third and long, Captain Munnerlyn blitzed off the corner, wrapped up Drew Brees and threw him to the ground. Apparently he did this with too much gusto for the refs because it earned him a flag — a penalty that was complete garbage and could be looked at as a turning point. Instead of punting, the Saints used turned the gift into a scoring drive that proved to be the game’s final TD.
We understand the need to protect quarterbacks in an increasingly violent game, but here’s the thing: if Munnerlyn eases up there, Brees might escape and complete a pass. What is a defensive player supposed to do? Quarterbacks are stronger and more elusive than ever. Munnerlyn is doing anything he can to bring down a bigger player (yes, even Brees is bigger than the Captain).
Munnerlyn said postgame that he felt he let his teammates down. That’s the right thing to say, but the truth is the game let the Vikings down. The league wants to have it both ways. And in doing so, the Vikings were cheated out of a big third down stop.
Viking head coach Mike Zimmer said after today’s 20-9 loss to the Saints that starting quarterback Matt Cassel broke multiple bones in one of his feet while scrambling out of the pocket in the second quarter. Cassel is out indefinitely and his broken foot could threaten to sideline him for the season.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his NFL debut after Cassel limped off the field and was carted to the locker room. He completed 12 of his 20 attempts for 150 yards and no turnovers.
“I thought he was very composed. I didn’t see any panic,” Zimmer said. “I believe that he’s going to be pretty good.”
Three other Vikings starters and a key reserve left with injuries, a couple of them potentially major.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has a groin injury and will undergo more tests tomorrow. Right guard Brandon Fusco has a shoulder injury that also has the team concerned.
Outside linebacker Chad Greenway started despite a broken hand, but it was his existing rib injury that shut him down early today. Cornerback Josh Robinson left the game with a hamstring injury. Not sure if it’s the same one from the preseason or how serious the injury is.