The Detroit Lions will play the Minnesota Vikings twice in four weeks, and the first opens this weekend at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. We sat down with Eric J. Thompson of Daily Norseman to discuss the upcoming match.
1. Norv Turner's sudden resignation puts the Vikings offense now on Pat Shurmur. What's the story on how this all came about, and what are the expectations with Shurmur now at the helm? Asides from what you think will change, what NEEDS to change to get the Vikings offense back on track?
As of right now the actual story has very few details. According to Mike Zimmer at his press conference on Wednesday, the resignation came as a total surprise and nobody saw it coming. But after the way the offense has performed and how the play calling has come into question, I'm not sure I 100% believe Zimmer's story. Pat Shurmur wasn't brought in to be the tight ends coach for long anyway; he was widely considered the "Offensive Coordinator in waiting" before the season started. It's just a surprise that the wait ended up being so short. For now I guess we have to take Zimmer at his word and look forward to the new offensive regime.
The bad news is that Shurmur still has to deal with the same putrid offensive line Turner dealt with. That line is going to be a mess regardless of who's at the helm. The good news is that Shurmur has familiarity with Bradford, since he was Bradford's Offensive Coordinator in Philadelphia last year. I think the Vikings need to (and will try to) get back to the quick-hit releases to try and minimize the damage the line can cause. Everything should be about misdirection and quick pace, much like what the Eagles did with Bradford last year. This offense simply cannot function with five- and seven-step drops. They don't have the personnel for it.
2. The run game is between Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, and Football Outsiders ranks it dead last in the NFL in terms of DVOA. Will McKinnon being healthy help stem this? What's the best Minnesota can hope for on the ground? Adrian Peterson when? (say after Thanksgiving pls)
It sounds like the earliest Peterson will return is December, so you're likely to avoid him altogether this year. (UNTIL THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, THAT IS! RIGHT?! OK probably not.) But it wasn't like AP was ripping it up in the six quarters before he got hurt this year either. The Tecmo Super Bowl version of Barry Sanders would struggle behind this offensive line.
McKinnon coming back this week should be a big help to the offense. Asiata is the epitome of an old quote from former Vikings running back Leroy Hoard: "If you want one yard, I'll get you three yards. If you want five yards, I'll get you three yards." Asiata is a short-range bowling ball that should be used sparingly outside of goal line situations. McKinnon is much more dynamic and can be used all over the field in the right offense. Hopefully we'll see McKinnon used more creatively with Shurmur at the helm. I don't think anyone is going to run for big chunks of yards behind the wet paper bag that is the Vikings O-line, but McKinnon should add a few wrinkles to the attack at the very least.
3. Sam Bradford. Sam Bradford?
Sam Bradford! What a crazy season for a guy that has already had a pretty crazy NFL career. He comes in 15 days after being traded to the team and opens the new stadium with a win over the team's biggest rival (no offense, Detroit) on national TV. He goes through a four-game win streak by playing some of the best, if not the best, football of his career. And now he's getting hit before he can do much of anything and likely dealing with a bout of Post-Traumatic St. Louis Disorder. He can't really be blamed much for the offensive woes over the past two games, but his play has come back down to Earth a bit. If he can get even the slightest bit of consistent time to throw, I think he could lead the offense to some pretty solid performances. Maybe not "2016 Matthew Stafford" levels, but still good enough to win plenty of games with the defense the Vikings have.
4. At the start of the year I thought a division title was an inevitability with Minnesota but the past couple of games and the collection of injuries has put them back in the NFC North pack. What's your strongest source of confidence still that the Vikings can win the division, or are you perhaps seeing more reasons to be pessimistic about the chance?
Two words: the defense. The biggest part of the Vikings' 5-0 start was the defense's ability to mask the offense's shortcomings and give them plenty of short fields. The "Zim Reapers" are very talented at all three levels of the defense. Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, and Xavier Rhodes are all among the best in the league at their respective positions. This team will go as far as the defense can carry them.
But even this defense needs a break sometimes. They looked tired, frustrated, and at times even a bit disinterested on Monday night against the Bears. The run defense still isn't as good as it could be and teams have started implementing quick passes and screens to counteract the potent pass rush. So unless the offense gets better in a hurry, it's hard to wrangle up too much optimism about this team's future.
But there is another source of hope: nobody in the division is all that good! During Monday night's game, I joked on Twitter "Congratulations to your 2016 NFC North champions, the 9-7 Detroit Lions." But it was really only half-joking. We've already covered the Vikings flaws, and the Packers have plenty of their own demons to deal with. Nobody outside of maybe Dallas seems poised to run away with their division this year in the NFC. The North is truly up for grabs, even if Minnesota puts up a few clunkers here and there.
5. US Bank Stadium is part of this new wave of Cowboys-knockoff Death Star Looking stadiums that are cropping up all over, one plopping down in Vegas soon. The City of Minneapolis shelled out $150 million, plus another $348 million from the state of Minnesota, and while I'm sure Vikings fans are happy about the stadium and fine with the cost, plenty of folks who don't want to be bailing out billionaires aren't thrilled, even as it becomes more commonplace and brazen and, perhaps, normalized or justified among sports fans. With that all in mind... What's the best game day snack/meal to get when visiting?
I have only been to US Bank Stadium twice thus far for games, and both times I stuck to the usual stadium fare. Burgers, nachos, that kind of stuff. But from what I've heard and what I've had at the actual restaurants, these three booths should be visited by anyone checking out the stadium the first time: Revival, Rusty Taco, and Ike's.
Great, now I'm hungry.