The Arizona Cardinals take on the Minnesota Vikings this morning, and Daily Norseman’s own Chris Gates was kind enough to stop by and gives us an inside look at the Vikings.
Thanks to Chris and good luck today.
1. The obvious, what the heck happened to the Vikings from game six on?
I think the biggest thing is that teams have figured out just exactly how awful Minnesota's offensive line is. I mean, it wasn't expected to be great or anything, but I think we all just assumed that it wouldn't get any worse than it was last year, but here we are. . .and things are worse. The shift to a short passing game has helped a bit, and I think we're going to see more of that going forward. On defense, quarterbacks seem to be getting rid of the ball quicker, as the Vikings haven't been able to get to opposing quarterbacks as frequently as they did during the five-game winning streak.
2. How has the offense looked since Norv left?
Well, in the two games since Pat Shurmur has taken over as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, the Vikings haven't had nearly as many seven-step drops and deep passes, which were hallmarks of the Turner system. Shurmur has attempted to mitigate the disaster that is Minnesota's offensive line by getting Sam Bradford to get the ball out of his hands a little faster, and it's been paying dividends thus far. Minnesota is on pace for a historically awful run offense, so the short passing game is likely going to serve as a running game until the offensive line shows some sort of ability to block in the run game.
3. Is the running game being bad the OL, the RB's or a combination?
I think it's almost entirely on the offensive line. When Adrian Peterson is averaging 1.6 yards/carry when he's healthy, I don't think the running backs can be cited as the problem. It hasn't mattered who has been trying to run the ball for this team, whether it's Peterson or Jerick McKinnon or Matt Asiata or Ronnie Hillman. For whatever reason, this team simply can't open any holes for any backs to get through. I'm sure that part of it is the fact that the line has shuffled a lot because of injuries, but the greater problem, in my opinion, is that this offensive line simply doesn't have a whole lot of talent. In the last ten drafts, the Vikings have spent a total of two first or second-round picks on offensive lineman. One of those was Matt Kalil, who's out for the year. The other was Phil Loadholt, who retired this offseason and hadn't played in the regular season since 2014. When you see teams like the Cowboys that have invested multiple first-round picks in the offensive line and compare them to what the Vikings are currently fielding, you can see that the Vikings might need to start shifting their focus on draft day.
4. Defensively, the Vikings have talent all of the field, is it just a mirage that they are struggling or is it a group that is being worn down having to carry the load every week?
I think that some of it has come from having to carry the load, and some of it has had to do with injuries. The injuries on the defensive side haven't been nearly as extensive as they have been on the offensive side, but they've still had an impact. We've had Eric Kendricks miss time recently, and he's a big difference maker at the linebacker spot. It seems like Xavier Rhodes gets hurt in some way every week, and there have been other issues in the secondary. I think it would be much easier on the defense if the offense could actually start scoring some points, but at the end of the day they have to get back to what made them successful early on in the season.
5. Who do Arizona Cardinals fans need to know about that could have an impact on Sunday?
One of the names that Cardinals fans might not be familiar with is wide receiver Adam Thielen. Since I'd expect Stefon Diggs to see a lot of Patrick Peterson on Sunday afternoon, it's going to be up to the Vikings' secondary receivers to make plays if this team wants to move the ball. Thielen is the classic "local kid does good" story, having played his college ball at Minnesota State University (where the Vikings hold Training Camp) and starting out on the practice squad, eventually fighting his way up to special teams and now having a big role in the offense. Thielen has been a present surprise, and if Peterson does a good job of locking down Diggs, he will hopefully have plenty of opportunities on Sunday afternoon.
As far as the winner. . .well, I'm a huge homer, and I'd like for the Vikings' season to not come to an end on Sunday. A loss on Sunday would make the Vikings the first team in NFL history to follow a season-opening five-game winning streak with a five-game losing streak, and with the Detroit Lions not looking like they're slowing down, the Vikings are probably going to need this one to keep pace with them in the NFC North. I'm going to predict a Vikings win. . .flying in the face of just about all logic. . .by a score of 23-20.