Then came the day after.
The Minnesota Vikings knew they weren’t going to finish the 2016 season undefeated. In fact, given the injuries they have sustained on offense, it has been a credit to the defense that the Vikings have helped hide the deficiencies this long.
But Sunday’s 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was akin to Murphy’s Law on offense – whatever could go wrong, did go wrong.
Heading into the game, one of the points that was highlighted about the matchup was that Philadelphia does a very good job of collapsing the pocket, especially as it pertains to quarterbacks who do buy a lot of extra time or present the threat of the scramble.
The Eagles lost to the Redskins due in large part to bringing four defensive linemen on most plays, forcing QB Kirk Cousins to move and creating plays in the vacated areas. When the Eagles crushed the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-3 and pounded Ben Roethlisberger, they did so by bringing blitz pressure early and often.
They saw something in the Vikings (the blocking schemes by an offensive line in flux) that they could exploit. Having coached Sam Bradford, they knew the Vikings weren’t going to roll him out and, if they did, he wasn’t going far. He was going to be in the pocket and the key was going to be bringing numbers.
To say the Vikings failed to adapt to that defensive philosophy is an understatement. Philadelphia provided a defensive blueprint to handle the Vikings and now the same media analysts that have been drinking the Kool Aid are jumping off the Vikings bandwagon. One can only imagine that the Vikings are going to drop significantly on all of the weekly power rankings despite still being tied with Dallas for the best record in the NFC.
It was one game out of a 16-game schedule and, in the end, will be no more or no less important than the dominating wins the Vikings posted over the Panthers, Giants and Texans earlier in the season.
To quote Aaron Rodgers, Vikings fans might want to “R-E-L-A-X.”
The Vikings defense actually played a very good game Sunday if you look at the game in its entirety. They harassed Carson Wentz consistently and twice set the Vikings offense up in the red zone in the first quarter. Had the Vikings not turned the ball over on offense as often as they did – both teams had four turnovers – it would have been a very different game.
The Vikings defense allowed just one touchdown in the game – the other TD came on a 98-yard kickoff return. Yet, the ineptitude of the offense was a killer and decided the game.
The Eagles have one of those types of defenses that, if they spot a weakness, they attack. Sometimes that works. Sometimes they get burned badly. It was clear early on that the Vikings weren’t going to be able to stop the Philadelphia blitz scheme and it resulted in numerous negative-yardage plays and turnovers.
Every other team in the league has felt the sting of losing. The Vikings were just the last team to experience that. The last time Minnesota was beaten as soundly as they were Sunday was when they hosted Seattle last December. The Seahawks used a very similar approach, bringing more than four defenders on most plays and overwhelming the Vikings offensive line.
Philadelphia did the same and the result was similar.
This isn’t ignoring the problems that the Vikings have.
Their offensive line was dismal Sunday. Their planned rotation of tackles Jake Long, T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles was a disaster. Even after the game, head coach Mike Zimmer carefully chose his words when asked if Long was rusty. Two of the Vikings’ four turnovers were the result of Long being overwhelmed when backing up in pass protection and allowing defenders to get to Bradford and strip the ball from him.
One game does not a season make. To look back at the Giants game and the way the Vikings dominated Eli Manning and the Giants offense, you would think the Giants would be in line to lose the rest of their games this season. Yet, they’ve won their last two games and, by the way, are the only team that has beaten Dallas this year.
The reality of the NFL is that every game is different. What works one week doesn’t work the next. There have been concerns about the offensive line all season, but nobody was complaining when they were performing well enough to win games.
Sunday was a gut punch to the Vikings. They got hammered – no two ways about it. Things are going to have to change. But, every week a team gets exposed for the things that they do wrong.
Did New England fans panic when they got shut out by Buffalo – the same oppressive Buffalo defense that got gutted by Miami on Sunday? When Washington started 0-2, was the Redskins’ season over? Is Arizona dead in the water at 3-3-1? Did Pittsburgh curl up in a ball and die when it got pounded by the Eagles?
The reality of the NFL is that, with the exception of Cleveland, just about any team is capable of winning a game from week to week. It’s the teams that avoid losing streaks that are the ones that succeed.
The Vikings are still the same team that started the year 5-0. They got off to a brutal start Sunday and it steamrolled on them, just like it happens to good teams at some point during every season.
The fact remains that the Vikings still have (essentially) a two-game lead in the division over Green Bay due to a win in hand against them. They can continue to take care of the business that means the most – winning division games – a week from today when they face the Bears. As long as they have those five wins in the bank, there isn’t any reason to panic.
Are there causes for concerns? Most definitely. The O-line issues and the lack of a running game are big questions for the long-term ability of the Vikings to make a run. But the trademark of the 2016 Vikings is defense and, even under extreme circumstances, the defense did enough to win Sunday. If the offense and special teams don’t take a header, they’re going to continue to win.