A few weeks back, I attended the Sunday Night Football game in Minnesota to watch the Vikings take on the New Orleans Saints. I was cheering for the Saints because, well, they were playing the Vikings. Minnesota’s US Bank Stadium, located on Chicago Avenue, is a great facility and Vikings fans, despite the misfortune of having to wear purple and yellow, are a generally congenial lot. Minnesota Nice is a thing, after all.
However, I was struck by just how much vitriol was pointed toward the Saints, Head Coach Sean Payton, and the brave Saints fans shouting “Who Dat?” Excited to find out why the Saints are so hated, why I saw so many Teddy Bridgewater jerseys, and how confident Vikings fans are in this squad, I reached out to our old friend Ted Glover of the Daily Norseman. Be sure to check out the other half of the conversation on the Daily Norseman website.
Windy City Gridiron: 1. We’re 9 games into the Kirk Cousins era and his stats have been very good - on pace for over 4,700 yards and sporting a 17:5 TD to interception ratio. So why do I get the sense that most Vikings fans are tepid in their endorsement of Cousins to the point that many of the fans seated around me during the Vikings / Saints game were openly pining for Teddy Bridgewater?
Daily Norseman: Are there fans that are not in the Kirk Cousins camp? Yes, and welcome to the Vikings fan base. Is it a majority, though? I don’t think so. If there’s a knock to Cousins, it’s his penchant for a bad turnover or a sack at the worst possible time, although it’s not happening with the frightening regularity we were told to expect. He also seems to have 312 batted balls at the line of scrimmage this year, and he needs to quit doing that. And I get the feelings many fans had and still have for Teddy Bridgewater. I was the biggest Bridgewater fan there was, and although the stats weren’t there, it was the tantalizing promise and potential Bridgewater had that a lot of Vikings fans felt was taken away from us, and him, when he was hurt, and then with how things subsequently played out. He’s a really humble person, and a guy you just want to cheer for. But that said, Kirk Cousins is the best pure passer the Vikings have had since Brett Favre sold his soul to the Devil in 2009. He can climb the pocket, he’s generally pretty smart with the football, and has made some incredible throws in every game this year. Throws I would argue that neither Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, or Bridgewater (one of those three was widely expected to be back at season’s end last year) could make consistently. When you add that to his durability, getting Cousins was a no-brainer, and I’m happy with what he’s done so far with the Vikings.
WCG: 2. Dalvin Cook returned from injury before the bye and was able to put together a nice outing. What are the expectations for him going forward and can he be a difference maker in this offense?
DN: Now that Cook seems fully healthy, I expect him to become the lead back with Latavius Murray riding shotgun, and it’s a heck of a talented combination. Murray has been a very good backup, and is a stud between the tackles. But we saw Cook’s ability on display when he went off tackle for over 70 yards against the Lions, and it’s that speed and vision that makes him special. I think he brings a home run dynamic to the Vikings running game that wasn’t necessarily there with Murray, both as a runner and pass catcher. Still, I love Murray as a relief guy that can get four or five yards at a time, and he’s a guy that keeps defenses honest and makes them respect the run. I think Cook is really going to be a difference maker as we head into the home stretch.
WCG: 3. Mike Zimmer’s defense has not had quite the sharp edge that it has the last couple seasons - Football Outsiders currently has the purple posse rated 9th in DVOA. What has changed and do you believe this team can regain their top 3 status from last year in the final 7 games?
DN: I think Mike Zimmer got complacent with his calls and his scheme, and early on thought things were more of an anomaly than a trend. For the first couple of losses, you could have argued there was a ‘yeah, but’ extenuating circumstance that caused the coaching staff to think it was a temporary thing that would correct itself. In the week two shootout tie with Green Bay, you could say ‘yeah but it’s week two and it’s Aaron Rodgers.’ In week three you could have (feebly) argued ‘yeah, but the Vikes turned it over deep in their own territory three times and the whole team was reeling from what happened to Everson Griffen.’ In week four, when the Rams hung over 500 yards of offense and Jared Goff had a perfect passer rating the ‘yeah, but...’ excuse wouldn’t fly anymore. Mike Zimmer admitted he was making things harder than they should have been, and focused on the strengths of his players. And since the Rams debacle, the Vikings defense has been a lot closer to the 2017 version than the early 2018 version. Even in the 30-20 loss to the Saints, the Vikings only gave up 120 yards passing to Drew Brees, and held the Saints offense to only 270 yards. They had two brutal turnovers on offense that changed the course of that game, and since the Eagles game the Vikings defense has been as good as it was last year.
