Sam Bradford and the undefeated Vikings are coming to town. (What world are we in?) We want to be as ready for Sunday as possible, so we reached out to the fine Christopher Gates of Daily Norseman to talk about Minnesota’s premier sporting team. Here’s what we talked about:
1. The elephant in the room: how's our old friend Sammy Sleeves doing? Has he been better than expected? Is he just being buoyed by all the talent around him, on both sides of the ball?
It's really, really hard to not be impressed with Sam Bradford at this point. When he was first acquired, it was expected that his job was going to be to manage the game and take the heat off of Adrian Peterson. Then, Bradford and Peterson got to play exactly two and a half quarters together, and Bradford has just kept rolling along anyway.
Truth be told, this is a much different, and, frankly, much better Minnesota offense without Peterson, largely because it's more diverse. Prior to Peterson's injury, the offense was centered around him and his limitations, namely he doesn't run well out of the shotgun, he's never been a great pass blocker, and he's not a great receiver out of the backfield. This made the Vikings' offense terribly predictable, but not having Peterson in the lineup has helped that to no longer be the case.
Sure, the Vikings have some talent on the offensive side in guys like Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, but I don't know if the Vikings' offense would be performing at the same level with Shaun Hill at the controls as it has been with Bradford. I'm curious to see how he's going to perform with a bye week to absorb a little more of the playbook, to be honest.
2. The Vikings lost Adrian Peterson for the year, and then a little while later Matt Kalil as well. How do you explain the offense not missing a beat?
Again, I think a lot of this goes back to Bradford's performance. He's getting the ball out quickly, he's limiting the number of sacks he's taking, and as I mentioned earlier, his presence (and Adrian Peterson's absence) is making the offense more diverse. I think another big part of it is the mentality that head coach Mike Zimmer has instilled in this team.
They've really taken the "next man up" thing to an entirely new level. Since the first of September, this team has lost their starting quarterback, their starting running back, and both of their Week 1 starters at the tackle spots, as right tackle Andre Smith joined Kalil on injured reserve prior to Minnesota's last game). Granted, T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles, who replaced Kalil and Smith, respectively, haven't really been that great a drop-off from what the starters were providing. Frankly, Sirles is probably a massive improvement over what Smith is providing. The Vikings signed free agent Jake Long last Monday, and with a couple of weeks to learn the offense, I'd be surprised if he wasn't starting at left tackle on Sunday with Clemmings going back to more of a swing tackle role.
3. The Minnesota defense, man. Everyone is scared for Carson Wentz's safety. What's the No. 1 strength of the unit, and what, if any, are its weaknesses?
I think that the strength of the Minnesota defense doesn't lie at any one particular position, but more in their depth at every spot. There have been injuries on the defensive side of the ball for the Vikings this season, too. They played the first two weeks of the season without cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who's developing quite a reputation for himself in the games he has played this season.
They also haven't had defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd since the opener against Tennessee with a knee issue. But this team rotates in so many players - they rotate seven or eight guys in along the defensive line, they rotate the cornerbacks to keep people fresh - and regardless of who they have out there at any given time, the defense just keeps producing. They have a couple of truly indispensable players, such as safety Harrison Smith and nose tackle Linval Joseph, but for the most part these players have been in the Vikings' scheme long enough that Mike Zimmer and George Edwards can trust any of them to be in the right place at the right time.
4. I'm curious: when the Sam Bradford trade went down, what were your initial reactions? Did you really think this could be a Super Bowl-level team with any serviceable quarterback?
I think the reaction for most of us was two-fold. The first was, "Damn, that's a lot to give up for Sam Bradford." That seemed to be the reaction of everyone, not just Vikings fans, but it appears to have been the right call to this point. The second part of the reaction was, "Man, what does this mean for Teddy Bridgewater?" See, most Vikings fans, myself included, don't just like Teddy Bridgewater. We loooooooooooooooooooooove Teddy Bridgewater. I'm talking full-on man crush here. And why wouldn't they? He's endeared himself to the Twin Cities community in his two-plus seasons, and appeared to be ready to take a significant step this coming season.
For Rick Spielman to have given up a first-round pick for Bradford, who's under contract through next season, seemed to confirm the speculation that Bridgewater might not be full-go for the 2017 season. If he is, the Vikings will still have Bridgewater under his rookie contract and will have a quandary that they haven't had for a while, which is having two capable quarterbacks on the roster at the same time. This brings me to one of the mantras I've adopted over the past few seasons: When it comes to football, Rick Spielman is a hell of a lot smarter than I am.
5. How noticeable has Pat Shurmur's influence been on the Vikings' offense? We got to know Pat fairly well over the past three years. Is he part of Kyle Rudolph's excellent season?
I think that Shurmur may be playing a role in Rudolph's season to this point, but honestly this is what Rudolph should have been all along. With his size and his catch radius, he should be a guy that can reliably be found on third downs to move the chains, and in the red zone. We saw that in his second year in the league in 2012 when he hauled in nine touchdown passes. He could be viewed as a fairly reliable safety blanket, and with Bradford still sort of getting used to Norv Turner's offense, that might be the role he's playing. Sure, he'll have times where he makes a ridiculously hard catch and then drops a ridiculously easy one, but it may be that Shurmur is helping him to have more consistency in his game.
BONUS: Who wins, and what's the score?
I think the Vikings can pull this one out on the road. The Eagles' newfound struggles on the offensive line, plus a rookie quarterback (albeit one that has been fairly impressive so far, for the most part) is just the sort of thing Mike Zimmer and company love to see. If the Vikings can get ahead of the game early, the defense is going to be able to pin their ears back and come after Wentz, and I'm not sure if there's any way that ends well for the home team. I'll go with the Vikings by a score of 24-13 in this one.