This has been a pleasantly quiet summer for the Minnesota Vikings, though it’s worth remembering there was no drama at this time a year ago, either.
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Before Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee days before the preseason finale, and then Adrian Peterson got hurt, and injuries decimated the offensive line, and head coach Mike Zimmer underwent the first of many eye surgeries, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner quit, and a 5-0 start crumbled into an 8-8 finish, the Vikings felt much as they do now: optimistic about one of the NFL’s most stacked defenses and an offense that can do enough to make them a tough out come January.
“Defensively, I kind of know who we are and what we are. It’s similar to what we’ve been,” Zimmer told me after a recent practice. “Offensively, I think we’re still a little bit trying to find exactly the right balance of what we’re doing — but I like a lot of things we’re doing offensively.
“I don’t think the identity of the team is going to change too much. I don’t think we’re going to go to The Greatest Show on Turf, and I don’t think we’re going to be the ’85 Bears, either. But this team has some talent, and we’ve got a chance.”
The Vikes have really felt that way since they had the mighty Seattle Seahawks beat in a divisional playoff game 19 months ago — until Blair Walsh yanked a 27-yard game-winning field-goal attempt. Seemingly every bit of their luck since followed that thing wide left.
To be sure, the Vikings have their work cut out to get out of the NFC North, which they’ve wrested away from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers just once in the past six seasons. Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are coming off their own playoff campaign, taking the spotlight in the division away from Minnesota — and that may not be a bad thing here.
“Terrible,” Smith said, via the Star-Tribune. “You know, we kind of turned it on after we got hit in the mouth a few times. You can’t start like that. You can’t give up 14 points that easy.”
As I wrote in Sunday’s What We Learned, 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer looked spectacular. He had a perfect passer rating for the majority of the half and completed his first nine passes — two of them for touchdowns. Facing a Kyle Shanahan offense, the Vikings’ starting defensive unit resembled a tired boxer being trapped by a more experienced opponent. A 46-yard touchdown to speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin served as a knockout blow of sorts.
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Given how tattered Minnesota looked across its offensive line as well, this was not the type of morale-boosting third preseason game the Vikings were searching for in their most realistic tune up. It’s no secret that teams sneak more into this gameplan than any other preseason contest and the facts — Minnesota trailed 14-0 at the half, beat up by a surprisingly physical 49ers team — speak for themselves.
Coach Mike Zimmer hinted this week that he’s toying with the idea of playing his starters on the heels of a troubling preseason — especially on offense.
“I’ve made up my mind, but I haven’t told the team yet or anything like that. I haven’t told the coaches yet either,” Zimmer said, per The Star Tribune. “After the other night, I feel like they should play, but we’ll see.”
It’s been an August of horrors for the Vikings, whose sputtering offense has churned out just three points over 12 marches.
The team’s troubles crested against the 49ers on Sunday, as San Francisco’s nasty young defensive front battered Minnesota’s offensive line and made life nightmarish for quarterback Sam Bradford.
This Vikings team still needs work, so why not? If the starters play, you won’t see them for long, but one thing’s for clear: They haven’t earned a week off.