Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was going over some things at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Monday morning when a defensive player walked into his office.
The season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t even 24 hours old, and this particular player, who Zimmer declined to name, had some thoughts about where the Vikings were headed after a dreadful showing in an overtime loss at Cincinnati last Sunday.
“He said, ‘I think we can be really good,’ ” Zimmer said. “I have the same feeling. I think we still have a chance to have a really good team. I know we didn’t show it, really, in all three phases the other day. But there’s a lot of things I see that are pretty darn good.”
This could very well be coach speak from Zimmer, a calculated effort to keep the fan base, and players, positive in a sea of negativity, but that said, the Vikings actually did put some good things on film against the Bengals.
Though the insane number of penalties was the main storyline, and the shaky play of the offensive line left something to be desired, when the Vikings got out of their own way, they showed flashes of potential.
Here are some things that stood out.
While most people are going to remember running back Dalvin Cook fumbling away the ball in overtime, and rightfully so, the Vikings did have success moving the ball throughout the game. Now, this came against the Bengals, who, well, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears; but the Vikings have proven playmakers on offense that win on a consistent basis, and that isn’t going to change.
Aside from Cook, receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are consistently open downfield, and receiver K.J. Osborn has started to emerge as a viable option. Collectively, the Vikings have some of the best offensive weapons in the league with quarterback Kirk Cousins leading the charge. If Cousins can get the ball to his playmakers — and a lot of this falls on the offensive line — the Vikings still have a chance to make some noise.
Improved pass rush
How bad was the Vikings pass rush last season? The failed experiment that was defensive end Yannick Ngakoue led the Vikings in sacks despite playing in only six games with the team. In total, the Vikings finished with 23 sacks, trailing only the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Bengals, respectively, for the lowest output in the league.
That explains why the Vikings invested so heavily in their defensive line this offseason. They signed tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson, as well as defensive ends Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly. Add the return defensive tackle Michael Pierce and most important, superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter, and the pass rush was highly effective in the season-opener — five sacks. If they can continue this trend, they are going to make things tough on opposing quarterbacks.
Woeful NFC North
Maybe the most promising thing to come out of Week 1 for the Vikings wasn’t even on the field at Paul Brown Stadium. While they suffered a disappointing loss, the rest of the NFC North struggled with the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions all losing. In fact, the Vikings currently sit atop the NFC North based on tiebreakers, and yes, that point is being made very tongue in cheek.
Still, the fact that the division could be wide open certainly benefits the Vikings. Maybe the Packers bounce back next week and maligned quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws for 400 yards, but as of right now it sure looks like the Vikings are going to have a chance to contend in the NFC North.