Awhoooo! What you’re hearing is the ring tone of our friend Ted Glover of The Daily Norseman. We sat down to talk about all things Vikings - Bears in advance of the battle for 3rd place in the NFC North this Monday night. That’s right, the Bears can start their climb up the charts this week with a win in Trubisky’s first start. Get your biscuits warm and settle in for a classic NFC North battle!
Windy City Gridiron: Are Vikings fans becoming experts on knee injuries? Dalvin Cook, who looked great in the early season, became the most recent member of the ACL club. With Latavius Murray still not 100% recovered from his ankle surgery, what's the expected split between Murray and Jerick McKinnon going forward?
The Daily Norseman: Sigh. Unfortunately, yes, and quite frankly we're sick and tired of it. Mike Zimmer clarified the 'not 100%' remark. No one is 100% by now, but Murray's ankle is fine and both him and Zimmer say he is ready to go. Anyway, the Vikings signed Murray in free agency, expecting him to be their main running back until Dalvin Cook fell to them in the draft. So I expect that Murray once again will move back in to the main role, with McKinnon spelling him. And when Cook goes on IR (ARRRRRGH) I wouldn't be surprised if the Vikings signed a free agent RB for some added depth. I don't think anyone expects Murray to be as dynamic a runner as Cook was the first four games, but he's a decent option, and I don't see the Vikings having to change their game plan for Murray. We'll see what happens.
WCG: Let's stick with knee issues. Sam Bradford, who looked brilliant against the New Orleans "defense," has missed games due to knee issues related to his previous ACL injuries. And of course, let's not forget, Teddy Bridgewater who tore everything in his knee during a non-contact play in practice last preseason. Are we going to see more Case Keenum on Monday, who will start the most games the rest of the year and what's the future at this position for the Vikings?
DN: No one really knows yet, on either point. And for Teddy's injury, we'll never forget. Seriously, I think it's a 'where were you when you heard' moment for Vikings fans. Ugh. Anyway, this week. The Vikings usually announce by Thursday or Friday Bradford's status. By all accounts Bradford is improving, and with the game not until Monday night, I'm hopeful that the extra day will allow him to get healed up enough for him to play. My expectation, though, is Keenum for the Bears game, and then Bradford will play for the Green Bay game next week. For this season, if Bradford gets back for the Green Bay game, stays healthy and plays well, it's his job. As much as we all love Teddy, we all like Bradford and it makes no sense to bench him if he's playing well. But if he doesn't get healthy and Bridgewater is ready to go, I can see a scenario where Teddy plays. Depending on how he does, then it could be his job to lose. The only thing I'm pretty certain of is that once one of these two guys are healthy, Case Keenum will go back to the bench.
At the end of this season it's just as murky. Bradford is an unrestricted free agent, and there's talk about the Vikings keeping Bridgewater on the PUP until they can toll his contract, which means he would owe the Vikings one more year at this year's current salary. If he can't go, that's fine. Smart move. If he's healthy and they try that, it's going to be a big fight with the NFLPA because it's a violation of the CBA, and it would also be stupid because of Bradford's health questions. If they activate him as soon as possible and his contract doesn't toll, he becomes a free agent as well, as the Vikings didn't exercise his fifth year option because of the uncertainty about his knee. The only thing I am fairly certain of is that one of the two will be the Vikings quarterback next year with a long term deal in hand, and the other one will not be on the roster. It all depends on who plays, how much, and how well they play. And at this point, no one knows any of those things.
WCG: After years of the Vikings signing Bears receiver rejects (Devin Aromashadu anyone?), Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have emerged as an unlikely star duo. Just how good are these guys and how have they been so successful? Is it scheme, talent... voodoo?
DN: What, no love for Bobby Wade, Marcus Robinson, and Bernard Berrian? These guys are really good, though! (Diggs and Thielen, not so much Wade, Berrian, and DA) Voodoo has nothing to do with it. Both players are exceptional route runners, they both have ridiculously great hands, and they both are good at beating press coverage and getting free in space. They also compliment each other really well--Thielen is better in the slot, for the most part, and Diggs has blossomed on the outside. Weirdly, Diggs isn't really considered to be a consensus deep threat, but last week he became the second fastest receiver in team history to surpass 2,000 yards, behind only Randy Moss. Their production isn't just a weird, fluky thing--these guys are legit good and if you don't gameplan for them, you're gonna have a bad day.
*Author’s note – I do have love for those 3 receivers…I even own a B-Twice jersey…I just question a franchise that consistently signs Bears WRs…
WCG: The strength of this club is clearly on the defense. The Vikings boast playmakers on all levels of the defense and they are on the short list for best defense in the league. Who are the underappreciated impact players on this defense that we need to watch our for on Monday?
NT Linval Joseph is quietly having a tremendous year so far. He's really a force on the inside, and does an equally good job of collapsing the pocket in front of the quarterback, and stuffing runs between the tackles. With Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter coming from the outside, if the QB's first or second read isn't open he's out of time. Everyone knows about CB Xavier Rhodes, who's become the best shutdown corner in the game, and All Pro S Harrison Smith, but slot CB Mackensie Alexander has really stepped up early as well. In the off-season, the Vikings let Captain Munnerlyn leave via free agency and there was a lot of questions as to whether or not Alexander could fill that nickel back role. Early returns are promising, and if he doesn't drop an easy interception last week against Detroit, he probably has his first career TD.
WCG: Mike Zimmer is in his 4th year and sports a 28-24 record. Expectations for this club were high coming into last year and even higher this year. Off to a 2-2 start after an 8-8 record last season, are Vikings fans happy with Zimmer? What are the reasonable expectations for this team in 2017?
DN: For the most part, yes. There's a vocal minority that question Zimmer (and GM Rick Spielman), but those folks are pretty myopic in their view, in my opinion. Let's look at some personnel issues Zimmer has had to deal with in his short time here. In 2014, he lost Adrian Peterson after one game for his child abuse scandal, and started rookie Teddy Bridgewater a lot earlier than anticipated after vet incumbent Matt Cassel broke his foot and went on IR in week 3. Vikings go 7-9, but defense improves from 32nd to 11th in points. In 2015, Zim has his full defense, Bridgewater, and Peterson all year. Vikings go 11-5, and beat Green Bay in Lambeau on the final week of the season to win the division. They were a shanked gimme FG from beating defending SB champion Seattle in the Wild Card game. Last year, he loses Bridgewater right before week one and Peterson for essentially the whole season, and throws in Sam Bradford on the fly after a ballsy trade. The offense also loses four offensive tackles and their starting guard to IR for most, if not the entire season, and the line has approximately 3,407 combinations between weeks one to 17. It's a borderline miracle that team went 8-8, if we're being honest here. This year? He's already lost his starting QB and a dynamic rookie RB that was in the top five in almost every meaningful rushing statistic, and the team is 2-2. I firmly believe Mike Zimmer is the right guy for this job, and if the Vikings can just get a break from some of these key injuries and get Bradford back soon, they can make the playoffs.
WCG: Bonus - How happy are Vikings fans that they get to be a footnote on the Hall of Fame career of Mitchell Trubisky as his first start, TD, and win?
DN: It's the Vikings playing at Soldier Field. So yeah, I fully expect Trubisky to play lights out, and the alien force that has caused the Vikings to go 2-14 at Soldier Field this century to make an appearance. The Bears have played well at home, the Vikings looked shaky on the road at Pittsburgh, and something weird is going to happen. I just know it.
Thanks to Ted and The Daily Norseman!