2018 NFL Season Preview: Can the Minnesota Vikings separate themselves from the rest of the pack?

2018 Season Preview, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

It was a frisson inducing moment. Fans of the Minnesota Vikings joined together in raucous thunder clapping after having just witnessed an incredible last second Stefon Diggs touchdown that would later be dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle.” The man leading the chants was Case Keenum, the quarterback who came out of nowhere to somehow win the Teddy Bridgewater vs Sam Bradford quarterback battle. The long time journey man was an unexpected hero in Minnesota and was now only a game away from leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl in their own home stadium.

A week later Keenum and the Vikings would be battered by a Philadelphia Eagles team that had the honor of winning their franchises first Super Bowl at US Bank Stadium.

The 2018 Vikings plan on being right back in the mix of things. They return every major piece of an incredible defense, and much of their offensive cast remains the same. Minnesota did make one key change on offense that they hope will make all the difference this season.

Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater have all moved on from the Twin Cities and Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Washington Redskins, was handed a massive contract and the responsibility of leading the 2018 Vikings to the success the 2017 version let slip through their fingers.

Now with a star quarterback, one of the best receiving duos in the league in Diggs and Adam Theilen, the return of Dalvin Cook and a defense with pro bowl potential at every single position the Vikings have created a super team. Unfortunately, they play in a tough NFC where teams all around the conference have loaded up and are ready to make Super Bowl runs of their own.

Minnesota will yet again be among the favorites in the NFC, but have they done enough to distance themselves from the pack?

The Vikings and Their Unbeatable Pass Rush

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Minnesota Vikings defense has led them to a 4-0 start this season, yet they are still somehow underrated by many. When people hear about the Vikings they usually think about Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater, who are both currently out injured, and forget about the amazing defense they have put together. A defense so good they frustrated Odell Beckham Jr. to the point where he said he no longer finds the sport of football fun anymore. A defense so good, they may lead the Vikings all the way to the Super Bowl despite losing their quarterback before the season even began.

The Vikings defense does not have any real “super star” players. No one as dominant single-handedly as Von Miller or JJ Watt, and the closest thing they have to a star is safety Harrison Smith.

So how is this defense so good? They work together as a unit and manage to disrupt almost every play an opposing offense runs.

Despite not getting a single sack in their match up against the New York Giants, their defensive front managed to be dominant off of the stat sheet. They tore apart the Giants offensive line, which is ranked in the top five overall by Pro Football Focus and in pass protection by Football Outsiders, and in doing so made it near impossible for Eli Manning to have enough time to truly let anything develop downfield.

The Giants were forced to rely on their running backs and Tight End Will Tye for production through the air, as Manning had limited time on the pocket forcing him to dump it off short early and often.

Player Targets Receptions Yards TDs
Victor Cruz 9 5 50 0
Odell Beckham 9 3 23 0
Sterling Shepard 7 4 30 0
Paul Perkins 3 2 72 0
Bobby Rainey 9 7 43 0
Will Tye 6 4 43 0


Beckham, Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard had a combined 25 targets, but only 12 receptions between them for just over 100 yards, or about 4 yards per target and only 8 and a half yards per reception.

That’s because many of their targets were like this pass here to Beckham in the fourth quarter

The receptions by the three did have were mainly short passes over the middle or into the flat for minimal gain. Paul Perkins turned out to be the team’s leading receiver, but that is only because of a 67 yard gain on a screen pass.

Looking at these numbers alone, majority of the credit for the teams win would be given to the secondary, but the film tells another story. Although, the secondary played a great game, the collective pass rush of the Vikings front seven, with occasional help from the safety’s ruined any chance for the Giants to have success through the air.

Late in the second quarter with the Giants driving down field, the Vikings pass rush showed their prowess and creativity to bust a play within seconds.

The Vikings rushed their four down lineman, but Harrison Smith (#22) showed a late blitz off the edge, and the Giants did not adjust. Instead of staying back to block the oncoming rush, Running Back Bobby Rainey (#43) allowed Smith a free run at Manning, forcing him to throw the ball into the ground to avoid the sack. Even if Smith was not gifted a free run, the Vikings Brian Robinson (#96) had beaten Bobby Hart (#68) and would have gotten to Manning within seconds. The ability to rush Smith safely is result of coordination between the Vikings linebackers as well. Anthony Barr (#55) quickly shifted to his right covering the area Smith vacated, while Eric Kendricks (#54) slid into the middle to play zone over the middle, putting himself in position to make a play on the two Giants receivers over the middle.

Eli Manning’s lone interception of the game came on a creative blitz scheme by the Vikings early in the third quarter.

The Vikings lined up 7 players on the line before the snap, including defensive back Harrison Smith. They overloaded the right side of the line, sending four. On the left, though, both Kendricks and Everson Griffen (#97) drop back into coverage. As they drop back they take the spot of Captain Munnerlyn (#24) who shows a late blitz and easily beats the much slower Ereck Flowers (#74) around the edge and nearly gets to Manning. The quarterback panics and heavily overthrows Odell Beckham (#13) deep and Xavier Rhodes (#29) comes up with an easy interception.

With the Giants driving down field trying to tie the game in the fourth quarter, the Vikings pass rush came up big again on fourth down.

The defense lined up six men on the line of scrimmage, but only rushed five. The Giants were in a zone blocking scheme, and when Eric Kendricks drops back into coverage, Center Weston Richburg (#70) is caught out of position allowing Barr to blow by him. Barr bursts through Paul Perkins (#28) and manages to get a hand on Manning’s pass as he closed down on him.

The fluidity and coordination of the Vikings defensive front throughout the game is a testament to the genius of defensive coordinator George Edwards. Every player knows their particular assignment both before and after the snap, and follows it to a tee. Rarely is anyone out of position, and on both the defensive front and secondary it is nearly impossible to find a weakness to exploit.

Eli Manning would have had his second interception of the game later on, if not for a drop by Kendricks.

Four Vikings blitzed on the play, while Kendricks and Barr dropped back into coverage. The two rushers off the edge, Griffen and Danielle Hunter (#99), collapsed towards the inside, while the two interior linemen, Brian Robinson and Tom Johnson (#92) ran a stunt towards the edge. This frees up both of the interior linemen, and Robinson manages to reach Manning. Manning manages to again avoid a sack, but it nearly costs his team possession as Eric Kendricks jumps an ill thrown pass towards Will Tye (#45).

Manning only completed 25 of his 45 pass attempts on Monday, and many of his completions were short dump offs to receivers. The Giants only converted 2 of 12 third downs the entire game, and their offense could not get anything going downfield all game despite having one of the NFL’s best group of receivers.

The Vikings defense has been outstanding this season, and now with the team at 4-0 they look near impossible to beat. They are performing well as a unit, and every player seems to know their role. Their play, along with new quarterback Sam Bradford having a surprisingly impressive year so far has the Vikings right back in the Super Bowl discussion, and maybe even the front-runner to be the NFC’s representative.


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