WCG: 4. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have emerged as a top duo in the NFL with Thielen putting up a remarkable streak of 8 games to start the year with 100+ yards. Has Thielen become the most popular player on the Vikings and why does Kirk Cousins even bother throwing the ball to Laquon Treadwell?
DN: If not, he’s pretty close. Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, and Stefon Diggs are right up there, too. And for Bears fans who don’t know, just be prepared for Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels to mention the fact that Thielen is a native Minnesotan who was undrafted and got a $500 scholarship (yeah, that’s 5 Ben Franklins) literally 347 times on Sunday night. It’s a great story, don’t get me wrong, and it’s one of the reasons he’s become a fan favorite, but we hear about it every...single...week, going on two years now. How about people start focusing on the fact he’s just a damn good WR? He’s arguably the best route runner in the game, and catches everything thrown his way. Teamed up with Diggs, opposing defenses truly have a ‘pick your poison’ scenario with Diggs and Thielen. His feel good story is great, but his ability is greater. As to Treadwell, he’s the Vikings number three receiver. He’s not going to live up to his first round draft status, but he’s a guy that has become more reliable for 2-3 big catches a game. His contract and dead money make cutting him an unrealistic option, so I like the fact that Cousins goes to Treadwell to keep his confidence up to keep him in the game. He’s not going to eclipse Diggs or Thielen, but he has a role to play in this offense. But yeah, get back to me Monday if he has a drop in a big situation Sunday night.
WCG: 5. You’ve been particularly critical of Mitchell Trubisky this season on the Twitter machine. What does Trubisky need to do for you and Vikings fans in general to change your attitude?
Yeah, I have. Part of it is because he’s on the Bears, and he’s a rival. But honestly, I never got the hype surrounding him. He had a fairly limited resume coming out of college, his arm was nothing special, and his mechanics, at least last year, were generally pretty bad. His play has reminded me of Christian Ponder, the former Vikings first round bust, and still does to some extent. This year, he’s looked good against inferior competition, which Ponder occasionally did, but just okay against the better teams. You could argue he had impressive numbers against the Patriots, but he completed barely 50% of his passes, and the only reason he went over 300 yards is because of the game ending Hail Mary that was short of the goal line. His game has improved as the talent around him as been upgraded, and the Bears were really smart to hire a guy like Matt Nagy to get the most out of him. Granted, he’s probably going to set a bunch of Bears passing records this year, but other than Smokin’ Jay Cutler, the Bears list of QB’s is almost as long and unimpressive as the Vikings list is. Trubisky seems like the classic ‘one step forward, two steps back’ guy right now, so for me to change my opinion of him he needs to consistently play above average football against all levels of competition. I don’t think he’s doing that right now. Can he? Yes, I think so, and I didn’t think that at the beginning of the year.
*Editors Note: Christian Ponder? CHRISTIAN PONDER?! #%&%$
WCG: Bonus: As I mentioned, I was at the Saints / Vikings game a few weeks ago and the vitriol reserved for Sean Payton and the Saints was shockingly high, like at a Packers level high. The Vikings ended up winning that playoff game with the Minneapolis Miracle so where is all this hate coming from?
DN: It goes back to the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Brett Favre was physically pummeled by the Saints, and suffered several cheap shots that weren’t called. A couple seasons later the ‘Bountygate’ scandal came out, where we found out the Saints were intentionally trying to injure Favre, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams paid out monetary bounties to players to intentionally hurt Favre and other players. Sean Payton knew about it, and didn’t do anything to stop it. Both him Williams were suspended for a year over the incident, and both of those guys can eat a bag of herpes infected %$^&* forever and all time as far as Vikings fans are concerned. For me, everyone involved in that game save for Payton are long gone from the Saints, and the Vikings washed a lot of the bad taste of that 2009 NFC Championship Game game away with the Minneapolis Miracle, so my hatred for the Saints is pretty much gone. But there are a lot of fans who will always despise the Saints for it.
But Payton and Williams can go to Hell twice as far as I’m concerned.
*Editors note: I really wish Ted would stop sugar coating it...
Thanks again to Ted and the Daily Norseman. If you’re on the Twitter, consider following me @gridironborn and if you want to stay up on the enemy, Ted’s account is @purplebuckeye but be forewarned - he’s pro-Viking and pro-Ohio State...